Browned Butter Carrot Cake

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When I offered to make cake for a pot luck at work this week, I planned on making something simple. It was  my coworker Irma’s birthday earlier in the week and the potluck was in her honor. So I asked another coworker, Tim, to find out her favorite cake flavor.  Honestly I assumed she would choose an unimaginative flavor such as chocolate or white/yellow. Either of which I can whip out very easily. Why? Not sure. They’re classic and common. Everyone likes chocolate and/or vanilla flavors. Right?

Tim went right to the source – Irma’s husband – who promptly informed Tim that Irma’s favorite cake of all time is carrot. Crap. Making a carrot cake would involve a trip to the grocery store for sure – something I hadn’t planned on. But when I commit, I commit all the way. Especially when it comes to delivering a birthday cake. So go to the store I did. Also when I commit to making a cake, I go big, tall and impressive.

The last carrot cake I made was big but not terribly impressive, by my estimations. I wasn’t a fan of the flavor. This one I wanted to knock out of the ball park. So I found a recipe made with brown butter and combined it with the Smitten Kitchen Carrot Cake recipe for what my bossed termed as competition for the best carrot cake in the world (my other competition being her grandmother’s cake). My coworker, Coleen, who is diabetic, loved this cake so much she had three pieces. Followed by at least three shots of insulin. Yes. This cake is that good.

It’s fantastic on its own, or you can eat it as my dad did – mounded with a few scoops of (salted caramel) ice cream.


  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 rounded tsp. ground ginger
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. butter, browned
  • 6 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 c. finely grated peeled carrots
  • 1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 c. finely shredded sweetened coconut (optional)
  • Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting


  1. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and browned butter in large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts and coconut, if using them.
  2. Grease three 8-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper; tap out excess flour. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 40 to 50 minutes each, or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off paper; cool cakes completely before frosting.

I had this brilliant idea of ‘flouring’ the pans with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Why? Because I recently learned you should ‘flour’ a pan intended for making chocolate cake with unsweetened cocoa powder. So I figured what else goes with carrot cake besides spices?

As soon as my pans hit the oven there was an explosion of nutmeg in my kitchen. My dad walked in while the cakes were baking and immediately asked what he was smelling. Burning nutmeg, I responded with a twinge of alarm in my voice. I could both smell and inhale the burning spice. The entire 45 plus minutes the cakes were cooking I worried and fretted that the cakes would come out tasting like burnt nutmeg. I was even more worried when I brushed off what appeared to be burnt nutmeg from the sides of the cakes when I pulled them from their pans.

Somehow the cake escaped the taste of burnt nutmeg. Thank God! But I wouldn’t recommend using nutmeg as your ‘flour’ in the greasing process. If you do, proceed with caution.

My coworker, Coleen, who eagerly tries all my food, bit into this cake and began raving about the frosting. She talked it up so much that I assumed the cake itself was nasty and/or disappointing. Finally I mustered up the courage to ask her if the cake sucked. No, it’s great as usual! she said.

The point is, the star of the show is the frosting. It’s laborious but well worth it.

Recipe rating: 

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