I’m one of those people who’s been in the holiday spirit since the clock struck midnight on October 31st. IMHO, why not stretch the greatest season of the year out as long as possible?
For me, Thanksgiving has always been about celebrating the people in my life. It’s about sharing what I love with those people in the way of food and taking an evening to be present and remind myself how much I have to be grateful for. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ve been reminiscing over the recipes and ingredients that speak to me at this time of year, and that embody what it means to gather around. Though it might seem surprising, the one ingredient that always exudes love for me is the humble carrot. Let me explain.
There’s a recipe my dad makes called gajar ka halwa. It’s a carrot-based dessert that’s a mix of shredded carrots, sugar, milk, and ghee. It’s rich and sweet, perfect when warm, with a little extra depth of flavor from the carrots.
It sounds simple, but it’s one of those desserts that is a labor of love. My dad would stand at the stove, meticulously and carefully stirring the carrot mix around the pot, letting all the ingredients meld together until it’s almost like a thick carrot pudding. I’d offer to take over the stirring every now and then, only to say that I was tired of standing over a hot stove a little while later when my dad would step back in to take over. Gajar ka halwa isn’t something we made every day, not every week and not even every month. My dad would make it maybe a couple of times a year when our random summer craving for it would strike or for a holiday that we needed a traditional sweet for. It’s one of those desserts that I just strongly associate with someone making as a showing of love, and one that always brought everyone into the kitchen.
While I don’t make gajar ka halwa (at least not yet) I do make carrot cake. And as an homage to my dessert-obsessed dad, someone who does rank carrot cake up at the top of his list of desserts that must be executed perfectly, I added my own little Indian-ish twist to a holiday classic.
I’m a carrot cake purist. I don’t want any raisins or walnuts or any of that kinda thing in my carrot cake. I want a classic spiced cake with a tangy cream cheese frosting. I want to get a hit of spice that adds to the flavor and isn’t just a subtle nod to cinnamon. With all of that in mind, I made this Masala Chai-inspired Carrot Cake.
This cake is incredibly easy, no stand mixer needed if you don’t have one, and has the perfect warming spice blend that makes this carrot cake a little more special than your typical orange vegetable cake. It’s cardamom forward, not too sweet, and the perfect canvas for a tangy cream cheese frosting. I brought this cake to my co-workers last week and was left with nothing but a few crumbs as people kept slicing off slivers to snack on.
I adapted the recipe from one of my favorite baking bloggers, and I like to serve it as two individual cakes because as y’all know, I’m a fan of the basic frosting method. It’s more rustic, less fussy, and lends itself to whatever kind of topping and decoration you want to do. This is my new favorite cake, and it might even be making a sneak peek at our family Thanksgiving table!
This post was originally published on November 19, 2019, and has since been updated.
For the cake:
- 1/4 cup of almond milk
- 1 tbsp of Assam tea
- 1 cup of sugar
- 3/4 cup of ghee, melted
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 2 cups of flour (310g)
- 3 tsp of baking powder
- 1 tsp of salt
- 7 - 8 turns of fresh ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp of cardamom
- 1 1/2 tsp of ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups of fresh shredded carrots, about 2 large carrots
For the frosting:
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
- 8oz of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp of vanilla
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line two 6" cake pans with parchment paper, set aside.
- In a microwave safe cup, heat up the 1/4 cup of milk until warm. About 1 - 2 minutes. Add the 1 tablespoon of Assam tea and let brew while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar, melted ghee, 3 eggs, and vanilla. Once the milk has cooled slightly, add it to the bowl. Stir together the wet ingredients.
- In another large mixing bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir together the dry ingredients.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the wet in three parts, carefully folding the ingredients together and making sure not to over mix.
- Fold in the shredded carrots.
- Divide the batter between the two pans, and place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack.
- While the cake cool, make the frosting. Add all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer and whip together until smooth.
- Once the cakes have cooled, frost as desired. Enjoy!