Carrot cake gets a modern update with a coconut-pecan coating in lieu of the standard cream cheese frosting. The perfect cake for spring!
I have the best of both worlds for you today! That’s right, I’ve combined my favorite carrot cake recipe with a not-so-traditional coconut pecan frosting, reminiscent of what you’d find on a German chocolate cake and, let me tell you, I wish I had thought of Carrot Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting years ago!
Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some classic decadent cream cheese frosting, but I also looooove the combination of carrot, coconut and pecans. It’s like the ultimate spring ingredient combo. Plus, doesn’t it feel great to have so many superfoods in a super-delicious dessert? I mean, there are plenty of indulgent ingredients in the recipes for both the carrot cake and the frosting, but having those other healthy ingredients in there to counteract everything else is EXACTLY how I roll. We’re all about that balance, right?
Quick backstory on my love for carrot cake, and specifically this recipe: I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my parents met and got married in Hawaii, where my dad grew up and my mom worked as a pediatric nurse. During my parents’ courtship, my mom was given this carrot cake recipe by a dear Hawaiian “tutu” named Mrs. Kealoha. And on the back of the recipe, she wrote a note: “Make this for Ken, and he will never leave you.” Well, I’m proud to say that truly was the case (my parents are still together 40 years later!), and now I ask my mom to make this cake for me without fail every year on either my birthday or Easter. It is, after all, the perfect spring-like dessert to bust out in March or April, as the days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer.
Mrs. Kealoha’s recipe calls for the classic cream cheese frosting, which includes pounds of both butter and cream cheese. As delicious as that is (and I will never turn my nose up at it,) I do often find that I can’t quite finish alllll of the frosting that comes along with my slice, it’s just a leeetle too rich. So naturally I started thinking about other ways to frost my favorite carrot cake, and when my mind wandered to the caramel-y, pudding-like coconut- and pecan-laced frosting that traditionally graces the top of German chocolate cake, I knew it would be the perfect fit.
I had never made coconut-pecan frosting from scratch, but I soon learned it’s much like a pudding, where you have to combine the likes of evaporated milk and egg yolks with staples like sugar and butter to get that creamy consistency. Since this was my first time making it, I followed this recipe from MyRecipes to a tee and didn’t stray at all. We’ll save the improvisations for the next time around! I am happy to report, though, that this recipe did not disappoint. I have to admit that I was doubtful for a minute – Did I cook the egg yolks enough? Would the frosting just look yellow? But after making sure I let everything cook and sit for the designated amount of time, I was left with a perfectly normal looking coconut pecan frosting that spread onto the three layers of cake like a dream.
Speaking of the layers of this cake, there is one disclaimer I have to make: I doubled Mrs. Kealoha’s recipe to make a four-layer cake, because I wanted it to be really grand and fun to photograph. BUT unfortunately one of my layers didn’t turn out of the pan properly, so I was stuck with just three, which turned out to be plenty. The layers of Carrot Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting are quite thick, and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to eat a serving of all three layers (usually I skim just one or two layers off and save the rest for another day…hehe!) So, use your judgment and scale this recipe down if you don’t want such huge servings. OR, you could do what I did and use any extra cake layers to make into yummy chocolate-coated carrot cake balls, which turned out to be really easy (I’ve included the basic recipe below in the recipe notes.)
You should have plenty of frosting to cover all four layers should you decide to go that route, especially if you go for the “naked” cake look like I did here (that also helps with the cake-to-frosting ratio I was speaking of earlier.)
Other than the quantity, the only thing I changed from Mrs. Kealoha’s original carrot cake recipe is that I used pecans instead of walnuts in the batter. I figured if I was using pecans in the frosting I might as well use them in the cake as well!
So that’s the long and short of it: Carrot Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting has been born and it’s here to stay. Do you have any fun family baking recipes you’ve adapted to make your own? Let me know in the comments below!
Carrot Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups canola oil
- 8 eggs
- 4 cups sugar
- 4 cups flour plus 1/2 cup for coating carrots
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon mace
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups grated carrots
- 2 cups chopped toasted pecans
For the frosting:
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup butter
- 6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2 cups chopped toasted pecans
- 2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil, eggs and sugar until creamy. Toss the carrots with ½ cup of flour and then add them to this mixture along with the pecans. Next, add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, mace and salt. Mix until well combined.
- Unless you have four 8-inch round cake pans (I only have two), you will need to work in two batches to bake up all of the cake layers. Spray however many pans you have with nonstick cooking spray, then one-fourth of the batter into each one. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and let cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. Repeat baking process however often is necessary until all of your batter has been used up.
To make the frosting:
- In a medium saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, sugar, butter and egg yolks and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cook, stirring constantly, 12-14 minutes more or until mixture is a light caramel color and is bubbling and pudding-like.
- Remove from heat and stir in pecans, coconut and vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until it is of a spreadable frosting consistency.
- Place the first cake layer on your serving plate and, using a long, serrated knife, even out the top. This will help all of the layers stay put on top of each other rather than sliding off once you add the frosting in between the layers.
- Slather a hefty helping of the coconut-pecan frosting over the top of this first layer, being sure to get all the way out to the edges. Repeat the process with however many more layers you are using. You do not need to even out the top layer as you don’t have to worry about another layer sliding off of it.
- Keep cake in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve.
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