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Pumpkin Carrot Cake (Award Winning!)

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

If you have been following along for the past couple months, you will know that this wonderfully spiced Pumpkin Carrot Cake is the fifth and final entry I submitted to the 2019 Chicago’s Best Baker Contest.  It was one of the five desserts responsible for winning me the overall title of Chicago’s Best Baker. And to be completely honest, it was one my favorite submissions to the contest.  

This carrot cake tastes just like fall with its spices and pumpkin flavor.  It’s like a carrot cake and pumpkin pie had a baby.  It is absolutely delicious!  This version is a slightly more intricate variation of the carrot cake recipe I already have on my blog but trust me…this cake is worth the effort!  It is topped with crunchy pecan toffee shards, which add a fairly simple and beautiful decoration to the cake.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

I also used two kinds of cream cheese frosting which really helped push this cake over the edge.  If it’s easier though, you can use one kind of cream cheese frosting and it will still be fantastic!  Now, all you’re missing is a nice, hot cup of coffee and a cozy blanket.

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Ingredients for Pumpkin Carrot Cake:

All ingredients are the same as the carrot cake on this post, except for the following:

Making the Cake:

Refer to my Carrot Cake post for instructions for how to make this cake. 

Add the pumpkin puree with the shredded carrots and pecans.  Then, mix to combine.  

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

All ingredients and the method are the same as the recipe in the Carrot Cake post.    

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
Ingredients for White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Making the White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:

Start by sifting your powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Cut the white chocolate into small pieces and melt in the top bowl of a double boiler over simmering water.  Cutting the chocolate into small pieces ensures the chocolate will melt quickly and will decrease the chances of scorching the white chocolate.  Stir frequently until chocolate is melted, then remove the bowl from the double boiler and set aside to cool. 

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Beat cream cheese and butter together using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer.  You can also use a large bowl with a hand mixer.  Beat ingredients for approximately one minute at medium speed until smooth and evenly incorporated.  Scrape down sides of bowl to ensure all cream cheese is incorporated.  

Add the slightly cooled white chocolate and stir on low speed until combined.  If the white chocolate is too hot, it can melt the butter and change the consistency of the frosting. 

Next, add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and stir to combine.  While the mixer is on low speed, add the powdered sugar in 2-3 additions so it doesn’t end up all over your kitchen.  Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until smooth and creamy. 

I have found in the past, that cream cheese frosting can be difficult to smooth on the outside of a cake because the frosting is really “sticky”.  In other words, as I use my smoothing tool, the frosting will “stick” to the tool and drag into the frosting on the cake, which has made it difficult to get a smooth appearance.  If you notice that the frosting sticks to spatulas more than a buttercream would, add an additional ¼ to ½ cup of powdered sugar to help the consistency. 

Use the frosting immediately on a room-temperature cake or store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When storing the frosting, cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the top of the frosting to avoid a crust forming. This frosting tends to crust quickly. If using the frosting from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature so it spreads more easily.

Pecan Toffee Ingredients
Ingredients for Pecan Toffee
Making the Pecan Toffee
Toasted Pecans

Begin by placing chopped pecans into a pan on the stove at medium heat.  Stirring constantly to avoid burning, toast the pecans until they become a little darker in color and smell strongly of pecans.  You can also put the nuts on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven at 350°F/177°C until they take on a little color (approximately 10 minutes).  Remove the pecans from the stove AND the pan (nuts can burn easily if left unattended while toasting or in the pan after toasting has completed).  Allow nuts to cool completely. 

Place a sheet of parchment paper (I love pre-cut parchment paper sheets because they are super quick and easy to use) into the bottom of a half-sheet pan.  Set a second sheet of parchment paper or a silpat (i.e., silicone parchment paper) next to the pan. 

Measure out all ingredients and have them prepared ahead of time.  When making caramel, timing is important so having your ingredients prepared will decrease stress. 

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (minimum 2-quart size) over medium heat.  Gently stir in the sugar, water, and corn syrup using a silicone spatula until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the candy thermometer to the pan and increase the heat to high.  

Cook the sugar mixture until it reaches 310°F/154°C on a candy thermometer.  Stir in the baking soda and salt.  Be very careful when adding the baking soda because it will cause the caramel to bubble up vigorously.  Do not get burned! Continue to cook the caramel until it reaches 320°F/160°C. This usually takes seconds, so don’t take your eyes off of it.

Remove the pan from the heat and the candy thermometer from the pan (place it on a heat resistant surface).  Quickly stir in the vanilla paste and chopped, toasted pecans using a clean silicone spatula. 

Quickly and carefully pour the toffee onto the prepared sheet pan.  Use the spatula to roughly spread the toffee.  Then, cover the toffee with the second sheet of parchment paper/silpat and use a rolling pin to smooth it out.  Do not press too hard while rolling, because you can squeeze the toffee over the side of the parchment paper and burn your fingers.  Allow the toffee to cool completely at room temperature (approximately 4 hours). 

This toffee can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month, although it has never lasted that long in my house!  If the toffee is left uncovered in a humid environment, it tends to get sticky and soft.

Assembling and Decorating the Pumpkin Carrot Cake:

Begin by leveling the top of each 9” cake (if necessary) and torting them (i.e., cutting the cake in half horizontally so there are two layers).  You should end with a total of 4 layers.  Set the bottom of one of the cakes aside.  This will be the top of your cake.

Spread a small amount of frosting in the middle of the cake plate. This helps “glue” the cake to the board to minimize movement. Then, place a layer of the cake on a cake board and spread a quarter-inch layer of spiced cream cheese frosting on top of the cake.  

Repeat two more times (i.e., cake, frosting, cake, frosting).  For the last layer, use the cake you previously set aside.  Place the cake layer upside-down so the flat bottom is now the top of the cake.  This will help you have sharp edges when frosting the outside of the cake.

Spread an even layer of white chocolate cream cheese frosting on the outside of the cake.  I didn’t crumb coat this cake (because I was running out of time), but this carrot cake can be a little crumbly, so it’s a good idea to crumb coat the cake and put it in the fridge to chill before applying the final layer of frosting.  Create a smooth frosting surface by lightly dragging an offset spatula/scraper along the edge of the cake while slowing turning the turn table. 

Pumpkin Carrot Cake with Pecan Toffee Shards

Next, break the pecan toffee into large and small shards.  It should break fairly easily.  Place the larger shards in the top of the cake.  Get creative in how you want them to look.  Then, place the smaller shards along the bottom of the cake.  I used pieces of different heights and angles to give movement to the border.  Finish by placing a small amount of toffee into a closed Ziploc bag and crushing it using a rolling pin.  This will create a toffee powder that can be CAREFULLY sprinkled around the top edge of the cake. 

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

You now have an award-winning Pumpkin Carrot Cake that is rich, moist, and has an excellent balance of textures from the soft and tender cake and the crunchy nuts and toffee.  Leave me a comment below if you have any questions when making the cake or to let me know how the recipe went.  I would love to hear how it turns out!

Even though this was the last award-winning recipe that I submitted to the Chicago’s Best Baker Contest, I still have lots of delicious recipes to share on this website.  Please subscribe to my newsletter to get all of my posts sent directly to your inbox!   

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Pumpkin Carrot Cake

Ingredients

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

  • 2 cups (242g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp (7.4g) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (5.1g) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (4.5g) salt
  • tsp (2.8g) ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (1g) ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp (1g) ground cloves
  • 4 large (228g) eggs
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • cups (271g) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (220ml) vegetable oil
  • ½ cup (1 stick/113g) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup (60ml) whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp (15g) vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp (20g) finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 Tbsp (6g) grated orange zest
  • 2 cups (220g) shredded carrots
  • ½ cup (115g) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup (100g) chopped pecans

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 18 oz (510g) cream cheese, softened
  • 9 Tbsp (126g) unsalted butter, softened
  • tsp (6g) vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp (1.2g) ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (0.6g) ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups (345g) powdered sugar, sifted

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  • One 3.5oz (113.5g) bar of white chocolate
  • 1 lb (454g) cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tbsp (42g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp (3.5g) vanilla extract
  • 1⅔ cups (191g) powdered sugar

Pecan Toffee

  • 1⅓ cups (200g) pecans, chopped
  • 1 stick + 2.5 Tbsp (150g) unsalted butter
  • cups + 2 Tbsp (375g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup + 3 Tbsp (100g) water
  • 3 Tbsp + 2 tsp (75g) light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp (4.8g) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (3g) kosher salt
  • 1 tsp (5.6g) vanilla paste

Instructions

Making the Pumpkin Carrot Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center of the oven.
  • Begin by sifting flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together into a medium bowl. Whisk all dry ingredients together until combined and set the bowl off to the side.
  • In the bowl of the stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the eggs, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed using the paddle attachment until well combined and lightened in color (approximately 2 minutes). Decrease the speed to low and add the oil, melted butter, milk, vanilla extract, ginger, and orange zest until blended. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary, so that everything is fully incorporated.
  • Next, add the flour mixture in 3 additions (to avoid overmixing and getting flour all over your kitchen). Mix flour into batter until just incorporated. Lastly, mix in shredded carrots, pumpkin puree, and pecans until blended.

Baking the Pumpkin Carrot Cake

  • Pour the batter evenly into two prepared 9-inch cake pans (i.e., oil the bottom and sides of the pan, place a 9" circle of parchment paper in bottom, lightly oil the parchment paper surface, cover the inside of the pan with a light dusting of flour, and tap out any excess flour). It should be approximately 877g of batter in each cake pan. Place the cake pans in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean). Cool the cake in the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes before inverting the cake pans onto the racks and removing the cake from the pans. Allow the cake to cool completely (i.e., to room temperature).

Making the Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Start by sifting your powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you are using a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter at medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the cream cheese.
  • Next, beat in the vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, and salt. Decrease the speed to low and add the sifted powdered sugar in three additions. Beat until combined after each addition. Increase the speed to high and beat until the frosting is light and creamy (approximately 2 minutes).
  • Use the frosting immediately on a room-temperature cake or store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. If using the frosting from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature so it spreads more easily.

Making the White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Start by sifting your powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
  • Cut the white chocolate into small pieces and melt in the top bowl of a double boiler over simmering water. Cutting the chocolate into small pieces ensures the chocolate will melt quickly and will decrease the chances of scorching the white chocolate. Stir frequently until chocolate is melted, then remove the bowl from the double boiler and set aside to cool.
  • Beat cream cheese and butter together using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer. You can also use a large bowl with a hand mixer. Beat ingredients for approximately one minute at medium speed until smooth and evenly incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl to ensure all cream cheese is incorporated.
  • Add the slightly cooled white chocolate and stir on low speed until combined. If the white chocolate is too hot, it can melt the butter and change the consistency of the frosting.
  • Next, add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and stir to combine. While the mixer is on low speed, add the powdered sugar in 2-3 additions so it doesn’t end up all over your kitchen. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Use the frosting immediately on a room-temperature cake or store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When storing the frosting, cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the top of the frosting to avoid a crust from forming. This frosting tends to crust quickly. If using the frosting from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature so it spreads more easily.

Making the Pecan Toffee

  • Place chopped pecans into a pan on the stove at medium heat. Stir constantly to avoid burning and toast the pecans until they become a little darker in color and smell strongly of nuts. You can also put the nuts on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven at 350°F/177°C until they take on a little color (approximately 10 minutes). Remove the pecans from the stove AND the pan (nuts can burn easily if left unattended while toasting or in the pan after toasting has completed). Allow nuts to cool completely.
  • Place a sheet of parchment paper into the bottom of a half-sheet pan. Set a second sheet of parchment paper or a silpat next to the pan.
  • When making caramel, timing is important so measure out all ingredients and have them prepared ahead of time.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (minimum 2-quart size) over medium heat. Gently stir in the sugar, water, and corn syrup using a silicone spatula until the sugar has dissolved. Add the candy thermometer to the pan and increase the heat to high.
  • Cook the sugar mixture until it reaches 310°F/154°C on a candy thermometer. Stir in the baking soda and salt. Be very careful when adding the baking soda because it will cause the caramel to bubble up vigorously. Do not get burned!
  • Continue to cook the caramel until it reaches 320°F/160°C. This usually takes seconds, so don’t take your eyes off of it.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and the candy thermometer from the pan (place it on a heat resistant surface). Quickly stir in the vanilla paste and chopped, toasted pecans using a clean silicone spatula.
  • Quickly and carefully pour the toffee onto the prepared sheet pan. Use the spatula to roughly spread the toffee. Then, cover the toffee with the second sheet of parchment paper/silpat and use a rolling pin to smooth it out. Do not press too hard while rolling, because you can squeeze the toffee over the side of the parchment paper and burn your fingers. Allow the toffee to cool completely (approximately 4 hours).
  • This toffee can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month, although it has never lasted that long in my house! If the toffee is left uncovered in a humid environment, it tends to get sticky and soft.

Assembling the Cake

  • Cut the two layers of cake horizontally so that there are 4 layers of cake.
  • Stack the cake with alternating layers of cake and spiced cream cheese frosting (i.e., cake, frosting, cake frosting, cake, frosting, cake).
  • Cover the cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting and smooth the sides/top.
  • Break the toffee into shards and place into the top of the cake and around the base.
  • Place a small amount of toffee into a ziploc bag, crush into a powder using a rolling pin, and carefully sprinkle around the outside edge of the top of the cake.
Notes:
  1. You can use an equivalent amount of vanilla extract. (Back to “Pecan Toffee Ingredients” section)
  2. I adapted the following recipes to create this cake:
    • Carrot cake, spiced cream cheese frosting, and white chocolate cream cheese frosting recipes were adapted from “Solid Gold Carrot Cake,” “Cream Cheese Spice Frosting,” and “White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting” recipe in Tish Boyle’s, “The Cake Book.”
    • Pecan Toffee recipe was adapted from the “Toffee” recipe in the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

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