Carrot Cake—The Commissary’s legendary dessert. Though years ago it was deemed too mundane to serve at old Frog and dropped from the menu, the recipe was resurrected and refined when The Commissary opened.
Customers immediately latched on to this special version, which boasts one of the richest fillings imaginable. It sandwiches layers of moist, spicy cake laden with raisins and pecans, which are then covered with a tangy cream cheese frosting and finished with the gilded crunch of toasted coconut.
Commissary Carrot Cake, in fact, has become so synonymous with the restaurant that when we went to change our logo, a sprightly bunch of carrots seemed a natural motif. A mixed greens salad (which leaves plenty of room) and Carrot Cake were an often-seen Commissary luncheon choice, and the bakery long ago lost count of all the “Carrot” wedding cakes it has sent out. (And then there was the Carrot Cake Ice Cream!)
Many of us, too, will never forget the trays and trays and trays of giant Carrot Cake sheet cakes produced for the various Philadelphia outdoor restaurant festivals, and how, at one festival, after selling out of 2,500 pieces, we were begged by the crowd still mobbing our booth to sell them the crumbs.
Do Ahead This cake is most easily made if you start it at least a day ahead, since the filling, for one thing, is best left to chill overnight. In fact, the different components can all be made even several days in advance and stored separately until you are ready to assemble the cake.
Pecan Cream Filling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups corn oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups grated carrots (about a 1-pound bag)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces soft unsalted butter
8 ounces soft cream cheese
1-pound box of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces shredded, sweetened coconut (1 1/2 cups)
1 Make the filling: In a heavy saucepan, blend well the sugar, flour, and salt. Gradually stir in the cream. Add the butter. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until the butter has melted, then let simmer 20-30 minutes until golden brown in color, stirring occasionally. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the nuts and vanilla. Let cool completely and then refrigerate, preferably overnight. If too thick to spread, bring to room temperature before using.
2 Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Have ready a greased and floured 10″ tube cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the corn oil and sugar. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift half the dry ingredients into the sugar-oil mixture and blend. Alternately sift in the rest of the dry ingredients while adding the eggs, one by one. Combine well. Add the carrots, raisins, and pecans. Pour into the prepared tube pan and bake for 70 minutes. Cool upright in the pan on a cooling rack. If you are not using the cake that day, it can be removed from the pan, wrapped well in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature.
3 Make the frosting: Cream the butter well. Add the cream cheese and beat until blended. Sift in the sugar and add the vanilla. If too soft to spread, chill a bit. Refrigerate if not using immediately, but bring to a spreadable temperature before using.
4 Assemble the cake. Preheat the oven to 300°. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until it colors lightly. Toss the coconut occasionally while it is baking so that it browns evenly. Cool completely. Have the filling and frosting at a spreadable consistency. Loosen the cake in its pan and invert onto a serving plate. With a long serrated knife, carefully split the cake into 3 horizontal layers. Spread the filling between the layers. Spread the frosting over the top and sides. Pat the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake. If desired, reserve 1/2 cup of the frosting and color half with green food coloring and half with orange. Then decorate the top of the cake with green and orange icing piped through a 1/16” wide, plain pastry tube to resemble little carrots. Serve the cake at room temperature.