an american experience – ginger-citrus carrot cake

an american experience – ginger-citrus carrot cake

This rabbit love carrots–straight up, juiced, in a salad, pureed in soup, roasted–you name it, I love them. Most of all, I adore carrot cakes.

I’d never heard of carrot cake until my great aunt brought one to our house, when I was about eight years old. She was the consummate homemaker, while remaining elegant and charming with all the social graces. She was also well informed about the Western (non-Chinese) culture, so I always looked forward to seeing her and learn what the other side of the world was up to.

By contrast, American/European style baking was not the norm in our home. We’d either buy Western cakes or make Chinese cakes, which are mostly steamed. So, when my great aunt arrived with a carrot cake she made from a recipe on some American TV show, it was something quite out of the ordinary. My family was skeptical–this carrot cake was just a naked dark-brown cake with flecks of orange. Chinese cakes and pastries are typically white, yellow, or other pale colors. My mother politely accepted the cake and put it aside as everyone carried on with the conversation.

Except for me. I expressed my enthusiasm for the exotic specimen, and asked if I could have a slice right away. My family was relieved that this crazy boy wanted to be the guinea pig. They watched as I took a small bite and revealed no particular response. I was trying to figure what it was. It was moist and not very sweet with spices you could smell. The taste wasn’t familiar, but it was pleasant enough and definitely made me curious to try another.

I finished the rest of my piece, but didn’t think much more about it–except I was proud of my willingness to try a new experience.

That creation of my great aunt was the extent of my carrot cake experience until I moved to the US, where I found the addition of cream cheese frosting enhanced everything. My fondness of carrot cake today stems from that memorable first encounter and my admiration for her. I will forever associate carrot cake as an American experience, even if it started for me in Hong Kong.

For this Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial American beginning of Summer, I offer a very gingery carrot cake with a citrus cream cheese frosting. An American cake with an injection of Chinese essence to salute my great aunt for broadening my life/culinary experience at a young age.

Ginger-Citrus Carrot Cake


Carrot Cake

1-3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon orange zest, freshly grated

1 teaspoon lemon zest, freshly grated

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (2 ounces) light brown sugar

3/4 cup coconut oil or vegetable oil

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2-2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 medium carrots)

Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting

16 tablespoons (8 ounces/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened

2 teaspoons orange zest, freshly grated

2 teaspoons lemon zest, freshly grated

3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup malted milk powder

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

12 ounces cream cheese, chilled and cut into 12 equal pieces

2 cups (8 ounces) walnuts , toasted and coarsely chopped


Carrot Cake

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt together in medium bowl.

2. Add zests and granulated sugar to a large bowl, knead wit finger tips until zests are fully incorporated into the sugar and resembles wet sand. Whisk in light brown sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla together until mixture is smooth. Stir in carrots, add flour mixture and fold with rubber spatula until mixture is just combined.

3. Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and smooth surface with offset spatula. Bake until center of cake is firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack (do not remove parchment) and then reinvert onto second wire rack. Cool cake completely, about 30 minutes.

Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low, add malted milk powder, vanilla, and salt and beat until combined, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed.

2. Add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time; and mix until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 30 seconds.


1. Transfer cooled cake to cutting board, parchment side down. Using sharp chef’s knife, cut cake and parchment lengthwise in 3 equal rectangles.

2. Place 1 cake rectangle, parchment side up, on serving platter and carefully remove parchment. Using offset spatula, spread approximately 3/4 cup frosting evenly over cake layer. Repeat with two more layers of cake and frosting, pressing gently on each layer to level. Use remaining frosting to coat top and sides of cake.

3. Press chopped walnuts onto sides with hand. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.