I used to keep a scrapbook-cookbook with cartoons pasted in among the recipes. One of my favourites showed a lady baking something in her kitchen, and a lot of rabbits hopping around the table and more coming through the window. Her husband comes in and says something like, "What the blinky-blink are you making?" She says (of course), "Carrot cake."
The carrot cake recipe I've used for the last while is...okay. It's fairly healthy, if a bit dry and slightly boring; you can eat it for breakfast without guilt. It reminds me a bit of The Hillbilly Housewife's Cinnamon Raisin Bars (which are very tasty), with carrots instead of raisins. But it isn't CARROT CAKE...do you know the kind I mean? The kind you'd make a trip to Mother's Pizza for when you weren't even having pizza; the kind smothered in cream cheese icing; the kind that's moist and carrotty and nutty all at the same time; the kind my mom baked for our wedding.
So I pulled out about five different recipes for carrot cake, from the sweetest, highest-fat '60's version to more recent Betty Crocker and Canadian Living recipes. And I think I have the basics pretty much figured out, along with the reasons why the one we've been making is a bit on the austere side (besides the fact that I don't ice it).
The basics of a "regular" carrot cake seem to be: 2 cups flour; 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar (can be half brown); either 3 cups grated carrots or 2 cups carrots plus 1 cup drained crushed pineapple; 2 tsp. cinnamon; a bit of salt (anywhere from a pinch to 3/4 tsp.); 3 to 4 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla; around 1 cupful of oil; and something to raise it with (which seems to be a point of debate). Some people add chopped nuts; some add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. You mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and bake.
The "something to raise it with" varies from either 1 to 2 tsp. baking soda, alone, to 2 tsp. baking powder plus a tsp. of baking soda; to 2 tsp. of each. Other than making a lot of test batches, I have no way of proving which is the best combination, other than the fact that Canadian Living's "best" recipe calls for 2 tsp. baking powder plus 1 tsp. soda. Maybe it doesn't matter a whole lot.
The pan sizes given vary a lot too, in spite of the fact that all the recipes I compared were based on 2 cups of flour. I've been baking our less-fat recipe in a 9 x 13 inch pan, but some of the recipes say to use an 8 or 9 inch pan instead (which makes sense, because when I bake a standard batch of muffins in a square pan it comes out right). That might be part of the problem right there--the cake's getting more spread out and a bit dried out.
The recipe we've been using is also from Canadian Living, but it was designed to be lower fat; the oil is cut to 1/3 cup and you add a cupful of applesauce to make up the difference. The flour is increased to 2 1/3 cups (half whole wheat), which might explain why it's a bit dry; but the sweetener is cut to 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and the carrots, for some reason, are cut to 2 cups (without any pineapple). Maybe if you added in the pineapple, it would taste better even without the added fat and sugar. But no guarantees. I think I'm going to try it (in a square pan)with 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3/4 to 1 cup oil, plus the pineapple, and we'll see if we have to beat off the rabbits.