Tropical Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

We’re just a few days out from Easter and I realize I haven’t shared a single recipe with you guys yet. Ham is the traditional main course, but it’s really not my favorite, though I’m happy to load up on the sides, especially if there’s mac & cheese involved. But what I really love most is dessert – shocking, right? :) And for me, there’s only one way to go with dessert on Easter and that’s carrot cake! I may be just a little bit obsessed with all things carrot cake…

Tropical Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I think carrot cake is sort of like banana bread in that there are a million recipes out there and everyone has their favorite. This tropical carrot cake is, hands down, my new go-to! I’ve tried a lot of carrot cake, and they tend to have a variety of mix-ins: raisins (love!), nuts (ewww) and coconut are probably the ones I’ve seen most frequently. This recipe incorporates both coconut and pineapple – hence the “tropical” label.

But here’s the part I really loved: the coconut is finely ground so you don’t get any of that stringy texture that often turns people off, just pure coconut flavor. And yes, I realize there’s shredded coconut all over the outside of my cake, but that’s entirely optional! Also, rather than incorporate big chunks of pineapple, you make a super simple pudding to provide that pineapple flavor. It’s genius! The cake is moist and tender and since even the carrots are finely ground before being added, you won’t notice the texture of any of the add-ins, just a ton of great flavor.

Tropical Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

You can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting, right? It’s pretty much the only choice here. I could eat spoonful after spoonful of it straight from the bowl, it’s completely addictive! This one is fluffy and smooth, it makes frosting this cake a cinch. You could garnish your cake in a lot of different ways – simply frost it and leave it as is, add toasted pecans or walnuts to the top and/or sides, top with some pineapple, or as I did, use shredded coconut. The bonus to adding garnish to the sides is that the frosting doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re just going to cover it up!

If you’re still in the planning stage, I highly recommend adding this cake to your Easter menu. It’s sure to be a hit with the carrot cake lovers in your life!

Tropical Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Cook’s Country, April/May 2007

{Note: I halved the recipe and used 6-inch cake pans, which worked perfectly. Also, I omitted it, but if you’d like you can add the remaining 1 cup of pineapple pudding to the frosting after incorporating the cream cheese. It may make the frosting slightly grainy – just FYI.}

Pineapple Pudding
1 lb frozen pineapple chunks, thawed
1/2 cup frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
6 tablespoons cornstarch

Cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups canola oil

Frosting
2-3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese (reduced-fat is fine), cut into 8 pieces and softened
pinch salt

To make the pudding: Combine the pineapple chunks and the concentrate in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a medium sauce and add the cornstarch, whisk until combined. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer then cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened (this will happen quickly, 1-2 minutes). Transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool slightly, then chill for at least 1 1/2 hours.

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray then line the bottom with a parchment round and spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, ginger, and salt. Add the carrots to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until they are finely ground. Remove the carrots to a large bowl and wipe the food processor dry. Add the coconut and granulated sugar to the now empty bowl of the food processor. Pulse until the coconut is finely ground. Add the brown sugar and all of the eggs to the bowl of the food processor with the coconut/sugar mixture and process until the mixture is smooth. With the food processor running, gradually add the oil through the feed tube and mix until well combined.

Pour the batter in the food processor into the bowl with the carrots. Add the dry ingredients and 3/4 cup of the pineapple pudding. Fold together until everything is evenly incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Transfer the pans to cooling racks and let cool for 10 minutes then turn the cakes out (peel off the parchment) and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: Preheat oven to 325 F. Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the coconut is golden brown.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes (the mixture will get crumbly at first, just keep beating and it’ll come together). One at a time, add the pieces of cream cheese, allowing one to incorporate before adding the next. Add the salt and beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

To assemble the cake: Once the cakes have cooled, place one layer of the cake on your serving platter (you can slide pieces of parchment under the edges to keep the platter clean while you frost). Top with about 1 1/2 cups of the frosting and spread in an even layer. Place the second cake layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Press the toasted coconut into the sides of the cake (and the top if you want). Decorate as desired. The cake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days before serving.