Our classic carrot cake is nicely spiced with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and has toasted pecans both in the cake and on top. Plumped golden raisins and a full pound of carrots make it nice and moist while buttermilk lends tang and tenderness. Our homemade cream-cheese frosting has just the right amount of sweetness.
For the cake: Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds and lightly coat the paper with spray.
Cover the raisins with very hot water and let sit until plump, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.
Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool, and then chop 1 cup of the pecans; reserve for the cake batter. Pulse the remaining 1/2 cup pecans in a food processor until very finely ground; reserve for garnish.
Combine the carrots and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Beat the eggs, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually stream in the oil. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the carrot mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until smooth. Fold in the raisins and chopped pecans with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake the cakes, rotating the pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cakes and invert onto the rack. Remove the parchment and let the cakes cool completely.
For the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually mix in the confectioner' sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until the frosting until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
To assemble the cake: When the cakes are completely cool, trim the domes of each cake round with a large serrated knife so the tops are flat. Place one cake, cut-side down, on a platter. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the frosting evenly over top. Place the remaining cake, cut-side down, on top. Spread the top with another 1 1/2 cups of the frosting. Frost the sides of the cake with another 1 1/2 cups frosting and smooth out completely to make an even crumb coat (It's ok if some of the cake shows through. This is just a base layer.) Refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the frosting set.
Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, swirling decoratively if desired. Sprinkle with the finely ground pecans.
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