© Denzil Green
Carrot cake is a cake made with carrots as the featured ingredient.
The leavener is usually baking soda.
Some recipes add raisins, coconut and even pineapple.
The cakes are usually frosted, quite often with a cream cheese frosting.
Some Carrot Cakes can be disappointingly dry. They really should be moist, soft and dense, with a coarse crumb.
Most carrot cake recipes are assembled as you would quick breads: dry ingredients and wet ingredients mixed separately, then folded together.
There is a perception Carrot Cake is healthy. Partly owing to the carrots, partly owing to the nuts and cream cheese that some recipes call for. Some recipes even call for wholewheat (aka wholemeal in the UK) flour. Most recipes also call for brown sugar, which feeds into the (mistaken) perception that brown sugar is healthier than white.
In addition to Carrot Cakes, Carrot Puddings and Carrot Flans are made. A French carrot flan mentioned in Larousse  under the Carrots entry has a pastry shell, over which is spread a carrot purée, then glazed carrots, and which is then baked. As such it can be served as a savoury; Larousse suggests that with the addition of more sugar, it can be served as a sweet.
Carrots with good-sized roots were introduced into the continent, likely through Spain, in the 1300s and into Britain in the 1400s (previous carrots had spindly roots.)
Shortly after that, carrot desserts started being made. All but the most destitute had access to carrots, and carrots contain a good deal of sugar in them, though nowhere near enough to be able to compete with sugar beets.
Diego Granado put a recipe for carrot pie (“Torta de Zanahoria”) in his 1599 cookbook, “Libro del Arte de Cozina” His also had candied peel and meat broth in it, making it one of those mixed savoury and sweet dishes that still existed before the French codified cooking.
In 1783, the Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan served carrot cake [Reputedly, it was served to George Washington on 25 November 1783, as per Molly O’Neill in her New York Cookbook (1992) ]
Carrot Cake featured prominently in the Uncle Wiggly children’s stories, which started about 1910. The earliest recipe called Carrot Cake that CooksInfo.com can find in American newspapers dates from 1913. It was baked in a pie shell. CooksInfo.com found references to iced Carrot Cakes in the 1920s. The earliest recipe we can find in American newspapers which is what we would expect to be served as Carrot Cake dates from 1931, and is iced.
During the Second World War, the British Ministry of Food worked to revive interest in desserts with carrots, because sweeteners were rationed. The Ministry promoted recipes for Carrot Buns, Carrot Fudge, Carrot Pudding, Carrot Cookies, etc (though we were unable to find one published by them for Carrot Cake per se.)
Carrot Cake started in become popular in America in the 1960s. It was hugely popular in the 1970s, being seen as a healthy, whole food at the start of the whole-foods movement.
Literature & Lore
“Crocus Carrot Cake. Rub four good sized cooked carrots through a sieve. Add two tablespoons ground almonds, three tablespoons sugar, the grated rind and strained juice of half a lemon, the well beaten yolks four eggs, three tablespoons melted butter and the whites of the eggs beaten stiff with a pinch of salt. Pour into a small baking tin lined with pastry. Bake in a hot oven until ready and serve hot or cold, cut in squares.” — “How to Fight the High Cost of Living” column. Ogden City, Utah: The Ogden Standard. Wednesday, 11 June 1913. Page 7.
Howard Roger Garis (1873 – 1962) featured carrot cake prominently in his series of children’s stories about Uncle Wiggily the rabbit, that started in the early 1910s : “No, I am going to make a carrot cake for you. Nurse Jane is going to help me, but we thought we would look in the cook book to see how to make a new kind.” — Garis, Howard R. Uncle Wiggily Makes Candy. Published 1916 in: The Chester Times. Chester, Pennsylvania. 31 January 1916. Page 5.
In the “Little Jack Rabbit” children’s story by Davidy Cory, 1923, Carrot Cake is referred to as something frosted: “.. picking up a lovely hot steaming carrot cake, he began to nibble on the frosting…” — In New Castle News, New Castle Pennyslvania. 2 July 1923. Page 6.
“Carrot Cake: Gold loaf cake, fresh diced carrots added, vanilla icing. 23 Cents.” — Mutual Grocery Store Advertisement. San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California. 21 December 1928. Page 6.
“The final item of the afternoon which Mrs. Heath demonstrated from the platform was carrot cake with cream Icing. The recipe is as follows:
Three-fourths cup butter or other shortening, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 4 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 cups granulated [Ed: sic] carrots, 1/2 cup rich milk, 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon lemon extract.
Cream the butter and sugar until lemon colored. Separate the eggs and add the yolks one by one unbeaten, beating after each addition. Add salt and then the grated carrots and stir well for five minutes. Add the milk and the flour sifted with the baking powder then the lemon extract and fold in the beaten egg whites. Grease and flour a loaf cake pan. Bake in moderate oven (325 degrees) for 30 minutes. This makes a delicious large cake. Cover with cream icing as follows:
Two cups powdered sugar, 1 cup cream, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Mix the sugar and the cream and the butter and let come to a boiling point. Boil for three minutes stirring constantly. Remove from fire and add vanilla. Beat well and spread on the cake while the icing is hot.” — Dinner Table Decoration Subject at Cooking School. San Antonio Express Woman’s Department, edited by Martha Jane Heath. San Antonio Express: San Antonio, Texas. 11 March 1931. Page 13.
 New Larousse Gastronomique. Paris: Librairie Larousse. English edition 1977.
Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food. London: The Penguin Group, 2002. Page 169.