If you have ever sipped a glowing-orange glass off fresh-squeezed carrot-orange juice, you know that these two flavors have a special affinity for each other, each brightening the other. Put the two together and you’re well on your way toward five fruits and vegetables for the day.
2 oranges, preferably organic
3 cups gently packed, peeled and grated carrots
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup gently packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream, cold
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon orange zest (reserved from cake preparation)
Finely chopped, toasted pecans, for decorating (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with 1 rack in the upper third and 1 rack in the lower third. Coat two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans with oil. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
To make the cake, finely grate 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon zest from the oranges. Peel the oranges, discarding the skin and trimming away any visible white pith. Cut the oranges in half and, if they are not navels, poke out any seeds. Put the oranges in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are in small chunks. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the orange zest and all of the carrots. (Set aside the remaining 1 teaspoon zest for the frosting.)
Stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, sour cream, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl until well combined. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture just until blended. Using a spatula or large spoon, stir in the carrot-orange mixture (including any juice in the bowl) and the pecans.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center of a cake layer tests clean, about 40 minutes, switching the pans between the racks and rotating them front to back about halfway through baking. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks.
While the cake layers bake, make the frosting, which will need time to chill. Beat together the cream cheese and butter with a handheld electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. On low speed, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined, stopping occasionally as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the crème fraîche, vanilla, salt, and reserved 1 teaspoon orange zest and beat just until smooth. Increase the speed to medium and beat until thick and creamy, about 15 seconds. Do not overmix. Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to spread, 30 to 60 minutes.
Run a thin knife around the inside edge of each pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a flat serving plate over 1 pan and invert the pan and plate together to release the cake. Lift off the pan. Spread about one-third of the frosting evenly over the top. (An offset spatula is the best tool for this task.) Invert the second layer onto a plate in the same fashion, then place, top side up, over the frosted layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, swirling it decoratively if you like. Press the pecans onto the sides of the cake, or in a ring around the top perimeter of the cake.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the frosting, or up to 3 days, covering the cake after the frosting has set. It is equally good served directly from the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Use navel oranges, which are seedless, or a variety such as the Hamlin or Valencia that is nearly so. Philadelphia brand cream cheese is your best bet for the frosting, though you can use the same brand’s lower-fat Neufchatel, if you prefer. This cake can also be made in a 13-by-9-inch pan.
Season to Taste: I haven’t tried this with zucchini and lemon in place of the carrot and orange, but doesn’t that sound good? One lemon might be enough.