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Carrot cake may be an old-fashioned dessert, but no one ever turns down a slice. Here are the secrets to make any carrot cake recipe taste better:

Plump the Raisins. Dried fruits are dry, which means they need to be plumped up with hot liquid. Sure you could soak the raisins in hot water, but I prefer using liquids with flavor, such as brandy or rum. In a saucepan, heat a half-cup of liquid, add the raisins, remove from heat, and let sit until cool and the alcohol is absorbed. And, yes, I plump up the raisins in other dishes, such as oatmeal-raisin cookies.

Toast the Nuts. The full flavor of nuts comes out when the nuts are toasted (at 350 degrees for 5 minutes) right before using. Pre-toasted nuts don’t have the same taste as freshly-toasted nuts. Toasting in a dry skillet does not work, since the only part of the nut that cooks is the edge that touches the pan. Nuts must be toasted in the oven.

Butter and Oil. Cakes taste better when made with butter, but butter can produce a dry cake. Use half butter and half vegetable oil in the batter and the cake will be moist and delicious. The vegetable oil that I use is olive oil, because fruity olive oil has more flavor than deodorized vegetable oils.

Cream the Icing. “To cream” is an often misunderstood direction in the kitchen. Creaming is about creating a luscious texture. To cream, the cream cheese and butter must be at room temperature (allow 2 hours), must be mixed in an electric mixer, and achieving the silky texture takes about 10-15 minutes of mixing in the stand mixer, so that the sugar is completely blended and dissolved in the butter.

Don’t miss the delicious carrot cakes in these upcoming cooking classes:

  • “Retro Diner Cupcakes” on June 1.
  • “Classic American Cakes” on July 11.
  • “Culinary Skills” a four-part class beginning on September 9.