Think inside and outside the box when you amp up the flavor of a carrot cake mix to intensify both the taste of the cake and its appearance by adding ingredients. Begin by experimenting with different brands of carrot cake mixes until you find the one that you like best; then discover the ingredients with flavors that pair well with the sweet, earthy flavor of carrots. Let the jazzing up begin.
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Spice It Up
Although a carrot cake typically contains spices such as allspice, cinnamon and cloves, boost the flavor by adding an additional 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of each spice. Add in an equal amount of cardamon to give the cake a spicy-sweet flavor with it own special quality. A bit of ginger, either freshly grated or dried, lemon zest or orange zest also add a kick to the taste of a carrot cake. Be sure to wash citrus fruits thoroughly before zesting them.
Nuts of All Kinds
Toast chopped nuts for about 8 minutes in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven to give your carrot cake nutty flavor and crunch. Almonds, sliced or chopped, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts all complement the sweetness of carrots with savory umami. Add a few drops of almond extract if you use toasted almonds to intensify the almond flavor.
Add Carrot-Friendly Ingredients
Certain ingredients have a natural affinity with carrots and deepen the flavors of a carrot cake mix. A can of crushed or diced pineapple or raisins, either plain or soaked in brandy, bring a different level of sweetness and tang to the cake, while tangy, chopped cranberries offset the cake's sweetness. Or, add about 1 teaspoon of orange zest and substitute fresh orange juice for the water called for to give the carrot cake depths of orange flavor.
Frosting and Decoration Upgrades
Homemade frosting with real butter and vanilla bring a boxed carrot cake to life. Jazz up the icing even more by sprinkling it with toasted, shredded coconut, toasted nuts, candied ginger or candied citrus zest. Or, emulate Chef Emily Luchetti, formerly of Farallon restaurant in San Fransisco, and top your carrot cake with broken bits of pecan praline candy. To jazz up the typical cream cheese frosting, drizzle it with caramel or dark chocolate sauce.