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Caramel Carrot Cake Trifle is an easy, show-stopping Easter dessert that can feed a crew. The delicious layers of this non-traditional, seasonal dessert are carrot cake, a cream cheese pudding, caramel sauce, and walnuts. Fresh strawberries with an orange-colored candy coating, made to look like carrots, add the perfect garnish. This dessert is best served in a clear glass trifle bowl which beautifully displays all your “hard” work!
Thanks to several shortcuts and store—bought options, you can invest as much or as little time as you want in making each layer without changing the spectacular presentation or altering the yumminess of all the blended flavors. The layers can be made ahead of time, at your leisure.
The base of the trifle is carrot cake. If you are so moved, feel free to use an old family recipe and bake a carrot cake from scratch. If you want to go “down & dirty,” pick up a pre-baked cake in your supermarket’s bakery department. I opted for a compromise and used a boxed mix. You usually can find carrot cake mix in the baking aisle with the other boxed cake mixes. However, if you can’t (which always seems to happen when you are looking for it), you can use a spice cake mix and add a cup of grated carrots. Follow the box instructions for a 9×13 pan. The cake needs to be cooled and cut into cubes.
My cream cheese pudding layer is made with two boxes of instant vanilla pudding mix, milk, softened cream cheese, and whipped topping (like cool whip). There’s not a pre-made alternative for this layer. It’s as simple as it gets. Make sure that the cream cheese is at room temp so it can be easily beaten to a creamy smooth consistency. I like using my hand-held electric mixer. It does the job quickly and easily without the effort of hauling out the stand mixer.
I love home-made caramel sauce!! I will make it whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s quick, easy, and sooooo delicious. It’s included as part of this recipe. It takes ten minutes, 3 ingredients, and a sprinkle of salt. It can be made in advance, but it does firm up when chilled in the refrigerator. Zap it in the microwave for a few seconds to return it to a saucy state. Skip this step entirely by simply buying a jar of Smuckers Caramel Sauce. It tastes good, and the consistency is always perfect. If you decide to go store-bought, I understand and support the decision. It won’t hurt my feelings! Home-made or from the jar, caramel sauce drizzled on the carrot cake makes this dessert.
The caramel sauce is topped with chopped walnuts (pecans, if you prefer, or no nuts, if allergies are a concern). Toasting brings out the natural oils and enhances flavor and texture. You can skip this step, but it only takes a few minutes — it’s really worth it. Toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat until they are browned (one shade darker than they originally were) and fragrant, between 2 – 5 minutes. To zhoosh it up, toss the walnuts in a tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt before throwing them in the pan. I always make twice as many as I need, so I have some for munching. Toasted, salted walnuts are a delicious and nutritious snack.
For maximum eye appeal, garnish the trifle with candy-coated “carrots”. The carrots are actually fresh strawberries with green leafy tops dipped into an orange-colored candy coating. If you have orange candy melts (I’m impressed!), those are perfect. Vanilla candy coating, which is excellent for all sorts of candy, or white chocolate chips, works just as well. In all cases, you melt the candy in the microwave following package instructions. If using a white coating, add a few drops of orange food coloring. Depending on the quality and type of candy coating you’re using, the chocolate may seize-up when you add the dye. This means it becomes extremely dry and coarse. Don’t panic! It happened to me, so I know of which I speak. Simply add a tablespoon of oil (vegetable, canola, or coconut) and stir until it becomes smooth again. Holding the berries by the leaves/stem, dip the strawberry in the coating covering all the red. Shake off the excess and set on a parchment paper to solidify. Using a fork, graze the berry to mimic the lines on a carrot. If you don’t have or can’t find orange food coloring or orange candy melts, or this sounds too fussy for you – it’s an optional garnish. It’s not worth stressing over! Whipped topping is a great and hassle-free alternative.
When all the layers are prepped, it’s time to assemble. For maximum impressiveness, nothing beats using a trifle bowl. There are multiple uses for this shaped bowl, other than a trifle, making it worth the storage space. It’s excellent for layered salads, pasta, and dips. It can also create a fabulous centerpiece (fill with glass stones and add a candle or flowers), be used as an ice bucket for wine, or store and display cloth napkins. To assemble:
- Start with a layer of cubed carrot cake.
- Drizzle on some caramel sauce and sprinkle with walnuts.
- Spoon a layer of the cream cheese pudding mixture.
Repeat the process twice or until the bowl is filled. Finish the trifle off with some crumbled cake cubes and a sprinkle of walnuts, and a drizzle of caramel. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight) for flavors to meld. Before serving, garnish with the candy carrots or use whipped topping (like Redi-Wip) to create swirls around the edge.
While it’s almost too pretty to eat, it makes 12 -16 servings, just right for Easter dinner with guests. Enjoy the oohs and aahs when the trifle bowl hits the table! Make sure you get a scoop – there probably won’t be leftovers!
Caramel Carrot Cake TrifleCourse: DessertCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
Caramel Carrot Cake Trifle is an easy, show-stopping Easter dessert. The delicious layers of carrot cake, a cream cheese pudding, caramel sauce, and toasted walnuts are topped with an optional garnish of candy coated “carrots”.
• 1 carrot cake mix – prepared and baked as per box directions using a 9×13 pan
• 1 packed cup brown sugar
• 1/2 cup half-and-half
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
• 8 oz. box of cream cheese, room temperature
• 3 cups milk
• 2 packages instant vanilla pudding
• 8 ounces whipped topping, (like cool whip)
- Carrot Cake Prep: Prepare carrot cake according to package directions for a 9×13 pan; bake, cool, cut into bite size cubes; set aside.
- Caramel Sauce Prep: Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 7 to 10 minutes, until it gets thicker. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken to desired consistence. Remove from heat and slightly cool
- Walnut Prep: In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat walnuts until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 2 to 5 minutes. (see note)
- Cream Cheese Pudding Prep: In a large mixing bowl, add (room temperature) cream cheese and beat at a high speed until creamy. Add milk, one cup at a time, mixing well after each cup. Add 2 packages of pudding mix; beat 2 minutes a high speed. Fold in whipped topping until just mixed; set bowl aside.
- Optional Garnish prep: Cover a large plate or baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the coating (candy melts, white chocolate coating or chocolate chips) according to the package instructions. If using white chocolate add a few drops of food coloring (if chocolate seizes – becomes dry, add a table spoon oil and mix until it regains proper consistency). Dip each strawberry into the melted candy all the way up to the green stem, covering all of the red of the strawberry. Let the excess drip off, then place on the prepared plate or baking sheet. Using a fork or toothpick mark lines across each covered strawberry to mimic the ribbed lines on a carrot
- Assembly: In a trifle bowl (or large clear mixing bowl), layer cake pieces, sprinkle with walnuts, drizzle caramel sauce and a layer of cream cheese mixture. Repeat 2 times. Top last layer with crumbled cake cube and sprinkle of walnuts. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. If desired, garnish with candy “carrots”.
- Time Saver: Use store-bought caramel sauce (Smuckers is great!) eliminating Step 2 and these ingredients: brown sugar, half & half, butter and salt.
- Walnuts: If desired, toss walnuts in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt prior to toasting
- Substitution for Carrot Cake Mix: Spice cake mix with 1 cup grated carrots
- Alternative garnish: Using whipped topping (like Redi-wip) decorate edges of bowl with puffs/squirts to create a finished look