Years ago, while Hubby and I were still dating, I decided to make a birthday cake for his mom. "You know, carrot cake is a special tradition in our family," he said.

Eager to impress, I researched recipes and baked a fairly large, three-layer version completely from scratch.

When we arrived at their house, I kept it a surprise in the fridge until after dinner, excited that I had been let in on the secret of this meaningful dessert.

His mom had barely blown out all the candles before I burst out with pride, "It's your traditional family carrot cake!"

She smiled and looked a bit confused. His dad turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

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I then glanced over at Hubby (At that time he was just "Boyfriend") who smirked and explained, "I just really like carrot cake."

OK, so maybe it wasn't exactly a tradition back then, but after a good laugh it felt like a new one was starting. Sure enough, when I asked Hubby what cake he wanted for his birthday this month, he requested good ol' carrot cake. I felt like I was doing a good deed as it's kind of the underdog of the dessert world. Carrot cake is like the kid who gets picked last in gym class and scores a homerun first time at bat. Please don't underestimate it.

I went out to buy my ingredients for the made-from-scratch cake I had baked years ago, and while I was perusing the aisle, I came across a boxed mix.

Now, I do love a little help from the store when necessary, but I felt a twinge of guilt as I reached for the package.

This is Hubby's birthday and his family is coming over and even though I'm creating a homemade lasagna recipe for the first time and making meat pizza from scratch and four different appetizers, I really should have my act together and make a labor-intensive cake.

Then, I remembered what my mom always says about pre-made mixes: If they already figured out how to make it taste good, why second guess them? My mom is always right.

I put the box in my cart along with walnuts and crushed pineapple to enhance that homemade taste. I did make my own frosting, however, which is half the reason we eat a cupcake in the first place. Instead of fussing with piping bags and fancy decorating tips, I used an ice cream scoop, which offered an ideal cake-to-icing ratio with a very inviting presentation.

They were sweet and decadent, and his family (who is now my family too) enjoyed every last bite.

So here's to you Hubby. Happy Birthday. I heard you really like carrot cake.

The Now Traditional Arata Family Carrot Cake:


For cupcakes:

1 box Duncan Hines Decadent Classic Carrot Cake Mix (with carrot and raisin packet)

3 eggs

1¼ cups hot tap water

3 large eggs

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 small can crushed pineapple (partially drained)

¼ cup walnuts

For frosting:

3½ cups confectioners' sugar

1 (8 ounce) package Neufchatel cheese

½ cup butter, softened

1¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare muffin tin with cupcake liners. Open carrot and raisins pouch and add to 1 1/4 cups of HOT tap water. Let stand about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, blend dry mix, oil, eggs, pineapple and walnuts. Add carrots and raisins, including any absorbed water. Do not add any additional water.

Beat until well blended. Pour batter into cupcake liners (about 2/3 full) and bake immediately. Transfer to a cooling rack and prepare your frosting.

To make frosting, blend confectioners' sugar, Neufchatel cheese, butter, vanilla and coconut. Beat until smooth. The coconut will add some texture.

Using an ice cream scoop, top each cooled cupcake with a luscious heap of frosting. Eat and enjoy our family tradition.

Jenn Press Arata is a food writer and blogger. Visit her blog at She also can be followed on Twitter, @thatssojennblog.