Rikers Island Carrot Cake

Pans of carrot cake baked by the Rikers Island inmates. Source:  New York Times

Pans of carrot cake baked by the Rikers Island inmates. Source: New York Times

Of all the venues I visited while interviewing for this book,  perhaps the most unforgettable was Rikers Island, home to what may well be New York City’s largest kitchen.  And if it’s not the largest, it certainly puts out the greatest number of meals a day.   Just plunging the depths of the prison itself was fascinating (see my description in FOOD AND THE CITY), but what I found even more captivating was the personal story of Assistant Commissioner Paulette Johnson. Commissioner Johnson  heads the Food Services Division at Rikers, which means she is responsible for feeding 12,000 inmates and 8,000 staff three meals a day/seven days a week.  Or somewhere around 20 million meals a year.  As she and I walked around the 11,000 square foot kitchen, I remarked on her ability to provide food continuously for so many people. I told her I get shaken if a dinner party at my apartment exceeds eight guests.  I guess it was the dinner party talk that prompted it, but at that point she offered me the recipe for Rikers Island carrot cake – a specialty baked by the inmates several times a year. I accepted gratefully, only to discover later that the recipe is designed to produce twenty-five loaves, each of which serves twenty people.  Here it is anyway:

Rikers Island Carrot Cake

Recipe for 25 loaves of carrot cake


  1. Place in a mixing bowl sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove powder, allspice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Use a paddle mix on slow for five minutes.
  2. Add raisins, carrots, walnuts, eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract, mixing on slow speed for an additional five minutes.
  3. Increase speed to medium for 10 minutes.
  4. Pour into loaf pans. Pans should be three-quarters full.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes.


  • 8 ounces baking soda
  • 8 ounces salt
  • 20 pounds raisins
  • 25 pounds carrots
  • 8 pounds walnuts
  • 25 pounds eggs
  • 3 gallons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces vanilla extract
  • 25 pounds sugar
  • 25 pounds flour
  • 8 ounces cinnamon
  • 6 ounces nutmeg
  • 4 ounces ginger
  • 4 ounces clove powder
  • 6 ounces allspice
  • 1 pound baking powder