April 22, 2008

Celebrating a Slice of Life

Today is my mom's birthday. To help her celebrate, I knew I wanted to make her a cake. What I didn't know is what kind. Well, it just so happened that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe ended up being a cake. A big ol' carrot cake, in fact. Lucky for me, my mom loves carrot cake and she was on board with me baking this for her. I took a quick mental inventory and realized that I had never made a carrot cake in my life. So, I trudged forward with no expectations as to how this one would shake out.

Part of me loves to experiment with recipes, but others are best left alone. After reading through the ingredients and directions a few times, I decided that this was a cake best prepared as instructed. The only modification I made was with the frosting. I had to double the frosting recipe, which kind of surprised me. I was very careful to use a minimal amount of frosting between the layers. By the time I had frosted and stacked the layers, I had hardly any frosting left. So, I took it apart, made a second batch of frosting and re-frosted—this time being a little more generous in between layers. I'm still a little perplexed because I got the impression that while Dorie didn't frost the sides of her cake, the recipe still yielded enough to cover the whole thing.

To garnish, I candied thin strips of carrot until translucent and made a sort of ribbon design. I was going for the same look as a Martha Stewart carrot cake I saw recently. Mine was not quite as impressive (read not even close), but I think I got the hang of it and could do a better job the next time around.

As for the taste, this cake was insanely good. The cake itself was flavorful and moist, I'm assuming a result of the 1 cup of oil (gasp). The frosting was rich, rich, rich. It tasted like carrot cake frosting I have had before, but definitely more fresh. Perhaps the lemon juice? One moderate slice of this cake was enough to satiate my sweet tooth.

The final verdict came down from the guest of honor and she gave it the big "thumbs up." Kudos to Amanda of slow like honey for selecting this week's treat. Check out more carrot cakes.

Bill's Big Carrot Cake

Yields 10 servings

For the cake
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted with a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 ¾ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.

If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.
Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.
The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.


Jayne said...

How pretty! The carrot ribbons are really nice, too.

Donna said...

Your cake turned out lovely! The ribbon really sets it off. And I agree, there wasn't near enough frosting! I've found this to be true of a few other recipes as well. I think there's a recipe for photo shoots and one for the book. Too bad, cause it upsets the chef when we have to stop and make extra.