5 weeks ago
Friday, February 20, 2009
David's birthday was coming up, and I wanted to make him a cake as wonderful as he is -- and he's really wonderful! But he makes it hard for me with the not eating chocolate thing. It is so much easier to guarantee wonderful if chocolate is involved. I knew that the Tuesdays With Dorie group had covered Bill's Big Carrot Cake before I joined the group, and I had read numerous rave reviews about it at various points. I asked David if carrot cake sounded good to him, got the thumbs up, and went to work.
The food processor is your friend when you are making carrot cake. Dorie says that you'll need approximately 9 carrots to get three cups shredded. I peeled 9 carrots, but my carrots were apparently hanging out with A-Rod and his trainer in Texas in 2003 or something, because I only needed about 4 to get three cups.
Bowl of flour & stuff sitting next to bowl of carrots & stuff:
Hey, how'd the pot pie filling pictures get in here? Oh wait, no, that's the carrot cake
Ever have a "if I need two pans of a particular size, I have one, and if I need three pans of a particular size, I have two" kind of month? This was one of those months for me. First I had to bake the Devil's Food White Out Cake one eight inch cake at a time, which just seemed inefficient and energy-wasting. Then I had to bake two of the 9" carrot cake layers, followed by the final 9" layer, since I only have two 9" pans. I feel like I am up to my eyeballs in pans here, yet I seem to suffer some form of pan angst every week. What's up with that?
Divide the batter between the three pans. I think that reading Nancy's blog is starting to rub off on me, because in the past I would have just tried to eyeball this. But this time, much as it hurt me to do it -- I actually had to ice my brain afterwards -- I did math and figured out how much batter needed to go in each pan. Two cups per pan. Write it down.
The finished cakes:
Ah, the icing. It will probably take a couple of months off of your life expectancy (stick of butter + block of cream cheese + pound of confectioner's sugar), but it is so worth it. I used light cream cheese, so it probably only took 6 weeks off mine. I was conflicted about adding the tablespoon of lemon juice, because I really liked it without the lemon, and I found Dorie's buttercream that accompanies the perfect party cake to be almost too lemony. But I went ahead and added the lemon, and I am so glad that I did -- it is ESSENTIAL to the fabulousness of this icing!! It was bordering on too sweet before the lemon juice, and the lemon just completely neutralized that sweetness and made this icing. It does not taste lemony, it just tastes perfect. Some of you may be able to improve on Dorie's recipe, but I most certainly cannot, and I will make the icing exactly as written every time.
One more thing about the icing -- Dorie says that "you'll have enough of the classic lemony cream cheese frosting to fill the three layers and cover the sides and tops" -- lies, all lies! I never intended to cover the sides; I was going to follow Dorie's lead and just "fill each layer so generously that the frosting ripples out around the edges when I put the next layer on" but there was hardly even enough for that. No way would I have had enough to frost the sides. I did not take the optional step of adding coconut to the icing though, so maybe that extra coconut volume would have made a difference.
Next time, I will probably make 1.5 of the frosting recipe to get really thick frosting layers. The cake tasted amazing, but I did not feel like I had enough frosting to get those really pretty, thick layers.
Whoa! Getting dizzy! Better leave the artsy photography to others.
The kids wanted to put thirty seven individual candles on the cake, but I did not want to have to get a special permit from the fire department, so I talked them into the numeral candles instead.
They helped him blow out the candles, and then wanted nothing further to do with this cake.
I was so happy with the way that the cake turned out, and the birthday boy loved it, so it was a big success all around. It is definitely the best carrot cake that I have ever had. We still have some left and will enjoy it all weekend.
I brought half of it into work, and encouraged people to provide me with feedback. I solicited negative feedback in particular, since that is usually more interesting, but there was not a negative word to be heard about this. My friends Peggy (whom you all know well) and June both said that they were carrot cake haters, but they tried a piece anyway and loved it -- June said that I made a convert out of her. Wow! I've never converted anyone to anything before, and don't think I haven't tried. My friend Heather said that it was awesome, and she was really glad that I brought it, because she had been worried when she woke up that morning that she might have to go one business day without cake. Don't worry Heather, we bake hard to make sure that won't happen. My friend Marc has been working way harder than should be legal since at least September, and I am afraid that it is starting to show. His review of the cake:
Damn...that's some good carrot cake!! Nutty, yet creamy. Kind of like a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.
Well there you have it! If you've been looking for carrot cake that is not just good, but "conundrum wrapped in an enigma" good, look no further. Dorie has hit another home run.
Bill's Big Carrot Cake
From Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
Yields 10 servings
For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 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)*
1/2 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 and 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)
To make the cake:
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.
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.