08 March 2010

There's veggies in them - they've got to be good for you!

Growing up in Canada during the 70's, Carrot Cake is one of those things that we were treated to every now and again.  Even today, it seems to be one of those things that often pops up at family events and birthdays and office parties everywhere.  The problem is, they're not usually very memorable.  Still, most people like it, which is why I included it the "wedding cake buffet" I made for my sister-in-law's wedding a couple of years ago.  

My extraordinarily talented sister-in-law loves my baking, and she is of the opinion that I must have sold my soul to the devil in exchange for my baking skills (as part of the contract, I am never allowed to confirm nor deny this theory).  As a result, she has often asked if I would mind baking/catering a fundraiser or gig she is hosting, and I've always been so flattered that I can't possibly say no.  So, when she was planning her wedding, I knew for certain I'd be doing her flowers, but I was surprised and even more flattered that she wanted me to make her cake.  While I always aim to make my desserts and cakes as aesthetically pleasing as possible, for me, taste is paramount, so the idea of making a wedding cake was more than a little intimidating (I just don't seem to have the patience for cake decorating - but it's still on my list of skills to learn).  She did, however, give me an out - she didn't want a towering white fancy cake, in fact she didn't even care what flavour of cake she wanted - she just wanted me to make whatever I felt like making, maybe two or three types of cakes, but enough to feed everyone at their small reception.  Well that "small" reception was well over 100 people, but I soon decided that creating a wedding cake buffet would be fun.  Now I may be a little crazy (that theory has been floating around for years actually), but to take on creating wedding flowers (for bride, three bridesmaids, three flower girls, plus corsages and boutonnieres for the groom, his guys plus moms & dads involved) - in addition to baking **7** desserts, all while holding down a full-time job.  Ya, a little nuts I may have been, but the happy couple deserved a beautiful wedding, and I was happy to work my butt off to help them have that.

Two full weekends, plus every evening, I spent doing as much prep work as I could, to make sure everything would go as smoothly as possible.  Though I was still decorating and assembling, right up until the very last possible second when I had to deliver the cakes, drive to the ceremony & get myself presentable.  Just seeing her face when she walked through the door at the reception space and hearing her gasp when she saw the desserts made it worth every minute.  Every gal who's ever had even a small wedding knows that you have so much to deal with the last few weeks before the big day that you can't even think straight, so when she gave me her trust to make something great for dessert, I didn't involve her after that - so in a way it was a bit of a surprise.  I even managed to make a small, two-tiered ivory cake, decorated as best I could, so they could have something to cut into.  She was so happy, when dinner was over & she announced that dessert was served, she went so far as to get behind the table and serve the line-up of guests, white dress, veil and all - giggling the whole time.  I would do it again for them in a heartbeat.

Chocolate Mousse Cake
Coconut Cake with Chocolate Sauce 
Almond Raspberry Cake
Gingerbread Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce
Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse Icing
Spiced Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing

Now, I'd never made a croquembouche before that day (am I crazy?  foolish? both?  it's a toss up), so it ended up being drizzled with chocolate instead of spun sugar, and for my first-ever "tiered" cake, I dove in and made gumpaste dogwood flowers, which turned out as good as I could have hoped.  Everything else, though was from my repertoire, and at the end of the night, there was nothing left but as assortment of dirty cakeplates.  HUGE ego boost for the me - the girl who couldn't really cook, let alone bake, when I first moved in with her brother 15 years ago.

Today, on occasion, I still make the carrot cake, sometimes as cupcakes, sometimes as a regular cake.  Either way, it's still always a huge hit.  It is moist, memorable and has a lot of taste and personality due to the cardamom and black pepper.  As for the icing - it is hands down, the best cream cheese Icing I have ever tasted, and you can easily change it up a bit with lemon or orange zest for a little variety.  I got the recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and it has never failed.  Enjoy.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing
Carrot Cake
2 ½ Cups (355 g) all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
1 lb (454 g) medium carrots, trimmed & peeled
1 ½ Cups (301 g) granulated sugar
½ Cup (100 g) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ Cups (320 ml) vegetable oil

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 vanilla beans (or substitute with vanilla bean paste)
250 g cream cheese at room temperature
5 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 Tbsp sour cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ Cups (143 g) confectioner’s sugar

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F and move rack to centre position. Prepare baking pan (9x13, 2 round cake pans, or muffin pan) with non-stick cooking spray and parchment paper; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.

In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor workbowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.

For the frosting: Using a paring knife, halve and scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans. When cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds in clean food processor workbowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.

Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Allow to cool to room temperature.  Ice with frosting as desired and serve.

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