Wednesday, February 22, 2012

OMG a Recipe (sorta): Piece o' Cake... Well, Not Really

Everyone knows that the only purpose carrot cake has on this planet, is to be a sweet vessel with which to shovel cream cheese icing into one's hungry, gaping maw. Because tucking into a bowl of cream cheese frosting with a giant spoon is considered socially unacceptible. As long as no one catches you, anyways. But I don't want to malign carrot cake -- it has its merits, and with a good recipe from a great cookbook and some patience, you can make a cake worthy of the frosting slathered upon it.

The not-so-easy-bake carrot cake, but well worth it - Photo by Wasabi Prime
It's not the typical sweetheart dessert, but for last week's Valentine-a-palooza, I made carrot cake. No chocolate ganache, thirty-layer crepe cake, gold-flecked ode to love, just a classic carrot cake. It's one of the Mister's favorites and over the last few years, I've grown quite fond of it. I didn't eat a lot of it growing up because it wasn't my mother's favorite thing to make --  mainly because recipes often included raisins and Mama Wasabi ain't having any of that business. No raisins. No celery. Period. End of story. Just one of those odd food dislikes that ends up oh... cursing an entire generation of a family!!! But I'm not bitter, Mom, I take that resentment and tamp it down for a someday appearance on Dr. Phil when I can just completely lose my shiz-nuts on national television. But back to carrot cake -- I also think I was turned off by it at an early age because it's such a popular cake, it's equally popular with being made badly. It's often too sweet with cake and not enough carrot, or the fruit and nut ingredients aren't ground down evenly and it's like eating a mincemeat stew cake. Or it's just flat-out dry and crumbly, which is unacceptible, as the ingredients should ensure it's a Spongebob Squarepants of cakey moist goodness. Disappointment Carrot Cake - begone!

I've found my favorite recipe for carrot cake in The Grand Central Baking Book, pretty much my new baking bible whenever I want to make a good, proper pastry. I've had the book for over two years -- my wonderful Auntie Sharon sent it as a "just because" gift (the best kind!), and it's an incredible cookbook. It's written by the amazing folks from Portland and Seattle's Grand Central Bakery, who share their wizard-like baking knowledge, helpful tips and recipes from their delicious stores. This isn't Tollhouse Cookie quickness, a lot of the recipes can be involved, like if it's a dough that needs proofing or in a situation like baking a cake, you really need a day or two to make it the right way. So, yes, OMG, I used a Recipe, but I'm not sharing it because you really should just get the book or request a copy from your library to give it a look-see. It's worth owning or at least spending a day with, copying recipes for your own collection.

There's a big ol' mess behind making a big ol' cake from scratch - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Why so much effort for one cake, Wasabi? Well, in this case, I actually started prepping a few extra days in advance -- Grand Central's recipe uses fresh pineapple, which I decided to substitute. I already experienced Carbon Footprint Food Guilt over enjoying pineapple from Costa Rica earlier in the month, so I decided to use cranberries soaked in our old friend, Makers Mark Bourbon. One drink for the berries... one drink for me... Maybe the combined carbon footprint of the dried cranberries and liquor totally overshadows one container of fresh Costa Rican pineapple, but whatever, I also had the booze and berries on-hand and thought they'd be fun to use. Bourbon and cranberries -- Go Team All-American! I used about a cup's worth of cranberries and a hefty shot of bourbon to start plumping them up, which took about two or three days to fully absorb every boozy drop. I also added the juice and zest of one lemon to add the acidity and brightness back into the cake, which the pineapple would have normally done. It didn't affect the cake's ability to bake up properly -- with dense cakes that don't require a fluffy, spongey finish, it's easier to fool with subsitutions that have the potential to mess with the chemical balance of more delicate cakes. Don't try this with a chiffon cake, kids.

Overall, yes, it's a bit of a mess to make this cake and you'll be taking over the kitchen for a day, given the many ingredients you'll need -- shredded carrots, toasted walnuts, fresh or dried fruit, two different types of flour, spices, shredded coconut and then the usual prequisite amount of eggs, oil and sugar. Eek, that's a lot of stuff! But that's why the cake is so darn good. The effort is worth it, as you get a really dense, rich and moist cake, with a nice bite to it thanks to all the chunky ingredients. This is where the food processor comes in hand -- makes the shredding of carrots and chopping of walnuts faster and more even.

Cake... with a special boozy guest star, drunk cranberries - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The best part of making a cake is probably the most frustrating, which is icing it. I always make too little, and end up stretching the crumbly frosting so thin over the sides of the cake, it just looks like a haphazard mess and I end up running out to buy an emergency can of premade frosting to hide my sins. And it never patches right. So I made a wicked double batch of cream cheese frosting, which in fact was a cream cheese and chevre frosting -- I used a softened log of goat cheese to help double the recipe, along with the necessary amounts of butter and confectioner's sugar. Don't cringe at the thought of using goat cheese, it's such a versatile ingredient that works for both sweet and savory. It's got a little more of a sour tang to the flavor, but that gets balanced out with sugar -- just add a little more to taste as you're making the frosting if you're worried the frosting will somehow be too "goaty." I whipped up a ridiculous batch of the stuff and began the multi-stepped process of frosting a cake properly.

The many steps towards getting some sugary goo slathered on a cake - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I did the whole nine yards of frosting steps. I baked the two layers of the cake the day before, giving it a full night to cool, ensuring no heat pockets would start melting the frosting. I cut strips of parchment paper to overlap on the cake stand, keeping the glass clean as frosting was glopped all over the cakey surface. I didn't do the crumb layer -- the thin coating of frosting to help keep crumb control down -- I had more than enough frosting to just layer it on, and extra frosting to boot, which I froze. Am hoping it stays stable enough so that I can make some whoopie pies with it later... It wasn't until I was done with the generous but even layer of cheesy sweet frosting that I realized, dang, a white cake is boring as hell. Kind of understates all the work you put into making the thing, so I used some leftover chopped walnuts and slapped them on the sides, which was an absolute righteous mess, I have no idea how the pro's do it with such even layering. But the dessert was made and carefully refrigerated until the om-nom-nomming on February 14th. We're still happily enjoying the leftovers. With every bite, I'm reminded that for all the time it takes to make a proper cake, it's so worth it!


  1. Your cakes are very attractive. It must be very testy. It would be better, If I have them now. Anyway nice posting.

    George J. McGuire
    breville bov650xl

  2. WOW!!!
    I really love your Ideas.
    Thank you.


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