Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Birthday Cake

My grandmother turned 75 Tuesday!  Because everyone needs a birthday cake, I offered to make one.  And cake is something that always tastes better with a little extra love mixed in it.

I couldn't decide what to make until I was flipping through a cookbook and was hit with carrot cake.  I flipped a little more but couldn't shake the carrot cake.  Carrot cake?  For realz?  Yes.  I was compelled to make carrot cake, a dessert I've never ever made before and wasn't totally sure I liked.  For the record, I do like.  But don't feed me a raw carrot, I'm not a horse.  My carrots shall be cooked or baked.  I digress.  Wanna know what Sybil said when I told what kind of cake it was?  "Oh I love carrot cake!"  She loves it.  Winner.

I think my Spidey-senses told me she likes carrot cake because she never goes for things that are ultra-rich. I'm pretty sure her favorite pie is raisin pie.  To each her own on that one.  This cake benefits greatly from the toasted pecans in the batter.  Side note:  Do you say pe-can or pih-cahn?  I def say pe-can in most situations.  It's a sweet cake without being cloying.  And when have you ever turned down brown sugar cream cheese frosting?  I'm going with never.

Part 1:  All-purpose flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and chopped pecans meet in a dimly lit kitchen.
The pecans leave briefly to toast in the oven.

The flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon a nutmeg are sifted together.  I was a little suspicious about the measurement of the nutmeg at first, but it wasn't overpowering at all.

Part 2:  Milk, eggs, butter, sugar, grated carrots, vanilla extract, and a minneola in slightly better lighting. The recipe called for an orange, but I grabbed a minneola at the grocery store.  Go figure.  It's a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine, so it's probably a little tarter than an orange.

The butter and sugar go first, getting creamed until fluffy.  Warning:  You may be initially appalled at the amount of butter in this recipe.  You'll get over it just like I did.

The eggs, one by one, are blended in the glorious butter and sugar.

Add half the sifted flour and milk and gently beat it in.  I say gently because you don't want to wear flour like I inevitably end up doing every time I bake.  Then add the other half of the flour.

A minneola donated its zest and juice for this worthy cause.  I mean, use an orange by all means.  I just picked this up, and it ended up juicing really easily.  I think you'll be safe with any orange citrus.

 Okay so we've got zest, juice, and vanilla extract.

Carrots and nuts go on top of that and get stirred in until they're fully incorporated.  I almost forgot the pecans until I turned around to pour the batter in the cake pans.  I'd left them on the stove while I made the rest of everything and plum forgot 'em!  So I quickly stirred them in before pouring into baking pans.

Oooooo, it's so purdy!  And it most definitely has pecans.  So, I thought I would be safe just spraying the pan with my nonstick+flour spray.  Don't do what I did.  It wasn't disastrous by any means, I just could've had a prettier result if I'd cut a piece of wax paper to line the bottom.  But I was in a rush, so I didn't.

Bake the cake layers at 375º for about 40 minutes.  If they start to look too brown on top, cover 'em with foil.

Cake!  I know you can see the pieces that stuck to the pan.  Whomp whomp.  But you see, this is the bottom of the cake.  So I'm not really worried about it.  And what is life without a little imperfection?  What's that you say?  Perfect?  Pshhh.  Whatever your personal philosphy, let the cakes cool completely before icing them.  It's hard to cover stuff up when the frosting melts into the cake.

Ready for Part 3?  Brown sugar, powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, and salt

Cream together butter and cream cheese.  I always feel a little silly saying cream the cream cheese.

Add the brown sugar and vanilla and mix it up!  You want the brown sugar to get fully dissolved in the butter-cream cheese.

Sift the powdered sugar.  You'll get a nice arm workout from this.  Sifting is actually an important step here as it prevents lumps in your frosting.  Don't put the mixer on too high unless you want to get a contact sugar high.  I actually gave it a couple of stirs with my trusty rubber spatula before using the mixer.  You could also add it gradually like a sane person.

That's some silky smooth frosting.

Start with one of the cake layers.  Lay a big dollop of frosting in the middle of that bad boy.  Spread it around and add more to cover.  Always start from the middle and go outward.

Plop on the other layer and frost the sides and the top.  Nom nom nom.

If you're feeling fancy, sprinkle on some extra chopped pecans.  You could toast them, in fact I encourage you to toast them.  But I just threw them on willy nilly because I chopped too many earlier.  I think it turned out well.

I seriously considered eating it for breakfast.  It's got carrots; it can't be that bad, right?!  Fine, I'll eat some oatmeal.  But I will have a slice for dessert tonight!  And so should you!

Orange-Carrot Cake (serves 8-10)
Adapted slightly from

2 c pecans, chopped
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 c sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 c milk
1 tbs minneola or orange zest
1/4 c minneola or orange juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c finely grated carrot (Note:  The recipe estimated about 6 carrots, but mine must've been on steroids because I only needed 2 1/2 large carrots)

  • Preheat oven to 375º.  Spread chopped pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Line two greased 9-inch round baking pans with wax paper on the bottom.
  • Spoon flour into measuring cup and level with a knife.  Sift together flour and next four ingredients.  Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer in a large bowl.  Add eggs one at a time, blending until thoroughly incorporated.  Add milk and half of flour mixture and blend.  Add the rest of the flour and blend until incorporated.
  • Stir in citrus juice, zest, vanilla extract, carrot, and toasted nuts.  Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake at 375º for 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean.  Cover with foil if cake begins to get too brown.
  • Let layers cool in pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbs butter, room temperature
2/3 c packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 c confectioner's sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt

  • Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth using an electric mixer in a large bowl.
  • Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat until completely incorporated.
  • Add confectioner's sugar and salt and beat on a low speed until smooth and spreadable.
  • Place first layer of cake on serving platter.  Frost the top and add the second layer.  Frost top of cake and sides, using all frosting.

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