I have been drawn to the kitchen nearly all my life. When I was 5, my mother (bed-ridden with a pregnancy) would send me downstairs to make her a sandwich for lunch. When I was 9, my father took my twin sister and I into the kitchen and taught us how to read a recipe.
There were several years following this momentous occasion where….Interesting Dinners resulted from our novice attempts at cooking. One particular meatloaf stands out in my mind. The recipe called for breadcrumbs, and dehydrated onions. The recipe helpfully suggested that if you did not have any breadcrumbs, you could toast bread and break it up. Having never seen breadcrumbs, per-say, I took the second option. And broke it up into one inch chunks. Then, tackling the onion problem…I looked through the spice cupboard, checking every ingredient label as I went. Finally, I found something that had onions in it – Onion Powder! So I put in three tablespoons of that.
The resulting meatloaf looked like brain (from the bread “crumbs”) and tasted like pure onion. It took me a long time to live down that onion loaf….
The other thing I could not get right was cake. I tried one, from the same cookbook, and it came out looking (and feeling) like a golden, buttery brick.
My father told me to chalk it up to experience…and that I had just re-invented the Pound Cake.
Needless to say, with the many other options available to me in the kitchen, it has taken me a long time to return to cake making. If I can get perfect results with Betty Crocker and an egg….who am I to mess with perfection!
My friends, it has taken me over 15 years…but I have finally found a few cakes that I can (successfully!) turn out for parties, celebrations and the like. The first is Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Sheet Cake, with a few modifications. (I like to throw in a few dashes of Saigon Cinnamon now, to kick it up a bit. Mmm.)
The other cake I can successfully turn out?
Dorie Greenspan’s Carrot Cake. I first used it to cater a wedding luncheon this summer, and have since used it to celebrate two birthdays. It’s a hit. Nothing very unique about it…except that it turns out exactly how a carrot cake should be – not too sweet, not too spicy, and never dry. Just…perfect.
Bill’s Big Carrot Cake
(adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I use Saigon cinnamon. It tastes like red-hots.)
3/4 tsp. salt
3 cups grated carrots (approximately 9 carrots) (a food processor makes this really quick!)
1/2 cup moist raisins, or dried cranberries (both are good!)
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 large eggs
(The original recipe also includes nuts and coconut, but we don’t like nuts in cakes, and I never have coconut on hand. So…there ya go.)
Preheat your oven to 325 and prepare your pans. I like to use 2 9” pans, or make cupcakes. (Depending on the size of your cupcakes, this can make anywhere from 12-24.) You can also use 3 9” pans for more frosting-space, but I only have two. Spray well with cooking spray, or smear with butter, and flour liberally. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the carrots and raisins or cranberries.
Using a stand mixer, with your paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and the oil, on medium speed, until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, and keep on beating until the batter is even more smooth. Take the speed down to low and add in the flour mixture until just mixed. Carefully mix in the chunky stuff, and divide the batter into your prepared pans.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake just begins to pull back from the edges of the pan and a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out batter-free.
Cool the cakes for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, then run a small flexible rubber scraper around the outside and turn the cakes out onto racks to cool.
(The cakes can be wrapped up once they’re cool and kept at room temperature overnight, or in the freezer for two months.)
(This is a pretty generic Cream Cheese frosting, and easy to dress up)
8 oz. cream cheese
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (3 3/4 cup) powdered sugar, sifted
Flavoring (1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. pure extract, 1 tsp. vanilla, etc.)
Beat the cream cheese and butter together, in a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) until creamy. Carefully add the powdered sugar and mix until it is smooth. Gradually add in your flavoring, adjusting to taste.
Now go forth and build the Carrot Cake of your dreams! This really does make excellent little cupcakes, or a rather elegant (and easy!) birthday cake.
(Another excellent quality of this cake is that, if you were to leave a few cupcakes un-frosted, you now have an excellent dairy-free dessert for any lactose intolerant nieces that might be lurking around your kitchen!)