Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Carrot Cake (part 2)

Success! Isn't it beautiful? And so tasty. Every problem that I had with my previous attempt was magically solved.

Here's the recipe:

Three-Layer Carrot Cake *click here for printable version*

adapted from Teresa Sanderson, Melody Downey, and Alton Brown

1-1/2 c. cake flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 c. sugar
1-1/2 c. canola oil
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. raw carrots, shredded, and then processed (8-10 average size carrots)
1 tsp. orange zest

Combine both flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Cream together sugar, oil and eggs in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add vanilla and beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients and beat on medium just until combined. Add carrots and orange zest and stir by hand just until combined.

Pour batter evenly (I actually weighed my empty batter bowl and then the bowl filled with batter so I would know how much total the batter weighed, then placed each pan onto the scale to measure exactly a third of the batter into it) into three 8” round cake pans (greased, bottom lined with parchment, then greased again). Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean (depending on your oven, you may need to rotate your pans halfway through cooking time). Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack and allow to cool completely.

24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. kosher salt
27 ounces powdered sugar
chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted (optional)

Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar, with mixer on low, beating until smooth between each addition. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before using.

After frosting, pat chopped nuts around sides of cake and/or sprinkle on top if desired.

Refrigerate cake until ready to serve.

TGIP Rating--Three-Layer Carrot Cake--KEEPER. I love this cake like I have never loved carrot cake. I will make it many times in the future. A hint--if you want a frosting that is absolutely delicious on homemade cinnamon rolls (like these), use the frosting recipe as is (maybe a half recipe), plus 1/2 tsp. of orange zest. So delicious.

Next up: Grasshopper Pie with Thin Mint Crust.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Carrot Cake (part 1)

Well, I think I found "my" carrot cake recipe. Chances are it's the same one your mom uses. And your aunt. And possibly you. I put out a call for carrot cake recipes and was astonished by how much they are all pretty much the same. Except the ones that call for coconut. Or pineapple. I rejected those ones because Thing 2 doesn't like coconut and mr. doesn't like pineapple. And I wanted an unadulterated, pure carrot cake. That said, shoutouts go to the inimitable Teresa Sanderson and to Melody Downey (who has never met me, but was willing to relinquish her carrot cake recipe at her daughter, my friend's, request). And to Alton Brown. And to Zoë of Zoë Bakes. More on that...

Thing is, I'm not ready to call this one yet. Not ready to give you a recipe. I have more experimentation to do. Because, as you can see, my cake slid. Started out like this:

Ended up like this:

Of course, it didn't help that I had to transport this cake. Or that in order to transport it I had to move it onto a large plate from the cake stand I originally put it on. Now, the question is, is this because carrot cake is just too heavy to stack 4 layers tall? Can't be. I've seen plenty of carrot layer cakes. Or is it because my frosting wasn't thick enough? Because I didn't allow the frosting to refrigerate long enough? Is there a very good reason why carrot cake is most frequently seen in 13x9 shape? I want a carrot LAYER cake! I'll make it fit! And in the process, I will make some adjustments and most likely incorporate ideas from a few other recipes.

I did learn a couple of things that I need to remember for the next trial, which probably won't be too long from now.
  • Zoe of Zoe Bakes had a brilliant idea (link above) to shred the carrots and then put them through the food processor. I don't like the idea of stringy carrots in cake, so I did this. And it worked perfectly.

  • Refrigerating cream cheese icing goes a long way towards making it stiff enough to frost rather know...plop...and slide.

  • In his Devil of a Cake episode, Alton Brown made a Red Velvet Cake (link above) and talked about why it is that two cakes well-known to be Southern staples, Red Velvet and Carrot Cake both traditionally have cream cheese frosting. Thing is, buttercream doesn't hold up well at room temperature in those hot (and slide-y) Southern temperatures. But the addition of cream cheese makes the frosting more stable. Fascinating, right?!
  • Toasted walnuts are delicious with Carrot Cake. But I prefer them on the outside, not the inside.

  • And also--a mystery...the outside of the layers was pretty crunchy, the way banana bread gets. Is it from the sugars in the carrots? Is there a way to prevent this happening? Ideas?
TGIP Rating--Carrot Cake--Delicious tasting. I mean, really delicious. The cake was good enough to say that it's not just a vehicle for the frosting, which was the goal. I just need to tweak some things. And the cake is good enough that, honestly, experimenting isn't a problem.

Next up: Another stab at Carrot Cake? This week's BAKED Sunday Mornings recipe? A pie using my new leaf lard from Prairie Pride Farms? Grasshopper Pie with a Thin Mint cookie crust? I can't decide!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich Cookies

Obviously I had a little change of plans in the baking department. We're having some friends over for dinner this weekend and I have never made a pie for them. So, I've opted to make pie (pieS actually, French Silk and Cherry, if you must know) rather than Carrot Cake. And, since pie is nothing new, I decided to do this week's project on BAKED Sunday Mornings. Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich Cookies. Because I clearly need more things going on in my life. And more sweets around the house. *sheesh*

I know. You're skeptical. The blurb at the beginning of the recipe says these are sort of an homage to Oreos. Okay. But they don't taste like Oreos. They're about a billion times more delicious. Sweet and savory and spicy and crunchy and a little chewy (cause that's the way we like them). The creamy filling is a little reminiscent of Oreo filling (I'm still iffy on the usage of so much shortening, but...) and yet it's so much more delicious. There is just so much flavor going on here. The spice of the pepper sort of hits you after you've chewed and swallowed (and maybe pondered for a minute or two). And the salt. Is. Perfect.

Plus--they're super easy to make. Recipe is here if you want to try it for yourself. Don't be afraid!

My dough was a little crumbly, but it all mashed together just fine for me to cut out the cookies.

I love having a legion of cookies on my counter.

The best part is that, unlike Oreos, these cookies are so packed with goodness you don't have to eat a pontoon* of them in order to feel like you've had a good treat. 1 or 2 are enough. Or maybe 3.

*You're better off not asking. But. We have made-up words that we use at my house for eating a lot of something. If you eat a whole row of stuck together Peeps, that's a RAFT. If you eat a stack of Pringles, that's a PONTOON. I know, it doesn't make any sense. I told you you'd be better off not asking.

TGIP Rating--Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich Cookies--KEEPER. With some homemade ice cream this summer, these will be delicious.

Next up: Have Carrot Cake recipe. Will bake. Promise.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lard and Measuring Tools

So, I've been threatening to do it for a while and today I...almost did. I would like to start using leaf lard in my pie crusts. I've read that it is far superior to the lard that can be found in the grocery store. And I've heard great things about a couple of online sources. Here's the rub: one of them requires a phone call (really?? It's 2011 and my boss would overhear the conversation and lard has nothing to do with my job), and the other charges more for shipping than for the lard itself (insulated packaging--also, really?? It's the dead of winter. I dare the lard to get melty between Minnesota and here). My search will continue. I'll try some local places and see if they have a source. Although, I'm skeptical. So, if you know a hog butcher who doesn't know what to do with all that kidney fat...send him my way.

At any rate, here's the best tool I've found for measuring lard. Obviously, these work equally well for other sticky substances: honey, molasses, peanut butter, shortening, you get the idea.

Because you load up the dry measuring side and then just plunge it right out. I have the somewhat less fancy version of this kind of tool. And the markings are starting to disappear. So, now you know what to get me for...St. Patrick's Day.