Friday, February 20, 2009

Cake-O-Rama II: Bill's Big Carrot Cake

David's birthday was coming up, and I wanted to make him a cake as wonderful as he is -- and he's really wonderful! But he makes it hard for me with the not eating chocolate thing. It is so much easier to guarantee wonderful if chocolate is involved. I knew that the Tuesdays With Dorie group had covered Bill's Big Carrot Cake before I joined the group, and I had read numerous rave reviews about it at various points. I asked David if carrot cake sounded good to him, got the thumbs up, and went to work.

The food processor is your friend when you are making carrot cake. Dorie says that you'll need approximately 9 carrots to get three cups shredded. I peeled 9 carrots, but my carrots were apparently hanging out with A-Rod and his trainer in Texas in 2003 or something, because I only needed about 4 to get three cups.

Bowl of flour & stuff sitting next to bowl of carrots & stuff:

Hey, how'd the pot pie filling pictures get in here? Oh wait, no, that's the carrot cake

Ever have a "if I need two pans of a particular size, I have one, and if I need three pans of a particular size, I have two" kind of month? This was one of those months for me. First I had to bake the Devil's Food White Out Cake one eight inch cake at a time, which just seemed inefficient and energy-wasting. Then I had to bake two of the 9" carrot cake layers, followed by the final 9" layer, since I only have two 9" pans. I feel like I am up to my eyeballs in pans here, yet I seem to suffer some form of pan angst every week. What's up with that?

Divide the batter between the three pans. I think that reading Nancy's blog is starting to rub off on me, because in the past I would have just tried to eyeball this. But this time, much as it hurt me to do it -- I actually had to ice my brain afterwards -- I did math and figured out how much batter needed to go in each pan. Two cups per pan. Write it down.

The finished cakes:

Ah, the icing. It will probably take a couple of months off of your life expectancy (stick of butter + block of cream cheese + pound of confectioner's sugar), but it is so worth it. I used light cream cheese, so it probably only took 6 weeks off mine. I was conflicted about adding the tablespoon of lemon juice, because I really liked it without the lemon, and I found Dorie's buttercream that accompanies the perfect party cake to be almost too lemony. But I went ahead and added the lemon, and I am so glad that I did -- it is ESSENTIAL to the fabulousness of this icing!! It was bordering on too sweet before the lemon juice, and the lemon just completely neutralized that sweetness and made this icing. It does not taste lemony, it just tastes perfect. Some of you may be able to improve on Dorie's recipe, but I most certainly cannot, and I will make the icing exactly as written every time.

One more thing about the icing -- Dorie says that "you'll have enough of the classic lemony cream cheese frosting to fill the three layers and cover the sides and tops" -- lies, all lies! I never intended to cover the sides; I was going to follow Dorie's lead and just "fill each layer so generously that the frosting ripples out around the edges when I put the next layer on" but there was hardly even enough for that. No way would I have had enough to frost the sides. I did not take the optional step of adding coconut to the icing though, so maybe that extra coconut volume would have made a difference.

Next time, I will probably make 1.5 of the frosting recipe to get really thick frosting layers. The cake tasted amazing, but I did not feel like I had enough frosting to get those really pretty, thick layers.

Whoa! Getting dizzy! Better leave the artsy photography to others.

The kids wanted to put thirty seven individual candles on the cake, but I did not want to have to get a special permit from the fire department, so I talked them into the numeral candles instead.

They helped him blow out the candles, and then wanted nothing further to do with this cake.

I was so happy with the way that the cake turned out, and the birthday boy loved it, so it was a big success all around. It is definitely the best carrot cake that I have ever had. We still have some left and will enjoy it all weekend.

I brought half of it into work, and encouraged people to provide me with feedback. I solicited negative feedback in particular, since that is usually more interesting, but there was not a negative word to be heard about this. My friends Peggy (whom you all know well) and June both said that they were carrot cake haters, but they tried a piece anyway and loved it -- June said that I made a convert out of her. Wow! I've never converted anyone to anything before, and don't think I haven't tried. My friend Heather said that it was awesome, and she was really glad that I brought it, because she had been worried when she woke up that morning that she might have to go one business day without cake. Don't worry Heather, we bake hard to make sure that won't happen. My friend Marc has been working way harder than should be legal since at least September, and I am afraid that it is starting to show. His review of the cake:

Damn...that's some good carrot cake!! Nutty, yet creamy. Kind of like a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.

Well there you have it! If you've been looking for carrot cake that is not just good, but "conundrum wrapped in an enigma" good, look no further. Dorie has hit another home run.

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
From Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yields 10 servings

For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted with a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)*
1/2 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 and 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

To make the cake:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.

If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.

Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.


Jen said...

Cathy -
I thought the carrot great was great too! I am normally not a fan of chunky cakes (fruitcake scares me!) but I thought this carrot cake was fabulous!! Thanks for sharing with us!

Barbara Bakes said...

I've been wanting to make carrot cake lately. This looks delicious!

Steph said...

Cathy, I'm so happy this cake turned out so well! I think it's so exciting to receive positive feedback from people, but especially cool that you converted carrot cake haters. You know what I love about carrot cake other than the life expectancy shortening frosting.. it never gets dry! Thanks for the tip about the lemon, I've never tried adding lemon before to cream cheese frosting. Your healthy sub on the low fat was a great idea, plus full fat cream cheese is too rich. I always have to sub at least one blocck of cream cheese with lower fat when making cheesecake or else it makes it a little difficult to eat more than one bite.

I think Nancy's precision does rub off on people. I love how accurate she is with everything. Maybe it's time to buy more pans, since this was such a hit, I'm sure your coworkers can't wait to try your next cake!

Melissa said...

I've been dying to make this cake. I love carrot cake! The pics of your family are just so cute. And the cake looks fabulous!

Di said...

The cake looks terrific! I'm glad you were able to find something that David likes. I had to laugh about the candles. When I was putting the candles on Brianna's cake last month, she suggested that we could save the rest for my birthday (which is tomorrow). I explained to her that that would probably be too many for one cake (we had 18 left from a package of 24). I didn't want to point out that we would need to add another 20 candles if we were trying to get to the right number... =)

Elyse said...

I'm with you: usually, I'm a if-there's-no-chocolate-this-can't-be-the-best type girl, but I have a total weakness for moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I love it; there's something so decadent yet refreshing about the combination! And, it looks not only like your cake was delicious, but that you truly made the bday boy's day! (P.S. I have to admit that when I have leftover cream cheese frosting, I find anything I can to dip in it: pretzels are awesome; plain spoonfuls are good, too!)

Mary Ann said...

Cathy- I love, love, love, love, love, love this carrot cake. I have made it multiple times for people on their birthdays and I don't think I will ever make a different carrot cake recipe.
I didn't need as many carrots either. I thought that was wierd that Dorie suggested it would take so many. Maybe my carrots have been on steroids too. lol
This is a perfect birthday cake too.
I agree with you on the frosting and the lemon. fabulous.
And if you have to make it in the future and want to pipe the frosting- it works well.
It looks lovely!
oh and p.s. when I made it and had to have enough frosting for the sides, I went ahead and doubled the frosting.

Jessica said...

Wow! The carrot cake looks fabulous and I am so glad that it made for a great birthday celebration. I hate recipes that call for 3 cake pans because who really has more than 2? It's just a pet peeve of mine.

"A conundrum wrapped in an enigma" -- I just love it. In fact, I love it so much I wrote it down so that I can steal it.

Anonymous said...

This cake is really good. The layers freeze really well.

Your triple layer cake looks gorgeous.

Megan said...

What a cute family you have! And what's up with your husband not eating chocolate? Hmmmm. I wasn't so crazy about the cake when we made it waaaayy back when, but you sure make it look great!

Maria said...

I can't believe I haven't made this one yet! What is wrong with me??? I better go home and open Dorie's book and get baking! Glad you loved it!! What a great way to celebrate a birthday!

Pam said...

Beautiful. I love carrot cake - it's one of my favorites. Yours looks delicious.

natalia said...

You conerted two people and I didn't even taste it !!!I think I'll bake it tomorrow !! Baci and Auguri !!

Anonymous said...

Like Peggy I was a carrot cake hater when I tried this recipe last spring (vegetables are not dessert, or so I thought). I think it was my second or third TWD and is a big part of the reason I love the group. Glad this cake met with rave reviews for you as well.

n.o.e said...

Back in 1981 when I got married, people had carrot cakes for their wedding - we did that and I've always had a soft spot for carrot cake since. I make a healthy one with a cream cheese glaze but I'm really glad to have a great pre-screened layer cake recipe to turn to. I'll be making this for my husband's birthday in April (conundrum wrapped in an enigma ought to be enough complexity of flavor, right?)

I'm going to plan the pan situation now. Even though I have had to find an annex for storing baking pans, and UPS arrives at my door almost weekly with baking supplies, I still stand in my kitchen in a quandary when baking day is here.

Great job on the cake! Love your arty shot, btw.

Anonymous said...

I like carrot cake but not one of my favorites. I bet since I missed making this with TWD if I went back to make it I would fall in love. Looks delicious. Your artsy shot loooks great.

Heather said...

yumm! i never used to like carrot cake, but a few months ago i fell in love with it. yours sounds delicious - lucky bill! you know the only thing that would make that icing more deadly? a cup of cocoa powder. i made it last weekend ;) my nieces licked the bowl. you can't go wrong with butter+cream cheese+powdered sugar!!

Matt's Kitchen said...

As much as I can take or leave cake, when it comes to carrot cake I can only take it. There is just something about it that I love that leaves me weak in the knees.

I definitely would follow your lead in leaving out the coconut from the frosting. While coconut doesn't bother me in some things, there is just something unpleasantly stringy about it in a creamy frosting.

A pound of confectioner's sugar? At one point I would have cringed in horror, but between Tuesdays with Dorie and Thursdays with Ina I have become desensitized to such things much the way teenaged boys become desensitized to violence after one too many video games.

And as for turning 37... oh how I wish I could go back in time to those days!

The Food Librarian said...

Cathy, Looks great! I love your "I don't know what it was, but my cousin gave me shots in my ass" carrots. I haven't made this yet and can't wait!

Audrey said...

Ah, 37, that was a good age! What a lovely family you have, btw. My go-to carrot cake is the one from the Silver Palate cookbook, the one where you actually cook and then puree the carrots, which is very very good but which I have made exactly twice. Just thinking about the frosting makes me want to start baking right now so I can have some. You are a very bad influence...

Leslie said...

Thanks, Cathy, for making me want to make yet another dessert though carrot cake is practically health food, right? No?

We love (any kind of) cake so I can't wait to try this. Glad to know the frosting is skimpy so I can double up. I love the family pics!

dorie said...

So glad that the cake was such a success! Your post is terrific -- you had me giggling all the way to the end.

Natashya said...

I love carrot cake - much more than chocolate!
Yours looks beautiful, you did a really great job!

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

Dorie's carrot cake is my goto carrot cake recipe. Glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

Send your hubs a warm Twirty something Happy birthday! 37 is the new 26, right? I agree what a fabulous family you have, the happiness around the cake shines through!

I love carrot cake, I am fond of of both GB version and the US version, carrot cake is always so moist but this recipe is spot on! I think the lemony cream pairs well.

Right on! I love this post!

Debbie said...

I had a carrot cake showdown a few weeks ago... too bad you missed it, cuz this looks great!
I don't frost the sides of my cake either.

Peggy said...

Cathy you can bring that cake into work any day of the week and I will be happy to sample it again for you. Because you know, you might need some more input on the next one and the next one and so forth. I really did love it and plan to make it as a surprise for my hubster in April for his b'day! I want another piece right now!!! (I know I'm demanding, but. .)

Amanda said...

Ok first of all O M G you are hilarious, thank you for the morning laugh! HAHA! I love carrot cake and am always on a mission to find a better one, I am a TWD baker so I know her stuff is yummy. Will have to try this!

I'm stopping by everyone on my blogroll to tell them that i've started a new blog event called Thrifty Thursdays if you are interested in blogging along! :)

Katherine Aucoin said...

I LOVE carrot cake, but have not made one from scratch before. This would be so perfect for Easter. Looks like the birthday boy couldn't wait to blow out the candles and get a piece of cake.

The Blonde Duck said...

You are so sweet! I'm so impressed by your cake! I would have given up and thrown a tantrum and demanded pie.

Pamela said...

This is a really damn good cake! I love the frosting, too. I agree with you that it made the cake. Now that I've tried this one, I'm always looking for reasons to bake it. Maybe Easter...

Great job, Cathy! And Happy Birthday to your husband!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Cathy, Looks like your hubby had a fantastic birthday, that cake looks so good. I will definitly try the lemon in my cream cheese frosting next time. You totally convinced me!!

Bridgett said...

It is hard to find a good carrot cake recipe so I am happy to hear yours turned out beautifully. It looks absolutely gorgeous as well!

Katrina said...

I'm not big on cake in general, but LOVE carrot cake--when it's a good one! This looks good. Great job.

Jacque said...

Wow, looks like I'm going to have to add this to my baking list. (Like it's hard to talk me into carrot cake... my favorite!)

It sounds wonderful and I'm glad it was such a huge hit.

P.S. HB to hubs!

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