Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I'm-A-Jerk Carrot Cake: Delicious Cake with a Hint of Guilt

It's the Beginning of Birthday Season! Which means lots and lots of cakes!

First up? My mom! She loves spice cake and carrot cake, and I couldn't decide on one, so I did both!

Let's see how many more sentences I can end with an exclamation point?! I can keep going like this all night! What's that?! You feel like I'm shouting at you?! And not in a jubilant fun way, but in a kind of aggressively joyful way?! (I'll bet you never read those two adjectives in succession before. Language: it's amazing).

Alright, so I did a little overkill. I still haven't learned how to end on a high note. My apologies. :)

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, cake. Today I'll share how I made the carrot cake, although the spice cake was delicious too. Maybe I'll save that one for some other time.

Now when it comes to carrot cake, there are at least a couple different camps. One camp with fruit (pineapple and possibly raisins), and one without. Sometimes there's the addition of coconut, most of the time there are nuts.

Which camp does my mom lie in? She happens to like her carroty cake with pineapple, but she didn't say anything about raisins (thank goodness because plump, juicy raisins in baked goods are just gross), which means I left them out.

And...well, I left out the pineapple too (sorry Mom), because I can't stand most baked fruit in desserts. Pineapple gets mushy and stringy. And raisins...I already covered that. Plump and juicy are not the adjectives that I want with raisins. Actually, I don't really want raisins with any accompanying adjectives. Let's just say that you'll most likely never see a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies on this blog. Kind of sad since I was born and raised in the Raisin Capital of the world.

I was a little selfish in making this cake. Because I wanted some carrot cake too, so I sided with the no-fruit camp. But it wasn't my birthday, so I guess I'm sort of a jerk. But I made her a cake, so that gives me some redemption, right? Ok, now I'm feeling guilty.

Where do I stand on the nut issue in this cake? It shouldn't surprise you that I'm pro-nut (when you can't beat 'em, join 'em, or when in Rome..., or some other cute saying that may apply here). So this cake has pecans (not walnuts) in it to enhance the flavor and texture. Hitting a crunchy nutty spot in a bite of cake: totally acceptable. Hitting a smooshy gooey raisin: completely unacceptable.

In my opinion, the best qualities of this I'm-A-Jerk Carrot Cake include the fact that it has three moist layers (so it is decadent) and it is covered by a traditional cream cheese frosting that is amped up a bit with a hint of ginger and orange flavor. And of course, the best quality (for which it is named): it has NO fruit in it...which makes me a bit of a jerk.

There is nothing to get in the way of enjoying this cake. No stringy pineapple bits to pull out of your teeth later, and no fat raisins you have to eat around, and possibly gag on when you miss one and you suddenly find yourself with a goo of sickeningly sweet, slightly fermented raisin in your mouth that has broken through it's skin. So yay for that!

Once again, overkill. I think I made my point on my disdain for raisins in baked goods.

I didn't spend hours poring over the pages of the Internet in deciding which recipe to use (I may sometimes do that....), mostly because I didn't have time. But I followed Paula Deen's recipe found here (because it didn't have fruit in it and had a lot of good ratings, many of which I read through), with some minor adjustments. And as a side note, there is NO WAY that this cake serves just 8 (which is what Ms. Deen's recipe states). It has three layers, people. It definitely serves at least twice that many.

And for the cream cheese frosting, I decided to amp it up a bit with a hint of orange and some fresh ginger. I got the idea from this recipe from the Food Network here.

Making this cake is not difficult; it uses simple ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and uses all-purpose flour (not cake flour), so it's even more user-friendly. I also used my hand-mixer instead of a stand mixer, which also made it less complicated.

You make a simple cake base with some cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, and fold in some chopped pecans and 3 cups of carrots. Then divide the batter evenly between 3, 9-inch round cake pans, bake for about 25 minutes (also an alteration from her recipe---the original recipe calls for 40 minutes, but the cake would be way overbaked by then).

The trickiest part of making this cake is making sure you use parchment paper in the bottom of each cake pan. And even then you need to spray the parchment and sides of the pan generously with cooking spray. If you don't, your cakes will stick rather badly to the bottom and sides. I ran a thin knife around the sides of the cake pan after the cakes had cooled on the rack for about 10 minutes. And I had to coax the bottom (apparently I left about 1/8th of an inch ring uncovered by parchment) out a bit carefully.

To make parchment rounds, trace the bottom of your cake pans onto parchment paper and cut them out. Then spray the bottom of the cake pan first, place the parchment inside (now the parchment will stick to the pan), and spray the parchment and sides of cake pan again. Or....order parchment rounds off of Amazon. I totally intend to do that some day, but for some reason I haven't brought myself to do it yet.

The layers of this cake don't rise very tall (they're about an inch thick each). When the layers are cool, I recommend wrapping them in plastic-wrap and placing in freezer (if not eating/serving the cake that day). I made this cake the night before it was served, and I actually froze the frosting in layers too (I piped frosting on wax paper inside two of the cake pans to make two layers of frosting). The frosting took about 30 minutes to freeze enough for me to layer my cake with frosting (minus the top layer of frosting) right in one pan, and inverting the other pan over the top to encase the cake. I then used plastic wrap to seal the two cake pans and kept the cake in the freezer until about an hour before it was served. Then I frosted the top, decorated it with some whole pecans, and it was ready to go!
So without further ado, here is the recipe I used:

I'm-a-Jerk Carrot Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups grated carrots
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut 3 parchment rounds and place in the bottom of 3, 9 inch round cake pans. Grease the pans.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl; whisk to evenly distribute ingredients. 

3. Add the eggs in one at a time while using a hand mixer on medium. Add the oil in a slow stream until all combined. Fold in the carrots and pecans using a spatula or large spoon. 

4. Distribute the batter evenly between the 3 pans, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Begin checking for doneness around 20 minutes. The cakes are done when a cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean, or with a couple of moist crumbs. 

5. Allow cakes to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully run a thin knife around the edges of the pan to release any portions of the cake that may be stuck to the sides of the pans. Carefully remove the cakes from pan (careful, the layers are not very thick) and cool completely on a wire rack. You can either frost them when they are completely cool, or wrap the layers in plastic wrap and freeze until you are ready to use them. 

6. Place bottom layer of cake on serving dish, top with the cream cheese frosting, followed by another layer of cake and a subsequent layer of frosting. Add the last layer of the cake and top it with frosting. I left the sides free of frosting, but feel free to frost the sides if you want to. I decorated the top of the cake with half pecan pieces. Refrigerate the cake before serving, at least one hour (if it was not previously frozen). Store the leftover cake in the refrigerator. 

Orange-Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature
2, 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese (do not use Neufchatel cheese, it will make your frosting too runny)
1 2-4 inch piece of ginger root
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
6 cups + powdered sugar. 

1. Grate the ginger onto a piece of cheesecloth, a sturdy paper towel, or a coffee filter. Squeeze the juice into a small bowl. You should have around 1 Tbsp. of ginger root juice. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice to the bowl.
piece of ginger root

grated ginger root into a coffee filter

ginger root juice: smelled great!

I just squeezed a bit of juice from the orange I used for the zest

2. In a separate medium-large bowl, mix the butter and cream cheese bricks together on high speed until fully combined and creamy. Beat in the juice mixture on medium speed. 

3. On low speed, add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. Any un-used frosting can remain in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

This cake and delicious frosting was a crowd pleaser! And it didn't take too long to make; it was delicious and not too complicated. 

Luckily I wasn't too big of a jerk: my mom liked it. So I only felt a small twinge of guilt as I enjoyed my piece. 

Happy Birthday Mom!

Next up on the birthday parade? My husband. But he doesn't like cake, so I guess I'll avoid being selfish this time and actually make something he really wants ;). And if I'm lucky, I'll like it too (but let's face it, if it has sugar in it, I'm probably gonna like it. As long as it doesn't include raisins!).

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