Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

If you like carrot cake, you simply must try this recipe.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm looking for company on my quest to bake more, gain more.

Well, okay.  It's not the only reason I'm saying that.

I'm also saying it because this cake is absolutely fabulous.  And I think you'll be very happy when you taste it.

We celebrated my mom's birthday last weekend and I brought out my new favorite cookbook again to try my hand at carrot cake.  I opted for the "Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla-Bean Cream Cheese Frosting" variation, namely because it contained an entire tablespoon of my new favorite spice:  cardamom.  And I was not the least bit disappointed in the end result.  In fact, it tasted even better than it looked.  And it looked good, don't you think?

After some searching, I even located vanilla beans for an inexpensive price.  92 cents each, to be exact.  Which was quite a relief since the first store I looked at was selling them for more than $14 each.  Having never used vanilla beans before, it was rather fun to cut them open and scrape out all the tiny little seeds, getting my fingers coated in the process.  And I appreciated the sophistication it added to the finished cake:

I'm generally not a fan of adding nuts to baked goods, but my mom definitely is.  Thus, I added both raisins and nuts in honor of the birthday girl.  And oddly enough, I actually liked it.  Both the raisins and nuts blended well with the shredded carrots and added a fair bit of interest to the whole thing.  Because, you know, sometimes a cake needs interest.  Or not.

In any case, you'll notice the recipe calls for baking the cake in a 9 x 13 inch pan, but I clearly didn't do that.  Believe it or not, the 9 x 13 pans at my house were all in use at the time and I decided to improvise with two 8-inch square pans instead.  And it certainly did look pretty as a layer cake:

Next time I'm in the mood for carrot cake (and you can certainly bet there will be a next time), I think I'll try out the Ginger Orange variation.  Because making the original recipe just seems so boring when you can throw in things like black pepper and cardamom or ground ginger and orange zest.

And in case you haven't made up your mind to go bake this yet, I'll throw in one last picture to convince you:

Here is the original recipe, taken from The New Best Recipe cookbook, followed by the variations:

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake:
2-1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound carrots (6 to 7 medium), peeled
1-1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed (3.5 ounces) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups oil  (safflower, canola, or vegetable)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups (5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups).  Add the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside.
  4. Wipe out the food processor and fit with the metal blade.  Process the granulated sugar and light brown sugar with the eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds.  With the machine still running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.  Process until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer.
  5. Scrape the sugar mixture into a large bowl and stir in the carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
  6. Cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.
  7. For the frosting:  When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in a clean food processor until combines, about 5 seconds, scraping down the workbowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
  8. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Invert the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and invert the cake onto a serving platter.  Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake.  Cut into squares and serve.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting
Substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper for the nutmeg, increase the cloves to 1/4 teaspoon, and add 1 tablespoon ground cardamom along with the spices.  For the frosting, halve and scrape the seeds from 2 vanilla beans, using a paring knife, and add the seeds to the food processor along with the vanilla extract.

Ginger-Orange Carrot Cake with Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting
Reduce the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon and add 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger along with the spices.  Process 1 tablespoon grated orange zest along with the sugar and eggs.  Add 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger along with the carrots.  For the frosting, substitute an equal amount of orange juice for the sour cream and 1 tablespoon grated orange zest for the vanilla.

If you like nuts in your cake, stir 1-1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans or walnuts into the batter along with the carrots.  Raisins are also a good addition; 1 cup can be added along with the carrots.  If you add both nuts and raisins, the cake will need an additional 10-12 minutes in the oven.

If you want to make a layer cake like I did, bake in 2 prepared round or square pans (8 or 9 inches).  With nuts and raisins added, I baked them for 35-40 minutes; would take less time without the addition of nuts and raisins.  Make a double batch of frosting if you want to cover the entire outside of the layer cake.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Place Where Joy Lives

Sometimes we stumble on Joy unexpectedly, find it in places we never thought it would be.

But sometimes we find Joy exactly where we knew it would be, in the places where it always is.

Beautiful skies and a free afternoon came together this week to draw me out of my house, out of my neighborhood and down to a place where Joy lives.  I knew I'd find it there, amongst the trees and blooms and life-song of an arboretum.  And I knew it would swell my heart, warm my face with all it's beauty.  Because Joy is always in this place.

But this time was different.

After all the journeys I've made through this forest of beauty, I didn't think this Joy could get any deeper, richer, more alive.  But I was wrong.

Because this time I tucked the Gratitude Journal into the bag, slid it in beside the camera.

And I didn't just see beauty in all the moments.  I saw God.  I felt Him near, heard Him loud, and saw Him everywhere I looked.  And my soul nearly burst with the glory of it all--the Glory of Him.

Will you come with me and see?

422.  Pink trumpets dancing in the sunlight

423.  Pieris blooms shy under leaves

424.  Flower so tiny I kneel down in dirt to see all its beauty

425.  One bud, hope in miniature

426.  Hawthorn leaves unfurling in Spring

427.  Lone daffodil in flight

428.  Hellebore still in bloom after Winter's end

429.  Pink azalea buds waiting to take the stage

430.  Azalea petals all aglitter in sun

431.  Face pressed close into blooms, inner beauty revealed

432.  Perfect camellia bloom, untouched by Spring rains

433.  Corylopsis spicata branches laid out horizontal and dripping with yellow beauty

434.  Purple-tipped petals bursting forth from soil

435.  Hellebore open wide and sprinkled blood-red

436.  Snowdrop dancing in afternoon breeze

437.  Petal edges kissed by sunlight

438.  Tiny magenta blooms I can't pass by without stooping to marvel

439.  Bare branches full of color, living up to the naming of 'Midwinter Fire'

440.  Winter honeysuckle blooms still hanging down while leaves grow green

441.  Star magnolia blooms coming out from cocoons

442.  Blossom just out of reach, framed against a blue Spring sky

443.  Forsythia blooms lingering at the edge of a Winter garden

444.  Tiny azalea flowers back lit by afternoon sun

445.  Maple tree in bloom, clusters of stars overhead

446.  Cherry blossoms waiting to be born...

447.  ...and being born!

448.  Red buds on little maple, not yet ready to open

449.  Cherry tree laden with moss, decades of stories to tell

450.  Yellow mahonia buds waiting in shadows

451.  Oemleria cerasiformis blooms cascading off branches

452.  Fuzzy magnolia buds not yet ready to reveal glory

453.  Pink petals peeking out, secrets being told

454.  One magnolia tree in full bloom, adrift in a sky of blue

455.  Tree's first bloom opening to the sun

456.  Bud spire pointing to the Maker

457.  Moss-covered tree trunk bathed in sunlight

458.  New growth unfolding in a faint shaft of light

459.  Three crocuses all in a row, mouths open wide to praise the Beautiful One Himself

460.  Driving home with a camera full of beauty, a journal full of thanks, and a heart full of God

(More gift counting for this week can be found on my One Thousand Gifts list)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Welcome, Spring


Many more pictures to come on the meantime, Happy Spring!