Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring Carrot Cake

      This Saturday I went to a yoga class at a local brewery. (Yes, take a moment to appreciate that I get to go to drop-in yoga classes at a brewery. Lord knows, I am grateful for them!) The instructor talked about following your intuition and the path of your heart, versus making a decision out of fear in the desire of "taking the safer path." Right now, I feel somewhat at a crossroads with life and not knowing exactly what my heart says versus what is the decision made from living in fear. Sometimes we get so muddled in our heads; it is hard to balance and remember what we even really want. 
       It is times like this I turn to my mixing bowls. I start in the motions that I know. The motions that bring me peace. I mix my wet ingredients and my dry ingredients. I bring them together, get them in the oven and I wait until they begin to produce some new glorious smell in the kitchen. I think such a simple thing sometimes awakens my heart enough that I can hear it again and start to sort it all out. 
      The simplicity of a cake is sometimes all you need to bring you to a more grounded place. Cake is nostalgic and I think carrot cake in particular has strong a resonance of comfort. This carrot cake does not venture to far off your traditional versions, but there are two things I particularly love about it.
     First, it is not a spice cake. It has cinnamon and it lets that speak, but it is not overwhelmed with it; nor is it packed with an elaborate spice blend found in so many carrot cakes. This is simply an extremely moist carrot cake with hints or warmth. I also love that is it is packed with tang and citrus throughout. There is an extremely subtle orange simple syrup, which would be impossible for the eater to pick out, but adds that extra oomph. The cranberries, tart and zingy, are a bright and chewy addition scattered throughout.
Sometimes, the best thing about cake is eating it with the people you love. You can spot a glimpse of my co-baker in the back :)
     Finally, the lemon cream cheese frosting is made with lemon zest and juice. It delivers a sweet tang to the cake and creates an absolutely heavenly balance. Then the walnuts on the side add a creamy nuttiness. Their crunch and natural richness are a perfect compliment for the bright frosting. 
     Everyone has had carrot cake, and there are so many recipes for it. I can tell you though, particularly with spring abloom, this one is worth making. 

Adapted from the absolutely awesome, Joy the Baker's Cookbook by Joy Wilson

3 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TSP baking powder (2 TSP at sea-level)
3/4 TSP baking soda (1 TSP at sea-level)
1 TSP salt
2 TSP ground cinnamon
3 large eggs+1 large egg yolk
1 C granulated sugar
1 C + 2 TBSP packed brown sugar
1 3/4 C canola oil
1 C chunky (preferably homemade) applesauce
1 TSP vanilla extract
1 TSP hazelnut extract (or 1 more TSP vanilla extract)
3 C grated carrots
1/3 C moist, dried cranberries 

1. Place racks in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 F. Grease, line with parchment, and flour 2, 9" round cake pans.
2. In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon. 
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars and eggs until fully incorporated. Next, carefully add in the oil and patiently mix it in until it has fully combined with the sugar and eggs. It will seem like a lot of oil, but don't worry, just keep stirring and it will all work out :) 
4. Add the applesauce and extracts to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
5. Add the wet ingredients into the dry in one go and mix to incorporate but try to do it in as few strokes as possible. Stir around the edges and bottom and fold it for the most effective motion. 
6. When it is almost fully mixed together, add the carrots and cranberries and finish folding together. 
7. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean from the center.
8. Let the cakes cool for 15-20 minutes on a rack before inverting.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 C (1 stick), unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
2 C powdered sugar
2 TSP vanilla extract
2 TSP lemon zest
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 C chopped walnuts for garnish (optional)

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment:
Beat the cream cheese for one minute, until light and pliable. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the butter and beat for another one to two minutes until there are no clumps left and the two are fully incorporated.
Add the lemon juice, zest, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat on a low speed until everything is almost fully incorporated.
Scrape down the sides, and beat at medium speed until the mixture is smooth and all the powdered sugar has disappeared. 

Orange Flower Water Simple Syrup (optional): this will keep you cake moist for a longer time
Place 1 C water, 1 C sugar and 1.5 TSP in a medium sauce pan on medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar has fully dissolved. Remove from heat and allow it to cool. (You could also use 1.5 TSP orange juice. It will be slightly different but if you wanted the oranginess. Also you can just make plain simple syrup and leave out the flavoring).
-You will have extra, you can half the recipe or just store in your fridge for any cakey goods you make soon. It lasts a good while. 

Once the cake has completely cooled, place your first round down. Brush or drizzle on the simple syrup over the entire puck. Top with frosting and spread it evenly to the edges. 
Repeat with the second layer, this time topping it with all of the frosting, spreading it evenly out to the edges and then carefully spread down and around the sides with an spatula. 
Garnish the sides or top with nuts depending how you like it and how patient you want to be with trying to get nuts to evenly cover the sides.
Serve immediately. This cake will last about 3-5 days in your fridge.

Boulder Butter

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