11 January 2009

Sunday Shortcut

This afternoon I was out at a friend's house, helping to host a baby shower for another friend. Here's the cake I made for the party:

It was a carrot cake, but a la Cooks Illustrated, which made it a "Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting," to be exact. I made the cake yesterday and the frosting this morning; then I put the cake together and quickly made lunch for everyone--our Sunday lunch usual, mac n cheese--before I ran out to help set up for the shower. So by the time I got home, though everyone was clamoring for it, I didn't feel like making dinner.

Nevertheless, I managed to pull this together:

*skillet quesadillas with "mexican blend" pre-shredded cheese and taco-seasoned ground turkey
*green salad
, leftover from the baby shower
*cherry tomatoes
*canned refried beans
--yuck, next time I better make my own?!
*rice, white with a bit of brown mixed in
*jarred salsa
*carrot cake for the kids and Aogu
; I had already partaken at the shower

Bad picture; I thought it would be funny to include the Lego pirates that we had to share the table with in the photo, but I didn't realize until I uploaded it that the Lego guys are in focus and dinner isn't.

One funny thing about the carrot cake, before I put the recipe here for posterity: I was very careful to ask my friend what she would like in the cake other than carrots. Once I went looking for a recipe, I realized the possibilities are limitless as far as things one might add; for example, coconut, pineapple, raisins, nuts, etc. I checked in with her and she said yes to nuts and raisins. Great. Except that I became so involved in following along with this recipe I was trying for the first time, I completely forgot to make any additions! I tried to make up for it by decoring the top of the cake with pecans and raisins, but I don't think it was quite the same thing.

Another note to self: next time you make this cake, bake it just a few minutes longer. And experiment with a bit less ground flaxseed; no one commented but it tasted a little too healthy. Oh, and as mentioned in the recipe notes, even though it's a pain, consider chopping the carrots a bit finer after they come out of the food processor. That would have made it prettier and easier to cut.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 13 by 9-inch cake (though I made two eight inch cakes and next time I would consider making three for thinner layers)

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 to 12 minutes in the oven.

Carrot Cake
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 pound medium carrots (6 to 7 carrots), peeled
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup light brown sugar packed
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil or safflower, or canola oil (I was alarmed by this amount of oil, so I did one cup of oil and 1 1/2 cups of ground flaxseed...but then as mentioned, I felt that tasted a little too healthy. Something to adjust next time.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 vanilla beans
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 confectioners' sugar (4 1/2 ounces)

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment and spray parchment.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.
3. In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor workbowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.
4. For the frosting: Using a paring knife, halve and scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans. When cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds in clean food processor workbowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
5. Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Using icing spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of cake. Cut into squares and serve. (Cover leftovers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.)

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