While my dad and brother were visiting from Florida, I wanted to celebrate my dad’s 50th, which had just passed. It’s so hard living away from family when birthdays and holidays roll around. A card in the mail just isn’t the same as a family celebration.
So the night before my dad arrived, I set out to make him a birthday cake from scratch. His favorite: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. And what a night it was. More like a morning, actually, as the cake-making-while-cleaning-process went into the wee hours of the a.m. But what else would you expect from an inexperienced baker with no help from Betty Crocker, and no canned frosting in sight?
Actually, I can’t complain about the cake. It was very easy. No mixer necessary, which was a wonderful change. My hand mixer can get quite annoying, especially when a recipe tells me to beat something for five, arm-cramping minutes. But I’m hoping it won’t be long before I score the stand mixer of my dreams. It’s yellow. It’s Kitchen Aid. And I think I have just enough leftover wedding money on a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card to cover at least half the cost. We’ll see. I’m waiting for another one of those 20% coupons to arrive in the mail. Seems they always come when I don’t need anything.
Anyway, the cake was quick. Just mixed everything together, then folded in the carrot. Which really made the batter look less like a cake, and more like a casserole. But it smelled wonderful with all that apple butter and cinnamon. Very fall. Then I poured them into pans and stuck them in the oven.
One cake got a traditional metal pan, the other got one of those oddly rubber ones. I used to have two metal pans, but when I put them in the sink to soak after making a chocolate cake, they must have stuck together. So when Luke washed them, he thought it was just one pan. Which meant that months later, I found the pans glued together with creepy black stuff, a.k.a. chocolate cake. And it just wouldn’t come off one of them, so I pitched it. I’ve been using the rubber one ever since, and it’s great. Sometimes it makes the cake crack a little on top because it doesn’t hold the batter as tightly, but it’s easier to pop the cake out thanks to its magically bendable sides. And who sees cracks under a layer of frosting anyway?
While the cakes baked, I worked on the cleaning, then started on the icing. The icing is a very simple recipe, too. Just not when you start it at one in the morning, when you’re too exhausted to plan, think, or read. I got out the ingredients and began, only to realize the butter needed to be softened, and the cream cheese needed to be chilled. So I stuck the cream cheese in the freezer, the butter on the counter, and myself at the table for a snack because I didn’t even have enough energy to zest a lemon.
Once refueled, I zested that lemon, and added the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. It seemed like an awful lot of zest. An entire lemon’s worth. And a lot of vanilla, too. I mean, a lot. I knew something was wrong, so I re-read the recipe and… I messed it up. I used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon for both ingredients. That’s three times too much. So I decided to just double it and have extra frosting to freeze. I got out more cream cheese and butter, stubbornly skipping the chill/soften part, and plopped them into the bowl. But before mixing it up, I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should check to make sure I have enough powdered sugar for a double batch.” I needed seven cups. One.... Two.... And, that’s it. Not even enough for one cake. What a planner.
I was so tired at that point, I just wanted to give up, but my perfectionist ways would have none of that. I called Luke, who was running an errand at CVS, and had him check for powdered sugar. Nope. I even asked him to check for cream cheese frosting. But they didn’t have it, thankfully. I would have hated myself for cheating.
Kroger was closed, and it was too late to call my mom, so I consulted the internet. But surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything about substitutes for powdered sugar. That is, until I came across a site advising people to create powdered sugar by grinding regular sugar in a blender. That seemed pretty ridiculous. So... I gave it a shot. There I was, at 2:30 in the morning, trying to grind sugar in my teeny food processor, which was probably too small for the job, and way too loud for a second floor condo with a sleeping neighbor below. But I was desperate.
Just in time, Luke saved my sanity when he called and said he was on his way to a 24-hour Meijer! (Which I later heard had him sneaking into a slippery closed aisle.) So I stopped the madness (good thing, because it didn’t work at all), grabbed the extra cream cheese and butter I’d placed on top, brushed off the lemon, and chilled/softened them, cleaned up, and took a nap while I waited.
And just as I finally fell asleep, Luke woke me up with sugar in hand. The second time around, I knew exactly what to do, and I did it fast. Zested a lemon. Whipped up the frosting. Iced the cake. I loved that part. Icing a cake really makes you feel like you’re in the 50’s, even if it is 3:30 in the morning. I wanted it to look a little fancier, so I ground some walnuts and sprinkled them all over. Why not? At that point, I wasn’t going to get any sleep anyway. Might as well go the extra mile. Stuck it in the fridge. Slammed the door. Passed out.
We had the cake the first night my dad and brother arrived. Of course, topped with a black and white over-the-hill candle. And I have to say, hands down, it’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever had. If you like carrot cake, you have to try this recipe. It’s not full of nuts and pineapple and raisins, which was good. Just a lot of flavor, and a lot of spice. And the frosting is to die for. Sweet, lemony, cream cheesy. Way better that the stuff from a can. Way. And way worth the time. Well, I guess it was really my dad that was way worth the time, right? Happy 50th!
Yield: 18 servings (serving size: 1 slice)
Cookbook note: To give our cake moistness and more flavor, we used apple butter--a thick, dark-brown spread made of apples, sugar, and spices. You can find it with jams and jellies in your grocery store.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3 cups shredded carrot
Cream Cheese Frosting
Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through salt); make a well in center of mixture. Combine apple butter and next 4 ingredients (apple butter through egg whites) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add apple butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in carrot.
Pour batter into 2 (8-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 2/3 cup frosting, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.
Nutritional Information: Calories: 304 (28% from fat), Fat: 9.5g (sat 2.9g,mono 2.8g,poly 3.2g), Protein: 3.6g, Carbohydrate: 51.6g, Fiber: 1g, Cholesterol: 33mg, Iron: 1.1mg, Sodium: 357mg, Calcium: 38mg.
Source: Cooking Light, November,1999.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 2 cups (serving size: 1 tablespoon)
Yield: 2 cups (serving size: 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, chilled
1/4 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Beat the first 4 ingredients at medi-um speed of a mixer until smooth. Lightly spoon sugar into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Gradually add sugar to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).
Nutritional Information: Calories: 67 (20% from fat), Fat:1.5g (sat 0.9g,mono 0.4g,poly 0.1g), Protein: 0.5g, Carbohydrate: 13.2g, Fiber: 0.0g, Cholesterol: 5mg, Iron: 0.0mg, Sodium: 36mg, Calcium: 11mg.
Source: Cooking Light, November 1999.