I fell in love with carrot cake, when I fell in love with my husband. For years I had an exclusive (some would say dependent) relationship with chocolate. Given a choice of ice cream, cake, cookies, snacks, drinks (you get the picture), I would almost always sway towards the chocolate offering. So you can imagine the shock and ensuing protest when he suggested we serve carrot cake at our wedding. I still do not know how he convinced me, but I did give up the vision of rich chocolate cake with richer, thicker chocolate frosting willingly agreed to carrot cake. One of our marriage’s first big compromises.

Key to our agreement was that we found an absolutely fantastic bakery, The Buttery in Santa Cruz, that baked up the most luscious carrot cake imaginable. This was 10 years ago and I still remember how delicious it was! This recipe is NOT from The Buttery, I adapted it from one clipped from a newspaper years ago, but it is the next best thing. It includes the absolutely key ingredient BUTTER! Flip through a pile of carrot cake recipes and you will see how rare this ingredient is. Almost all of the carrot cake recipes in my collection call for vegetable oil, which makes a nice moist cake, but fails to deliver the distinctive buttery note that reminds me that chocolate (while a delicious intoxicant) is not the only way to celebrate an occasion. The cream cheese frosting is super creamy and just sweet and tangy enough to add a nice counterpoint to the rich cake.

This particular cake I whipped up for a very special person to celebrate her 65th birthday. Which brings me to another reason to love carrot cake… there is no need to wait for a birthday or wedding. Carrot cake is fancy enough to hold its own on these occasions, but simple enough for an afternoon snack. Really, it is full of carrots and nuts and raisins; it is practically health food!

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Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes

February 25, 2012

The birthday spirit lives on around here, but the cake does not.  Given one more chance to sing a Happy Birthday, I whipped up a second birthday dessert, this one a bit brighter and lighter than the first (Caramel Cake).  There have been a lot of posts about sweets and liquor lately, but to be honest, that pretty much sums up the month of February around here.  I did mention the “birthday month“, did I not?

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake is just the thing for a sweet wintery treat.  A cross between a souffle and lemon curd, but so much easier to prepare.  Prepare the batter and bake.  As the cake bakes it separates into two delightful layers, a lemon pudding on top and an incredibly light and moist cake on the bottom.  Serve with a gently sweetened berry sauce.  I used ollalie berries from my parents bushes (thanks Mom!), but blackberries, raspberries, even blueberries would be delicious.  This can be made one day in advance, making it a great dessert for guests.

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It is (one of many) “birthday months” at our house.  My husband, who resisted the idea of the birthday month for years, finally sees the beauty.  Of course it is his birthday month, and a big one at that.  Celebrating for an entire month allows for a thorough celebration.  Why choose between a party, an outing, a nice dinner, a trip?  With a birthday month you can do it all!

Our festivities began with a few good friends, lots of (still eating the leftovers!) good food, a backyard fire, and of course a birthday cake!  My husband is a caramel guy, so after trying to tempt him with cake after cake that featured the power duo of chocolate and caramel, we finally settled on a cake that did away with the distractions and featured the caramel promptly.

Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Frosting is my adaptation of a cake from Maya Angelou’s cookbook, Hallelujah.  It is a basic butter cake infused with caramel.  So there was no mistaking the caramel, I added an extra layer between the cake layers and drizzled it over the top of the cake.The frosting is the kicker.  The standard American buttercream is blown into complete deliciousness, by browning the butter and then chilling it back to proper temperature before whipping it up with powdered sugar and cream.  Yes, this frosting is outstanding! All in all, they are a great match and the cake was very well received!

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Apple Blackberry Cake

August 24, 2011

Summer is not complete without a morning spent picking blackberries.  Last weekend, under the pressure of a fall-like chill in the air and the craziness of back to school time, the kids and I pushed out for a ramble along the creek.  We brought the wagon, a gazillion containers, and a baby doll or two.  We dressed in our jeans and forced socks and closed shoes onto our spoiled summer feet.    We were ready for a  real berry picking session.  What we found however is that like all other summer fruits (tomatoes especially!) everything is super late this year.

Not about to let a little thing like red under-ripe blackberries get us down, we assigned ourselves roles for our Blackberry Team.  I picked the berries, my little man dumped the small containers into the bigger ones, and my little lady dragged the wagon up and down the trail laughing hysterically.  After an hour of hard work (and just a few scrapes), we cruised home with a half-gallon of berries.  Just enough for a few smoothies and Apple Blackberry Cake.  While we suffer a shortage of ripe blackberries, we have boxes and boxes of Gravenstein apples from my parents’ trees.

Apple Blackberry Cake is a treat to make each late summer or fall.  Though it is simple to prepare, somehow the cake has the ability to pass as both an elegant special dessert and a casual weeknight treat.  This time it even disguised itself as a birthday cake.  The apples are peeled and sliced and then pressed into a basic butter and brown sugar batter.  The blackberries scatter across the top lending both a colorful burst and a tart contrast to the apples.  The sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the top help to form a nice sweet crunchy topping.  This cake is well matched with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  I would not mind eating a slice for breakfast either with a nice cup of coffee.

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Perfect Peach Cake

July 17, 2011

It is hard to beat a fresh summer peach.  At their peak, taking a bite of a perfectly ripe juicy peach is a transcendent experience.  I find that farmers’ markets are the best place to buy peaches.  The smaller farmers are much more likely to have a sense of the true maturity of the fruit they grow and allow it to fully develop.  They also often give samples so you can judge for yourself the quality of the fruit.  It was with these magical fruits in mind that I set out to make Perfect Peach Cake.

This recipe is slightly adapted from one in the last issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Once I saw it, I could not get it out of my mind.  I began searching for a reason to make it, which luckily was not too difficult.  The recipe involves some unusual steps such as roasting half of the peaches before adding them to the batter and sprinkling them with panko to absorb the excess juices that threaten to make a soggy cake.

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It is birthday season in our family.  By some lucky roll of the dice, almost every member of our family was born between April and August.  We celebrate the birth of someone every couple of weeks, usually with the a candle topped Chocolate Birthday Cake.

This cake began as my own personal favorite.  I, like many, am a huge fan of chocolate. I am fairly certain that my birthday cake was chocolate for at least the first 25 years of my life (perhaps longer).   About 5 years ago, I came across this recipe for chocolate cake from Ina Garten.  Since then, I have made it countless times.

Imagine my delight when this cake became a favorite for my family as well!  This year already, I have made it five times.  In fact I have made it so much that I was reluctant when asked to make the most recent batch. I thought-  Hadn’t we already eaten that cake enough this season?  There are so many other good cakes to try.  But then I whipped up the batter, baked the cake, and tried a sample crumb, shhhhh.  This cake tastes sooo good! I would happily sign on to many more years of baking this exact cake.

Chocolate Birthday Cake is rich, chocolately, and incredibly moist.  The buttermilk gives it a pleasant tang and the last minute addition of brewed coffee deepens the delightful chocolate flavor.  As with any chocolate dish, it will be as good as the cocoa you use.  I prefer Ghiradelli or Scharfen Berger. The frosting choice will create the identity of the cake.  Mocha Buttercream is the frosting I most often pair with the cake.   I have also made it with vanilla buttercream and strawberry buttercream.  Really, you cannot go wrong.  This cake is absolutely decadent and delicious.  The very definition of a chocolate cake.  It is perfect for a birthday or any time you need a good chocolate fix.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

from Ina Garten

makes 1 8-inch layer cake

Parchment paper for lining pans

Butter for greasing pans

1 3/4 cup all- purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 2 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment.  Dust pans with flour.

Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl: flour, sugar cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined.  Pour in the hot coffee and mix until it is incorporated.  Be sure to scrape down sides and bottom to ensure all the flour mixture is thoroughly moistened. Batter will look very thin.

Pour batter evenly into the 2 prepared pans.  Slide pans in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Place pans on a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes.  Slide a knife around the inside edge of each pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the cooling racks.  Peel the parchment off the bottom.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Lay one layer, flat side up on your cake plate or stand.  Spread a layer of frosting over the top.  Place the second cake round on the frosting, flat side up.  Apply a generous amount of frosting to the top of the cake.  Spread the frosting over the top and down the sides.  Finish by filling in any places where the cake is exposed and smoothing the top and sides with a spatula.  If the frosting is too loose, put it in the refrigerator and allow it to set up before spreading.  The frosted cake can be kept on the counter until ready to serve.  If it is a very hot day, keep it in the refrigerator to prevent the frosting from weeping.

Note:

Unfrosted cakes can be made ahead and frozen.  After they are completely cool, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for  up to three months.  Be careful not to place anything onto of the cakes.  Even though they are frozen, then are still delicate and will crush easily.

For a larger cake and crowd, you can double the recipe.  I have done this successfully many times.

Mocha Buttercream

adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

makes enough for 1 8-inch layer cake

1 cup butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup fresh coffee, cooled

Cream the butter.  Add the vanilla and mix.  Sift in the cocoa and sugar (Do not forget to sift.  If you add lumps in at this point, they are almost impossible to remove).  Add the coffee and beat.  It may appear curdled or separated at first.  Continue beating frosting until it is fully incorporated, light, and fluffy.  Spread on cake.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipes:

Chocolate Birthday Cake and Mocha Buttercream

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Satsuma Vanilla Upside-down Cake

Chocolate Pudding

This is definitely one of my favorite winter cakes.  Every year, I watch our satsumas ripen and dream of this dessert. I invent reasons to gather with friends, just so I can share this cake.  I am not to be trusted with this buttery, tangy, orange vanilla cake without many mouths with which to compete.  It is that good.  Make it quick, while satsuma mandarins are in peak season!  This cake would be great with any tangerine or mandarin.  We have  an overabundance of satsumas so that is what I use.

Upside down cakes are a new thing for me.  Nothing against the legendary pineapple upside-down cake, but it has never really captured my attention.  To be honest, I have a hard time veering from chocolate when choosing a dessert to make, especially in the winter.  This cake is so incredibly flavorful, moist, and buttery that I really don’t miss the cocoa  (If someone has an idea of how to make this better by adding chocolate, please let me know.  Though as is, I think it may be perfect.) Using real vanilla scraped from the pod infuses the cake with a serious dose of deliciousness.

To make this cake, start by thinly slicing the satsumas.  It is easiest to use a mandoline, but if you don’t have one you can use a knife.  Be sure to make the slices as even as possible.  Blanch the satsuma slices and then dry on a cloth.  Melt the butter, vanilla, and part of the sugar in the cake pan, then arrange the satsuma slices.

Gently layer on the cake batter and bake in the oven until the top is browned.  This batter is fabulous with other toppings as well.  I recently made a cranberry upside cake with this base and it turned out delicious!  This cake is best eaten the day it is made. It is delicious the next day as well, but the top gets a bit moist.

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