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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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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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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

You may also like:

Satsuma Vanilla Upside-down Cake

Chocolate Pudding

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