What’s Up, Doc?
It’s funny the things that spur you to make a recipe sometimes… This time it was a leftover gift card from last Christmas that led me to buy a couple pretty plates at Anthropology that then in turn made me think of how nice a piece of cake would look atop those plates that then reminded me that I had sweet fresh carrots at home that would make an excellent carrot cake.
I think the above photo justifies the purchase of the pretty plates even before I got around to making the cake. I tip my hat to this plate – without it I likely would’t have made cake with the farm’s sweet little Purple Haze and Kinko carrots, making my best carrot cake to date thanks to the intense natural flavors of the farm fresh carrots grated right before I tossed them in the batter.
Carrot cake’s nothing new or exciting for me, but I’ve always “cheated” in the past by using the bagged shredded carrots from the supermarket since I’m a little lazy and usually pressed for time. I’ll not make that mistake again. If you haven’t tried getting local carrots to put in your cake, you’d be well advised to do so. The other key, of course, is the freshness of your spices. People – if you’re aren’t grating your own nutmeg by now, get yourself a microplane and see what you’re missing!
Let’s talk about the dried fruit and nut component of the traditional carrot cake recipe, shall we? The nuts, in my opinion, are easy. Skip them. Alright, some of you might not agree so I’ll try to be more helpful than that. I believe that nuts in baked goods are best when a) they are toasted first and b) they are finely chopped or ground so they don’t interfer with the natural “crumb” of the cake/cookie/bread/etc. Please feel free to beg to differ, but that’s my two cents for what it’s worth. As for the dried fruit, most carrot cake recipes call for raisins. I’ve found that mixing it up a litte bit makes a richer mix of flavors – sweet raisins, tangy cranberries, tart cherries, and floral blueberries. Always give the dried fruit a quick soak in hot water while you mix up the rest of the ingredients before draining and adding to the batter. This plumps them up a bit and resorts some of their juicy flavors.
I shoud warn you though that this cake is prone to cause household fighting by times. D and I both wanted the last piece…he got it in the end. Lucky for me, carrots are a root vegetable that’ll be around on the farm for several more weeks (and keep for awhile too) so I’ll have plenty of time to make more cake.
Adapted from The Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground allspice
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 c. pear sauce (or apple sauce)
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 c. grated carrots
3/4 c. mixed dried fruit (mine were raisins, cranberries,and blueberries)
1 c. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 T. hot water
Cream Cheese Icing
6 oz. cream cheese
3 T. butter
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a bundt pan with a good coat of nonstick baking spray. Set out the ingredients for the icing so they come to room temperature.
Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, pear sauce and sugar until everything is well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix! Add the carrots, dried fruit and pecans (if using). Finally add the hot water.
Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake on the center oven rack for 45 minutes. Test with a skewer inserted into the center to see if it comes out clean. When the skewer is clean, remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cake is cooling, make the icing by beating together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla and beat again. Add half the confectioners’ sugar and stir slowly to start and then beat well to get rid of lumps. Taste the icing to determine if it’s sweet enough for you. If not, add more sugar until you’ve reached your desired sweetness.
When cake is completely cooled, remove from bundt pan and put on a nice plate. Spread icing over top and sides. Garnish with a very light dusting of cinnamon and a few chopped nuts if desired.
(serves 12 – or two if you’re at my house)