Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Carrot Cake with Caramel Glaze and Cream Cheese Frosting

Lanthe's Favorite Treat

I have a love affair with over-the-top layer cakes. In my opinion, the more layers the better, and if the cake ends up being way to tall to fit my covered cake plate, I feel like I've pulled off a real accomplishment.

I've been making a version of this cake for years, beginning with a recipe I originally clipped from Southern Living Magazine, making notes each time I made it for how to make improvements. I ended up copying the notes over several times, since I made it so often the papers would end up covered with all kinds of blobs of cake batter, glaze and icing. It's one of THOSE recipes.

When my daughter, Lanthe, was just under a year old, she had her first piece of cake - and it was this one. It wasn't her very first birthday cake, but it has been her Signature Birthday Cake ever since, and the one she requests every single time it's her turn to choose a special treat. I also make birthday cakes every year for most of my family and several special friends, and this one is hands down the most requested. This past year I even made one for a local church Cake Walk (Auction), and had perhaps one of my supreme culinary moments when the thing sold for over $200 - more than double the price of the second place cake. Proud? You better believe my feet didn't touch the ground for a week, and my Mama single handedly called everyone in every phone book between East Tennessee and Middle Alabama, whether we knew them or not.
Now I'm not a cake decorator - by any means. My tricks with cake decorating stop with inserting a dowel rod into the really tall ones to keep them from slumping, and with piling on big fluffy clouds of frosting so that it peaks and swirls all over. My cakes are most certainly homemade and look like it. I kinda like that part though - they look AND taste like they were made by someone who really cares. But I will say for myself that they are in the best homemade cakes tradition - miles high, super moist and loaded with flavor. When you get a piece of my cake you don't wonder where the treat is.

Some tricks for success...

I switched the original 9-inch cake pans for 8 inch cake pans - in this case you'll end up with four layers. Don't try to then further split the layers - these are very soft and moist, and chances are they'll simple fall apart on you. Trust me. I've tried.

I swapped out the original buttermilk glaze for a Buttermilk Caramel Sauce that we all seem to prefer. It's a thicker consistency, and a little easier to control. It also seems to complement the cake rather than cover it up. The sauce serves to not only enhance the flavors of the fruits and veggies in the cake itself, but to serve as an additional vehicle for retaining moisture. Plus it adds a buttery, slightly tangy aspect that's absolutely amazing.

When you apply the sauce to the layers, make sure you've removed them from the pans, although they can still be a bit warm - or the sauce can be. Drizzle slowly, and sparingly. The cake is already moist. Too much of the sauce and you'll end up with mush. Also - don't make my mistake and attempt to apply the glaze while the cakes are still in the pans. Wait until you've got them on the cooling racks. Sure there'll be a bit of a mess from the drips, but otherwise you'll never, ever get the softer moister cakes out of the pans. Trust me.

I also tend to like to use a less sweet version of Cream Cheese Frosting than for most cakes. If you link to my Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe, then you'll see where I call for a beginning amount of 3 cups of sugar. Try this one instead of the sweeter one. Feel free to add a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger to the frosting - the slightly savory flavors are dynamite with the other elements.

Now nothing I make is difficult - but this is one recipe that does need a bit of attention. There are three separate elements to come together - so read through the entire recipe and make sure you get yourself organized. And give yourself a bit of time too - they day before you need it is perfect to allow all the elements to come together and get nicely chilled in the fridge.

Keep this one in the fridge too. It'll keep for several days, if it lasts that long. It rarely does at my house, especially once my dad and brothers get hold of it, not to mention my four Precious Little Darlings. I actually like that - whenever someone is begging for just 'one little piece' of something you've made, it makes you want to do it again. And with this one - you will certainly be making it again!

The Recipe!

You'll Need:

•2 cups all purpose flour, sifted

•1 Tbl baking soda, scant measure

•1 tsp fine table salt

•1 Tbl ground cinnamon

•1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg - only fresh, if not skip it

•3 large eggs

•1 1/2 cups sugar

•1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

•1/4 cup vegetable oil

•3/4 cup whole milk buttermilk

•1 Tbl vanilla extract

•2 cups of grated carrots - see instructions below

•1 8 oz can of crushed pineapple, drained

•1/2 cup sweetened, flaked coconut

•1/2 cup golden raisins

•1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, very finely chopped. I prefer pecans.

You'll also need:

•Buttermilk Caramel Sauce, Desert Sauce to Die For (previous blog)

•Cream Cheese Frosting (previous blog)

1.Preheat oven to 350F.

2.Grease and flour 4 8 inch round cake pans. Cut circles of parchment paper to size to line the bottom of the pans. Butter and flour the parchment paper as well. This is important - these soft cakes like to stick. Set aside pans.

3.Grate carrot using the smallest holes on a box grater. Don't use the prepackaged grated carrots - the texture is far too coarse. The small pieces of carrot will produce a much finer crumb in the finished cakes.

4.Using a fine mesh strainer, drain the canned pineapple reserving the juice. Allow it to continue draining while you prepare the other ingredients. You want as much of the juice out of it as possible without making it dry. Place the raisins in a small bowl with the pineapple juice to sit until they are needed.

5.In a medium heavy bottomed dry skillet, over medium heat, toast the coconut. Simply cook for 5-7 minute until golden and fragrant. Stir constantly - it will burn easily, so don't leave it.

6.Remove coconut from the skillet, set aside, and add the pecans. Again, toast in the dry skillet for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Set aside.

7.In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

8.In the bowl of an electric mixer, on low speed, beat eggs and both sugars together until well incorporated. Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla, mixing just until well combined.

9.Add flour mixture to buttermilk mixture, stirring at low speed just until well blended.

10.Stir in carrot, pineapple, toasted coconut and toasted pecans. Drain juice from the raisins and stir in raisins.

11.Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans.

12.Bake cakes for 25 minutes at 350F, rotating and turning pans halfway through. Depending on how accurate your oven is, you may need another few minutes. Use a wooden skewer inserted into the center of each cake to determine if they're done. The skewer should come out clean.

13.While the cakes bake, prepare the Buttermilk Caramel Glaze.

14.Remove cakes from oven and place on cooling racks. Allow them to cool for about ten minutes, then turn them out of the pans. Drizzle each layer with about 1/4 cup of the Caramel Sauce, working slowly and spreading it with a spatula if necessary. You should have extra sauce to serve over the individual cake pieces later. Or to eat with a spoon - it's that good!

15.After glazing, allow cakes to come to room temperature, then transfer to the fridge to chill for just about an hour before frosting. They're a little easier to frost if they're very cool - but if they're too cold the frosting becomes hard to work with and will tear big holes in the cakes - so better to leave them at room temp than try to frost them too cold.

16.While the cakes are cooling/chilling, make the Cream Cheese Frosting.

17.To assemble the cakes, place strips of waxed paper, parchment paper or aluminum foil around the edge of a cake plate. Place one cake layer on top, and cover the top of the layer with a generous portion of the frosting. Repeat with each additional layer. This is when a dowel rod (or use a couple of wooden skewers) can come in handy. Once past the third layer the cake can want to slump - inserting the skewers through the cake vertically will stabilize it. Just snip the skewer flat with the top layer, and don't forget it's there and serve it to someone.

18.Once the final layer is in place, spread the remaining frosting over the top, working it down and around the sides. Once the cake is completely covered, use a butter knife or offset cake spatula to swirl the frosting.

If you wish, you can garnish the cake with more nuts or coconuts, but frankly I think it's prettiest left alone. That snowy tower is pretty striking as it is. Once frosted, stash it in the fridge for at least 8 hours or until fully chilled. It'll be far, far easier to slice once very cold. This cake needs nothing else - no ice cream or whipped cream, although a small additional drizzle of the Caramel Sauce right over the individual slice is just about perfect.

That's it! That's the Ultimate, Best Ever, World's Most Perfect Carrot Cake. Just don't tell my daughter I shared her own secret special cake.

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