Your birthday is your own personal holiday. In honor of your holiday, you must have cake. I think it is a rule.
I feel very strongly about cake. I love cake with layers and frosting. Moist cake with light and airy frosting! The fancier the better. My boyfriend loves desserts that are fruit based. Give him a pie or a cobbler, a grunt or a tart and he is in seventh heaven. The buttery crust, a lightly sweet fruity filling. He is in love. The only dessert we agree on is carrot cake. I like it. He loves it.
I don’t know why I never made him a carrot cake before. There was the year I made him a chocolate carrot cake, but it looked like a Ding Dong and tasted unlike any carrot cake we’ve ever had. As a matter of fact, we could hardly detect the presence of the eponymous veggie at all. A real honest to goodness carrot cake never crossed my mind although I have watched this man decimate many a slice of carrot cake, leaving barely a crumb (but leaving a wasteland of frosting – his least favorite part of the cake).
I haven’t baked a birthday cake for my boyfriend in a long time. Each year, I always made sure he had cake, but not always from my own oven. This year, I wanted to bake for him. This delicious sounding recipe on Epicurious looked promising, but I had some concerns going in. Carrot cake seems healthy but in reality, it is loaded with fat and sugar. As a matter of fact, carrot cake can be one of the richest cakes available, although it seems like it shouldn’t be. Currently, I am watching my fat and he is watching his sugar. I was concerned about having a whole cake of this caliber available for two people to consume. Not wanting to ruin the cake with too many changes to the recipe, my fears were alleviated after reading the comments on the site. Most people were able to reduce the sugar in the cake and substitute apple sauce for over half of the oil without ruining the flavor or the texture of the cake. The only place changes didn’t seem appropriate to me was in regards to the frosting. The people who commented about the recipe thought the frosting wasn’t cloyingly sweet but disturbingly, they generally felt that the recipe was incorrect and did not make enough frosting. Unfortunately, the idea that there wasn’t enough frosting was their only error. But it was an error which resulted in making me be stingy with the frosting in the middle of the cake (thinking I would run out and not have enough to actually cover the outside of the cake). As it turns out, I had plenty of frosting left over. For us, this is no problem since it helped me excise more fat and sugar from the cake. When you make this cake (because I know you will) go hog wild with the frosting, it is delicious! I noticed that my boyfriend had no problem eating most of his frosting this time! Oh…one wonderful change I made to the recipe was to swap the walnuts my boyfriend can’t eat for pecans which he loves to eat. I folded them into the cake batter and then toasted more which I used to encrust the outside of the cake.
How did the cake turn out? Just lovely. The flavor is perfumed with a subtle hint of ginger. The frosting has the heady aroma of maple and when you take your last few bites, there is an earthy nutty crunch from the toasted pecans melting into that sweet maple cream. The cake was still very sweet but not intensely sweet like some carrot cakes can be. Altogether this recipe is a winner and I am sure we’ll have it again and again.
Carrot Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Bon Apetit, September 1999
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots
1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped raw pecans
2 tbsp grated peeled ginger (or minced peeled ginger)
10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
¼ cup pure grade B maple syrup
1 to 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans, toasted and cooled completely (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Butter two 9” diameter cake pans. Cut parchment paper in circles to fit the pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment. Butter and flour the parchment and the sides of the pan. Tap out the excess flour.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl to blend. In a large bowl, whisk evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar), brown sugar, applesauce and oil until well blended. Whisk eggs into the oil mixture one at a time. Add the flour mixture to the oil mixture and stir until just blended. Stir in carrots, pecans and ginger. Divide batter evenly between the two pans.
Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes clean, about 40 minutes (ovens vary but you may want to check at 35 minutes, my cakes were a little too brown at 40 minutes). Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn them out onto wire racks, peel off parchment and let the cakes cool completely.
While the cakes are baking, start on the frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until it is light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until completely blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill the frosting until it is firm enough to spread, at least 30 minutes.
Place one cake layer on a platter. Spread ¾ cup of frosting on the top of the cake. Top with the second layer. Spread remaining frosting over the entire cake. Work quickly because this frosting is soft and gets softer as it warms. Once the cake is completely frosted, press the toasted pecans into the sides of the cake, covering all exposed surface along the outside edge of the cake.