Cooking for family is stressful. I don’t know if it’s because they put too much pressure on me, or I put too much pressure on myself, or if it’s just all in my head. But when it comes to cooking for family, there is undeniable failure. I forget everything, it’s as if I’ve never cooked before. Simple mistakes are made. I once made mashed potatoes that were more like a soup because I continued to add milk. I once made a cake with gummy lumpy icing (tasted good, looked awful) because I couldn’t take the time to make it right. There are meals and dishes I make when it’s just my husband and I that are amazing. I cook without concern, adding a sprinkle of this and that, never being able to replicate it again. I was testing a chicken tikka masala dish the other day that I choked up to a complete failure. I diligently took notes and photographed the steps until it was supposed to be finished, tasted and nearly cried. I kept adding things, cream, spice, tomato paste, completely forgetting to measure to record. The result was the most authentic tasting tikka masala any Polish girl could have pulled off. Without pressure I can do magic, but I have yet to do justice to a dish if family is around.
I had big plans for Easter–berry cupcakes without the berries. Strawberries brings cravings for strawberries and other berries not far behind. Something you’re not going to see in New York for another few months. And I needed to stick to my locavore lifestyle. I did have some berry jams, still left over from last spring, some raspberry liqueur and beer. I played with a few variations–lemon cake filled with strawberry jam, raspberry liqueur cake with lemon cream filling, raspberry wheat cupcakes filled with raspberry jam. They were good, but not the bursting berry flavor that I had in mind. As Easter got closer, with no better plan in mind, I opted for a traditional carrot cake. Really, how hard could it be.
The challenge with carrot cake is while I’ve made it a million times (cake and cupcake form) I’ve never really stuck to a recipe. This time, I opted to use a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Deb has never really let me down before so I figured it was a sure thing. For icing I stuck with a pretty basic cream cheese icing but added a vanilla bean to get those beautiful black flecks in the icing.
Cream cheese icing is something I could normally do in my sleep, but again, family. I decided to make the icing at home the night before (nothing out of the ordinary) and transport it with me to New Jersey. The thing about having a stand mixer is it makes you lazy. I remember those days when I used to stand for 20 minutes at least whipping the perfect icing with a handheld mixer. Nope. Not anymore. The icing seemed fine when I left Brooklyn, but either during its journey to New Jersey or through a disagreement with my mom’s refrigerator, it got soft. I mean really soft. I mostly blame the fridge because I had whipped up some luscious cream, go to on the scones I made (my only Easter success), stuck it in the fridge, and hours later ended up with a white puddle. So I don’t think the icing failure is completely my fault.
So I ended up with the perfect carrot cake, only with oozy gooey icing, rather than light and fluffy. But really it’s the taste that matters. And luckily, as much pressure as family might put on you, or doesn’t, they love you anyway, even if you don’t always present the perfect dessert–as long as there IS a dessert.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
FOR THE CAKE
- 2 c cake flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger (or ground if you don’t have fresh)
- 1 c sugar
- 1 1/4 c canola oil
- 4 eggs
- 4 c grated carrots
- 1/2 c chopped walnuts
- 1 c golden raisins
FOR THE ICING
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 12oz cream cheese, softened
- Splash of vanilla
- Seeds from one vanilla bean
- 3-4 c powdered sugar, softened
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of 2 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour. Tap off any excess. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time.
Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts and raisins. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 40 minutes each, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off parchment paper; cool cakes completely.
While cake is cooking make the icing. Beat butter and cream cheese for 10 minutes until fluffy and glossy. Add vanilla and seeds and continue mixing another 2 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar until icing reaches desired consistency and sweetness.
Once layers have cooled completely, flip one layer of cake upside down on a serving dish. Ice top and add second layer. Ice the rest of the cake, top and sides. Store in refrigerator, removing 30 minutes before serving.
- Gluten Free Carrot Cake Ice Pop (popcultureoc.com)
- Wake and Bake: Carrot Cake Scones With Cream Cheese Icing (sweets.seriouseats.com)
- Carrot Cake Muffin…or Cupcake! (willowandbee.com)