Monday, September 28, 2009
Bugs "Bundt-y" Carrot Cake
Two years ago I took a reading and composition class and had this great connection with my graduate student instructor (GSI). She baked a cake for the students on the last day of class. Carrot cake. Wow was that good! I had to have the recipe. The cake was so moist and spicy, and there was not an overwhelming amount of frosting--just enough to complement the cake flavor!
Not only did she give me the recipe, but also she recommended that I go to Tartine Bakery to sit and people watch over a good cup of coffee and a pastry. Tartine is now one of my favorite hot spots in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Ok. And get this. She recommended that I read this book called “Julie and Julia” about a woman who cooks her way through Julia Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book exhibits lots of humor and a few botched culinary experiments along the way. I had already read the book and LOVED it! Just this summer, I saw the MOVIE “Julie and Julia,” attended a birthday party at a local bookstore for Julia Child (we ate cake, sang “Happy Birthday,” and talked about food/cooking), and purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I even have a master plan to be Julia Child for Halloween!!! Eeee soo excited!
Anyway, back to cake. Carrot cake, that is. Since the two years that she gave me the recipe, I have made this cake many times and it ALWAYS turns out great—definitely a crowd pleaser and a great “gift” to bring to a dinner party.
One of my favorite parts about the cake is that the recipe calls for fresh ginger! The ginger flavor adds such a nice “je ne sais qua” to the cake (ok, I admit, I was trying to find a good way to use my new favorite French phrase du jour!). FYI “je ne sais qua” is an idiomatic expression that one might say when thinking about something (or someone) special that you just can’t quite put into words…a charm, a special enchantment…
Carrot cake is typically baked in layers with globs of cream cheese frosting sandwiched between each layer as well as on the top and sides. Both my GSI and I think it is just so much darn easier to bake the whole shebang in a bundt pan and do a nice thin layer of frosting just on the outside.
Remember to TOAST your nuts! That is key. Whether you use pecans or walnuts (walnuts are my personal fave), toasted nuts are a blessing, really just a dream come true. Mixed in with that moist cake-y, carrot-y, ginger-y goodness…mmmm mmm mmmm!
I baked this cake in my friend’s old-school oven. We literally had to light the oven with a match and we pretty much guestimated the temperature. It was definitely tricky. Although cute and vintage-esque, I would recommend using a trust-worthy oven with a more reliable temperature setting. But hey, this made the afternoon exciting and kept us on our toes. I mean, every day you should do something risky, and this risk was totally worth it!
Bugs "Bundt-y" Carrot Cake
adapted from my GSI who adapted it from Martha Stewart
Makes 1 bundt cake (or 1 four-layer cake), serves 10 to 15
* Unsalted butter, for pans
* 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
* 1 cup walnut halves
* 1 1/3 pound large carrots, peeled (I just eyeball the amount…)
* 3 large eggs, room temperature
* 1/3 cup nonfat buttermilk (I have used plain Greek yogurt before and it works just as well)
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
* 1 ½- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (depending on how spicy you like it)
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* Cream Cheese Frosting
* 1 stick of butter, room temperature
* an 8 oz block of cream cheese (I used ½ nonfat and ½ regular), softened
* powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
* pinch of salt
* a few drops of vanilla
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a bundt pan (or two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans). Dust pans with flour, and tap out any excess. Set pans aside. Spread nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking pan, and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and let stand until completely cool. Reduce temperature to 300°F. Finely chop nuts, and set aside.
2. Peel the carrots and place in a food processor to yield about 3 cups of grated carrots.
3. Peel the ginger (I like to use a metal spoon) and use a microplane (one of my favorite tools!!) to grate the fresh ginger.
4. Place carrots, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, sugar, vegetable oil, and ginger in a large bowl; whisk until well combined.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the carrot mixture until combined. Fold in the toasted nuts.
6. Pour the batter into the bundt pan (or divide between the two cake pans), and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middles comes out clean, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove pan from oven, and transfer to a wire rack to cool, 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack; let stand until completely cool.
7. To make the frosting, blend butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and continue to whisk until soft and there are no lumps. Add vanilla and salt.
8. Once the cake is cool, frost. Garnish with something aesthetically pleasing. I used walnuts. Refrigerate until ready to eat, if you can even wait!