Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Carrot Cake

{skip the foreplay and go to the recipe}

Let’s start at the very beginning:
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi
{When you bake you begin with mom loves me}

While Julie Andrews regrettably omitted this last line to the initial stanza of her song–an exclusion which might have had something to do with the movie already being almost 3 hours long–it is exactly how I started to bake.

Eleven years whimsical bakehouseold, I picked up  The Whimsical Bakehouse–Fun-To-Make Cakes That Taste as Good as They Look by Liv Hansen and Kaye Hansen at our local library because the cake on the front of the book was bright and colorful and I knew that my mom could show me how to make it.  Turns out, my mom didn’t have any idea how to decorate a cake like that, but she was willing to help me try.

My mom always says that year was the year in which I really got interested in baking.  That year a shoulder injury sidelined–or poolsided–me from swimming.  Unable to participate in any other sport, I turned to the kitchen.  While it makes no sense from a weight management perspective to replace physical activity with dessert creation and consumption, my gravitation toward the kitchen will make perfect sense to any swimmer.   For those who have not swam competitively,  the swimmer lifestyle can be generalized by a lot of time in the pool and a lot of time eating.  I surmise now that I probably turned to baking back then because it was a comfortable extension of something I had a lot of experience doing: eating.  Plus it was fun, delicious, and my mom always helped me with the dishes….injured shoulder, remember?

So we baked (and my mom cleaned up after) almost all of the cake recipes in the cookbook, but there was one recipe that we wrote down and continued to make long after the cookbook was returned to the library.  This is that recipe.  Well, sort of.  One of this cake’s best attributes is the ease at which it accepts gluten-free flours.  Seriously, though, this is one gluten-free recipe that can’t be screwed up.  It is just that good.  This carrot cake is sweet and spiced and everything nice.  It manages to be light while still carrying substance.  The creamy tang of the cream cheese frosting perfectly compliments the soft, rich cake.  And, with a vegetable in its name, the cake practically demands guilt-free indulgence.

cropped-img_1808-e1414553645679.jpgBaked as written by the mother and daughter Hansen duo or adapted to the gluten free version my mom and I bake now, this cake is a tried and true crowd pleaser:

Carrot Cake

  • Servings: depends how much you like it
  • Time: ~1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and decorating time
  • Difficulty: easy, honest.
  • Print

Ingredients:
For the cake:
4 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups oil (I’ve successfully used canola, vegetable, and melted coconut oil before)
2 cups white sugar
2 cups gluten-free flour mixture with a gum in it (or use 1 cup oat flour, 1/2 brown rice flour, 1/4 cup sweet sorghum flour, 1/4 cup potato starch, and 2 teaspoons xanthum gum)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
For the cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (use real butter, don’t use margarine)
9 oz cream cheese (yes, opening the new package for just that one extra ounce is worth it)
6 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Grease (spray) two 9 by 3 inch round pans.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Beat the eggs, oil, and sugar for a few minutes (or if you know what “light and fluffy” looks like, beat until light and fluffy”) Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet batter at a low speed. When the mixture is 75% incorporated and carrots, walnuts, and raisins and mix until smooth.
Divide batter between pans. (We always used three 8 by 2 inch pans because we didn’t have the two 9 by 3 inch round pans the Whimsical Bakehouse called for. I think that this is actually a strength of our version of the recipe because the extra layer means more of that cream cheese frosting in every bite!) Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until tester in center comes out clean. Don’t worry about over cooking the cake. I promise it won’t come out dry, but if you take it out too early, getting it out of the pans will become a nightmare. Similarly, it is important to cool the cakes on a wire rack until they are cool (about 20 minutes) or it will be extremely difficult to get the cakes out in one piece.
While the cake cools, in a mixer bowl at medium high-speed beat butter until creamy. Then add and cream the cream cheese. Add powdered sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract all at once and beat at a low speed until the frosting is smooth. Increase the speed of the mixer and continue beating for another minute or so until the frosting is thick but light.

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