Recipe

Carrot Cake

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Just in time for Easter!  I always thought that having carrot cake around Easter was a little weird.  I guess it’s cuz of the whole Easter Bunny thing and bunnies liking carrots (I read somewhere that they actually prefer lettuces and stuff like that, but can you imagine “lettuce cake”?). 

So here’s your cultural nugget for today.  There have been some carrot recipes traced back to around the 1oth century from the Middle East.  Those dishes eventually made their way to Europe from trade and wars and stuff like that.  Now what we think of carrot cake today probably stems from medieval Europe.  Back then, sweetners were expensive and not readily available so they used carrots in desserts and cakes and puddings.

The recipe that I use is a little different in that I use both butter and vegetable oil.  That way you can get the moisture that the oil provides plus, the flavor from the butter.  I frost it with an orange cream cheese frosting and some cardamom scented butterfly carrots.  This recipe makes 3 8-inch cakes or 2 9-inch cakes.  The pic above is using the 9-inch cakes.  Here we go…

For the cake:

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. cinnamon (I like Vietnamese cinnamon, but use what you have available)
  • 1 t. galangal (use ground ginger if you don’t have any)
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 stick room temperature butter
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 3 c. grated carrots
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped pecans (plus more for the outside of the cake)

Note — You can replace the honey with regular granulated sugar.  If you do, just omit the cornstarch.  When possible, I try to limit overly processed ingredients in my recipes, hence the whole wheat flour and the honey.  It’s a small step, but it’s healthier for you.

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degress.  Butter your pans and line with a parchement round.

2.  Sift together the flours, cornstarch, baking soda, and spices.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a mixer, mix together the honey and the brown sugar until the mixture is uniform and well blended.  Add the butter and combine.  Then add the oil and mix through.

4.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.  Add your vanilla to the butter mixture and combine.

5.  Add your dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture all at once and mix until just smooth.  Stir in the carrots and the nuts.  Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 25-35 minutes until the center is set and springy.  Cool completely on racks before unmolding.  While the cake is baking and cooling, you can make the frosting.

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • zest of one orange

Mix together the butter and cream cheese until well blended.  Gradually add the sugar. Then add the vanilla and mix.  Finally add the orange zest.  You can prepare this ahead of time and refrigerate up to 2 days in advance.  Just let it come to room temperature before you use it.  I recommend that you taste frosting before you add the zest and then after (maybe just let it sit for a few minutes to incorporate the flavors).  That way you can really see how one ingredient can really change the flavor of something.  You will have extra frosting so be careful how you store the remainder — I almost thought the frosting was leftover mashed potatoes.  That would have been an interesting dinner!

Caribbean Upside Down Cake

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Since it’s warming up outside, I’ve been thinking about fresh fruit and baking.  One of the best ways to incorporate the two is with an upside down cake!  When most folks think about upside down cakes, pineapples and maraschino cherries come to mind.  But you can have any variety of fruits in the cake.  That’s when I came up with this recipe for the Caribbean Upside Down Cake (besides, there were a bunch of grapefruits just hanging out in the kitchen).

The name for this recipe comes from the two highlighted ingredients — grapefruit and coconut (and rum, too!).  Coconut is grown throughout the tropics (some say it is native to Asia, others say South America), and the origins of the grapefruit with which we are most familiar can be traced to Barbados or Jamaica.  But they can be further traced back to pomelo seeds brought to the Caribbean in the 1700s from Southeast Asia.  And there is your cultural nugget of knowledge for today (I need to come up with a better phrase than that!).  I am not a food historian, so if anything is incorrect, let me know and I can further research it.

Anyhoo, for the recipe.  I like the juxtaposition of the sweetness of the caramel, and the flavor of the grapefruit.  Now you can use any yellow cake recipe that you like.  Please do not make it from a box!  I’ll include the whole thing for you!  This recipe makes 3 8-inch cakes.  You could switch it up and make 2  9-inch cakes, or even make cupcakes.  Just make sure the cake is set in the middle and a tester comes out clean.  This works best with the ingredients at room temperature.

For the topping:

  • 3 grapefruits
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 3 T. dark rum
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the cake:

  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 c. milk
  • 3/4 c. shredded coconut

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the cake pans with cooking spray and line with a parchment round.  Spray the round as well.

2.  Prepare the topping.  Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer for about 3 minutes.  Add the salt and combine.  Gradually add the rum and vanilla.  Spread equal parts of the topping into the bottom of each cake round.

3.  Peel and supreme  the grapefruits (here’s a link that shows you how with lots of pics).  Arrange the segments in an attractive way in the cake pans on top of the butter mixture; you could try concentric circles or anything that you might like.  Try different things and see what you prefer.

4.  Sift the dry ingredients together.  Set aside.

5.  In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.  Mix well for about 5 minutes in a mixer on medium speed.  Add the vanilla and combine.  Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

6.  Now alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter, mixing after each addition and starting and ending with the flour.  So add 1/3 of the flour to the butter and mix to combine.  Add 1/2 of the milk and combine.  Then add 1/3 of the flour and mix, 1/2 of the milk and mix, and now the last of the flour.  Do not over mix.  Fold in the coconut with a spatula.

7.  Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans and smooth the tops.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes until the cakes are set in the middle and a tester comes out clean.  You may need to rotate the cakes halfway through to evenly bake, depending on how your oven bakes.

8.  Cool on a rack for 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake to release it.  Invert a serving plate on top of the cake pan.  Turn it upside down so that the cake pan is on top, turning it away from you so you don’t spill on yourself.  The cake should release easily thanks to the parchment.  Remove the parchment before serving.

I froze the other two cakes, so that I can have some cake for the next couple of months or so.  Now the caramel sauce is a little more liquid than other upside down cake recipes.  This is due to how the grapefruit is prepared.  I did find another recipe for a Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake on Martha’s website where she used the whole segments of grapefruit with the membrane intact.  Haven’t tried it, but I’m curious how the topping differs.

Passover Chocolate Torte

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Since it’s Passover / Easter time, I thought that it would be a good idea to post a recipe that could be served at the seder or other family get-together during the holiday.  Now this is specifically for Passover, but of course can be used at Easter brunch.  I just specifically decided to list this because of the dietary requirements for the Passover holiday.

My understanding of Passover isn’t as in-depth as it probably should be.  Being a non-Jew, memories of this holiday for me usually involve huge baskets filled with candy with some weird gigantic pastel rabbit hopping about.  But at Passover, any kind of leavening or chametz is forbidden.  This Jewish tradition commemorates when Pharoah released the Jews from slavery back in the day.  They knew they had to hurry and get out of Dodge, so they could not even wait for the bread to rise — hence the whole unleavened tradition.  Pharoah did eventually have a change of heart and went after the Jews, but that didn’t really go well for him.  If you would like a visual accounting of what happened, just watch The Ten Commandments.  I’m sure it will be on TV sometime in the coming weeks.

Now this isn’t limited to cakes or breads, but applies to alcoholic beverages for the most part (I wonder about potato vodka).  I think that this is all about fermentation and yeast.  So I don’t know how chemical leavening (baking soda, baking powder) factors into this.

Anyhoo, let’s get to the recipe.  This is a flourless Chocolate Torte, so it should be fine for Passover.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. chopped chocolate (dark or bittersweet)
  • 3/4 c. butter, diced
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 7 whole eggs
  • 9 in. round pan

1.   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and coat your pan with cooking spray.

2.  Place the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl.

3.  Combine the water and the sugar and bring to a boil, making sure the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate & butter mixture.  Stir with a spoon until melted and smooth (you could use a whisk to combine, but I think that would incorporate too much air into the cake).

4.  Whisk the eggs to combine.  Add a small portion of the chocolate to the whisked eggs to help temper them.  Then gradually mix in the eggs to the remaining chocolate.

5.  Transfer to the prepared pan and bake in water bath halfway up the side of the pan for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the center is set.  Cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator.  Cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours or overnight.

To plate, you’ll have to warm the cake up to get it to release.  You could do this by placing it in a water bath (kinda like you did when you baked it) for a few minutes.  It should release when inverted onto a serving plate after tapping it out.

Coconut Pie

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Here’s a recipe that I found at Penzey’s.  It’s very simple and has some good flavor.  Here’s the ingredients:

  1. 1 stick of butter, melted
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 1 1/2 c. sugar
  4. 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  6. 1/2 c. flour
  7. 2 c. milk
  8. 3 c. shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well.  Pour into an ungreased 9 in. pie plate.  Bake for about 35 – 45 minutes until browned.  Let cool.  Run a thin knife around the rim of the pie plate to help release before cutting

According to the recipe, this makes its own crust so do not put it in a pie crust.  When I made it, there was a crust that was formed, but it was not as pronounced as I thought it would be.  The pie did fall apart somewhat, so I’m trying to adjust the amount of flour and eggs in it.  I did add the zest of an orange which completely changed the end product.  I loved it, but it was a little intense so maybe half that amount would be enough.  You could also try mixing in some slivered almonds or something along those lines to just add a different texture, if you like that kind of thing