Well, I did it. I bucked tradition and tried an all-new carrot cake recipe for my husband’s birthday last week. I did have his permission -- full-disclosure was the way to go on this one and he was game to try it. There was a clause built in that said if it was a disaster another "original recipe" cake would be forthcoming pronto, so really, it wasn’t that much of a gamble on his part. And it wasn’t a disaster; it was actually quite good. Will I make it again? Well, here’s the storyŠ
The only reason I even considered the switch was a possible pineapple allergy in our family -- trips to the ER with an itchy, wheezy kid are generally not considered a good way to spend your birthday. So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a recipe option that skips the pineapple but keeps the rest of the "key ingredients," namely the coconut and carrots. I found many but decided on the one in Abigail Johnson Dodge’s "The Weekend Baker" for a couple reasons (other than the obvious no pineapple): 1. I wouldn’t have to cook the carrots first, 2. The baking time was only 10-15 minutes (!) and 3. Her recipes haven’t disappointed me yet.
The cake was a snap to make -- I even managed to put it together in that crazy half-hour between bath and bedtime at our house. It was the silly things that made such a difference -- using grated raw carrots instead of cooked puree; only having to grease and parchment one sheet pan instead of two rounds; not having to drain that dreaded pineapple.
As it turned out, I pulled it out of the oven after 11 minutes and probably could have taken it out a couple minutes earlier than that. My sheet pan was pretty big, which may have meant that the batter had to be spread thinner than her version, but I was happily surprised to see that it rose up nicely everywhere except around the edges where I hadn’t been careful enough about "spreading the batter evenly" and things had gotten pretty thin. It smelled scrumptious, though, and I decided not to enact Plan B without giving this cake its full due. I let it cool, wrapped it carefully in plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge until the next day when we would frost it.
I had decided early on when I made the decision to stray away from my long-used Silver Palate version of carrot cake that I would still use their cream cheese frosting recipe -- cover up the new with the familiar was my plan. After work while Marielle made the requested lasagna (it turned out deliciously), Margot and I got to work on the frosting. I had left the cream cheese and butter out to get to room temperature (not that it was all that warm in this frigid and long-lasting winter) so it only took a few minutes until we could begin the frosting process.
While the frosting recipe was the same, we weren’t going to be fooling anyone, even if we had wanted to. A far cry from the traditional two-layer round cake, this was a four-layer rectangle, made by cutting the quick-baking sheet pan-sized layer into quarters crosswise. We stacked the four rectangles with a layer of frosting in between and then covered it, albeit rather messily, with the Silver Palate frosting. To make up for the thin, dry-looking edges, we added extra frosting at the corners, making those highly-desirable pieces that were being "called" by the sisters during assembly.
Bottom line, I really liked this cake. I liked its ease, its speed and its bright flavor. It seemed to me to be less heavy than the Silver Palate version, and I also really enjoyed the addition of currants. Everyone else enjoyed it, too, but almost-9-year-old Margot did make it clear that for her birthday in April she’d rather have the "original cake." And bottom line is, a birthday cake is a birthday cake. So, as soon as the allergy test is conducted and we find out that pineapple is not the culprit (positive thinking here), we’ll go back to the stained and spattered Silver Palate recipe for birthdays in our house. But when it comes to carrot cake for any other occasion, I’ll definitely try this version again, using a slightly smaller pan and keeping a closer eye on the timing.
Carrot Cake in a Snap recipe adapted from Abigail Johnson Dodge’s The Weekend Baker
1 1/3 cup flour
1 1Ž2 teaspoons baking powder
3Ž4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1Ž4 teaspoon nutmeg
1Ž2 teaspoon salt
Scant 1Ž4 teaspoon cloves
3Ž4 cup packed light brown sugar
1Ž2 cup canola oil
2 eggs (3 if small)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup grated carrots (about 2 medium)
1Ž2 cup sweetened dried coconut
1Ž2 cup currants
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease half sheet pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour all, tapping out excess flour.
In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (through cloves). In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Once blended, add carrots, coconut and currants and combine well. Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix until just blended. Scrape into prepared pan and spread evenly (it will be a very thin layer).
Bake in middle of oven until top springs back when gently pressed, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, release from pan by running a knife around the edges and invert on cooling rack(s). Remove parchment and allow to cool completely.
Once cool, cut cake into even quarters crosswise, using a serrated knife. Frost four layers and sides using your favorite cream cheese frosting recipe. As a final touch, adorn sides with chopped nuts, if desired.
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.