Make Way for the Carrot Cake!

I’ve been on a cooking spree lately. Usually, my husband cooks. He’s really good at it, too. It’s not that I can’t, but when he was going to school and I was teaching, back when we first got married, he would cook because, if we waited until I came home after my last piano lesson, we wouldn’t have had dinner until something like ten or eleven at night! I realize this schedule works great in Spain, but they have a two-hour siesta right in the middle of their day, too, so …

Anyway, my friend Anne loves carrot cake. When I visited last year, she took me to a restaurant 30 miles from her house and said they had the best carrot cake she’d ever had. I tried it, and it was indeed really delicious.

Anne is a really good friend, probably the best I’ve ever had. So when I visited again this summer, I told her I would cook for her and would love doing it (although I wasn’t going to guarantee she’d love eating what I cooked).

One thing I did know, though, because I have a competitive streak. I was determined to make a carrot cake better than that restaurant!

I spent months searching in cookbooks and on-line for the best recipe. I don’t know what other people think, but I like my recipes fairly simple. Some cake recipes are really fussy. You know the ones I mean. They say things like:

“In a small bowl, sift the flour. Add cinnamon, baking soda and salt, and combine with a wire whisk.” (What other kind would I possibly be using? Or are they afraid I’ll just stop reading at “wire” and try mixing things up with an extension cord?)

“Make a well in the dough.” (I love this: Our nation’s addiction to foreign oil is solved, or maybe it’s just a shortage of water in the Southwest. Whatever it is, they never tell you whether to use copper or plastic for the plumbing.)

“Add flour mixture and milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour mixture.” (So I just dump half the dry stuff in, then all the milk, and then the rest of the dry stuff. Hard to do when one hand is otherwise occupied with an unruly electric mixer.)

Anyway, this recipe I found is great. You take all the ingredients (except for the ones you use for making the frosting, of course), put them all in a bowl in no particular order, and then mix. I don’t care how many ingredients are on the list if I can do things like this.

The first time Anne and I made the cake, we somehow didn’t get started until something like eight at night. I’ve seen some well-stocked kitchens in my lifetime, but hers … let’s just say it’s so well-stocked, she knows she has whatever we could possibly need somewhere, she’s just not exactly sure where. If it’s not in the kitchen proper, it might be in the pantry, or the basement, or … the town hardware store! I’ve never in my life walked into a place that sells garden hoses and hammers and come out with two nine-inch round cake pans.

The first order of business was shredding three cups of carrots. Me and peelers and shredders have uneasy relations. But then again, if I was relegated to life in a dark, cluttered drawer where I was always being poked by potato mashers and sidled up to by spatulas, and my only excursions into the outside world involved rubbing up against cold, slimy vegetables or stinky cheese, I can’t say I’d be very soft and cuddly, either.

The recipe called for coconut, so we searched high and low. She thought she’d put it in the freezer, but couldn’t seem to locate it in there. The more she looked, the more annoyed she got. Finally, I convinced her to call off the search (they do this after dark when they’re in the mountains looking for lost hikers, so I figured it was OK to do it for coconut, too, even if it meant we’d find it in a few days, frozen and unresponsive).

We didn’t have the right size pans, so the batter ran over and made a nice toasty, burnt aroma in the house and a crispy, crusty thing on the oven floor that I had to clean out the next day (after all, I planned to bake other things and didn’t want all my efforts to have an air of carrot about them).

By the time the cakes were done, it was midnight or close to it, and my sides hurt from laughing. I also had an intimate knowledge of where I could find just about any cooking utensil imaginable in someone else’s kitchen. Kitchens are kind of physical representations of our minds. I’m convinced that with Anne, I’m in the company of someone who is absolutely brilliant. She’s got a lot of knowledge about a lot of different subjects. Just don’t ask her to recall any of it in a hurry or in any way that might make logical sense to anyone other than her.

I made the frosting the next day. As long as I live, I will always cherish the memory of watching Anne’s surprise and child-like delight at getting to lick the beaters and the bowl.

But that was nothing compared to her reaction to eating the finished dessert, which was nothing short of ecstasy. She’d be reassured to know that, if she ate the whole cake in one sitting or even over the course of one day, she might be really, really sick, but at least she’d met the Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily quota of five servings of fruits or vegetables (three cups shredded carrot, one cup crushed pineapple, one cup raisins). Fortunately for both of us, she stopped at … I’m not quite sure how many pieces.

It was good enough that she asked me to make it again the next week when she had a group of people over at her house. This time, the pineapple and coconut made it in, and there were a few slight modifications to the frosting.

The day before I left for home, Anne admitted that I had succeeded in outdoing the carrot cake from the nearby restaurant. I’m not sure if it’s because so much laughter and love went into it, or because she got to lick the bowl when we were done.

I do know that I’ve made it for my own family now, too, and, in the words of my husband, “That’s some high-level carrot cake”. He’ll take his straight, no chaser (meaning without the frosting). My mom took hers in a nine by thirteen pan instead of the two-layer round version I’d made earlier.

However you eat it, it is a good recipe. I’ve had others in the past, but they’re all retired now.

Make way for The Carrot Cake!

CARROT CAKE RECIPE

2 cups sugar

1-1/2 cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp baking soda

2 cups flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 cup flaked coconut

3 cups (about 1 pound) grated carrot (more can be added if desired)

1 cup chopped walnuts (or more if desired)

1 cup raisins (or more if desired)

1 can crushed pineapple, well-drained

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla (or more if desired)

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans.

Combine first 12 ingredients in large bowl and blend with a mixer just until a smooth, thick batter forms, about 30 seconds to 1 minute (do not overmix).

Pour into pans and bake 45-50 minutes or until tops are golden and toothpick comes out clean.

Cool completely.

For frosting: combine butter and cheese in a large bowl.

Add vanilla and lemon juice and mix well.

Gradually add sugar, continuing to mix until well-combined.

Place one cake layer on serving platter and frost the top.

Place second cake on top and frost top and sides of cake. Garnish with additional nuts and/or coconut, if desired.

Cover and chill until ready to serve.

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2 Comments on “Make Way for the Carrot Cake!”

  1. Anne Schalker Says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    Please send me the recipe — including the pineapple and raisens!

    AJS

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Hi,

    The recipe is just below the article; you can print it out from here. But if you are still having trouble, let me know and I’ll e-mail it to you directly.


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