By Andrea Maunder
People often say to me they could never be baking all the time because they’d be too tempted to eat too many sweets. And I always reply that the funny thing is that when you’re around baked goods all the time, you feel less tempted to overindulge simply because they become part of the scenery for you.
Usually, the occasions I make something new or something I haven’t made in a while are when I simply must have a serving for myself. There are a couple of exceptions. I never get tired of my scones (even though I made about 15,000 of them this summer!). My coconut cream pie is another - light and barely sweet with flaky pastry (I’ve been making it since 1995, and I promise that recipe soon). I’ve been perfecting my carrot cake for nearly four decades, and I have to say, I have never tasted one that I like better than my own. It might be the only dessert I make that I’m unwilling to share my slice. I will unapologetically sit down and slowly savour every morsel, with perhaps only a most fleeting pang of guilt that I didn’t offer anyone a forkful.
I’m not gonna lie, or apologize… it’s a bit of a process. There are a few steps that I think make my carrot cake exceptional. I toast the walnuts, plump the raisins and grind the spices from whole. If you don’t have a spice mill (or coffee mill), use ground spices in the measurements below.
My frosting is a little different, too. I begin with Italian buttercream frosting (that’s the one where you boil a sugar syrup that your pour into whipping egg whites, and then carefully incorporate the butter), and then I add cream cheese. It makes for a gorgeous frosting that delivers that tangy cream cheese flavour, but with a lighter texture, less sweetness and better piping and holding power. You will need a candy thermometer. A stand mixer will make the frosting process a lot easier - but it can be done with a hand mixer if you can recruit a volunteer pair of hands.
MAKE IT: Carrot Cake
1 cup walnuts
1 cup golden raisins
3 (3”) cinnamon sticks (or 5 tsp ground cinnamon)
3/4 tsp allspice berries (or 1 tsp ground allspice)
1/3 tsp whole cloves (or 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
1/2 a whole nutmeg, finely grated (1/2 tsp ground nutmeg)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups grated carrot (on largest shredding side of a box grater)
Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare two 8-inch round cake pans. Spray them with nonstick spray and line each with a round of parchment paper.
Spread walnuts on a parchment-lined sheet, toast 5-8 minutes until fragrant and beginning to brown a little. Remove from pan to cool and then chop medium coarse. Soak raisins in hottest tap water to allow to plump. Combine whole spices in a spice mil and grind until fine. (Cinnamon can be a little hard; run it through a sieve to remove any unground bits.)
In a large mixing bowl, hand whisk oil, sugar, spices, eggs, vanilla and almond extract until incorporated. In a separate small bowl, dry whisk to combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Switch to a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and add the flour mixture and water to the large mixing bowl; stir to combine.
Add drained raisins, chopped toasted nuts and shredded carrots. Divide mixture evenly between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the bake to ensure even doneness.
Cakes are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks. Allow to cool completely.
Cream Cheese Italian Buttercream Frosting
2 cups white sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into 2-inch cubes and allowed to come to room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
500 grams cream cheese (full fat, room temperature - two (250 g) packages, cut into 2-inch cubes)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup (or so) toasted coconut, if desired, for garnishing the sides
Clip a candy thermometer to a medium-sized saucepot. Add 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Boil until it reaches 240°F. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, on high speed, whip egg whites with a pinch of salt until they become frothy. Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and whip on high speed until light and fluffy. When sugar syrup reaches 240°F, remove thermometer and remove pot from heat.
Drizzle the hot syrup down the side of the mixing bowl slowly, avoiding the whisk (so it doesn’t spatter and burn you), while you continue whipping on high speed until the frosting is fluffy and firm. Keep whipping until the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl are no longer warm.
Then, still on high speed, slowly incorporate the cubes of butter, one at a time. To be sure it’s not too cold to mix in properly, squeeze the cube of butter between your fingers and make sure it squishes without too much resistance. If it’s still cold, either wait longer or carefully microwave to soften it, but be sure not to melt it. Butter temperature is important for buttercream. If melted or too cold, your buttercream could separate or curdle. Continue until all the butter, and then the shortening, is incorporated. The meringue will deflate a little; this is normal. It helps to stop the mixer every so often and scrape down the sides. Whip in the extracts. Stop the mixer, lower the bowl and remove 2/3 of the buttercream to another bowl and set aside.
Incorporate the cream cheese the way you did the butter into the remaining 1/3 of the buttercream. Add the lemon juice. Then, in three or four additions, add back the buttercream you removed and beat together after each addition until fully incorporated and fluffy. If it’s warm in your kitchen, you might need to refrigerate the frosting before icing the cake. Frost the middle, top and sides of the cake, reserving some of the frosting to place in a piping bag to add some flourish to the top, if you like. I sometimes press toasted coconut into the sides of the cake. This is optional. Refrigerate a couple of hours to set the frosting.
Cut into 12 or 16 wedges and enjoy.