Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nana's Carrot Cake

I love cake.  Who doesn't?  However, I don't make cake all that often, mainly because my husband is very particular about desserts.  There are only a couple of desserts that he likes to eat, and goodness knows I don't need a whole cake staring at me after I bake it, begging me to eat it.  Normally, when I get a hankering for cake, I just go to the store and buy a slice.  And it makes me sad.  So, since today is my sister's birthday (happy birthday, Laura!), I'm going to make THE birthday cake that my family uses.
This is my Nana's carrot cake.  I know that carrot cake isn't a cake that one normally would think of, when you think of a birthday cake.  Chocolate cake is probably what would first come to mind, however this cake is so good, that it is the one that is most often requested for birthday cakes in our family!  And, as long as we're being honest, since it has 2 whole cups of shredded carrots, there has to be a serving of vegetables in each slice, right?  ...right?
Here's your grocery list for this cake, so this can be a go-to for your family, too!

For the cake:

2 tsp baking soda
2 C self rising flour (or, if you only have all purpose flour, simply sift 2 cups all purpose flour with 2 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 C vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 C grated carrots (roughly 5 good sized carrots)
1/2 C buttermilk

For the frosting:

3 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
4 cups of powdered sugar (or confectionery sugar)
1 C shredded coconut
1 C chopped pecans (optional) (or nut of your choice; I'm in the South, so pecans are my nut of choice)

Today, I have decided to not use nuts in my frosting, but they are a really nice addition!
This frosting makes enough to generously frost a 3 layer cake, with a little left over!
First, as always, preheat the oven to 350*, then peel and trim your carrots (cut the tops and bottoms off).  I shred mine in my food processor, but before I had one of those, I just shredded my carrots by hand on a box grater.  My knuckles are so happy that I finally broke down and got a food processor!  

If you end up with a little extra, that's okay!  A bit more carrots never hurt anything!

I always love how sifted flour looks; it looks like a white sand dune!  Anyway, this is the flour, baking soda and cinnamon all sifted together, and set aside.
Then mix together the eggs, sugar and oil, until well combined.  Next, slowly add in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon mixture, and mix until just combined.

Add in the shredded carrots, and again, mix until just combined.

Once everything is combined, prepare three 9 inch cake pans, by either greasing and flouring, or laying parchment paper on the bottoms of the pans, and greasing the sides.  I prefer the parchment trick, and spray the bottoms with nonstick spray, lay the parchment paper down (the spray keeps the paper from curling right back up), then spray the tops of the paper and sides of the pan.  I have never had a problem with getting my baked goods out, with this method.  If you don't have three cake pans, you can, of course, just use the one or two you have and bake in batches, no problem!  Just make sure the pan has cooled completely before refilling.

After baking for 20 minutes, pull your cakes out and check them with the toothpick method (stick a toothpick straight down and up in the middle of your cake.  If it comes out clean, it has baked all of the way through.  If not, back into the oven it goes!); another pretty accurate indicator is if the cake has pulled away from the side of the pan, like in the picture here.

Let the cakes cool, in the pan, for roughly 3 minutes.  Then, carefully flip the cake out onto your hand (just be aware, the cake will still be very hot), peel off the parchment paper (if used), place the cooling rack on top of the cake, and flip back over, so that the bottom of the cake is on the cooling rack.  Let the cakes cool completely before attempting any sort of frosting.  I usually bake my cakes first thing in the morning, and frost in the late afternoon.
At this point, you can absolutely go with a store bought frosting and be done!  However, this homemade frosting is so easy to make, why not go all in and whip some up?
Start off by putting the softened cream cheeses into a mixing bowl, and blending until smooth and creamy, then add in the stick of butter, and mix again until well combined.
Now that the butter and cream cheese are thoroughly mixed, slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing time between each addition for the sugar to be mixed into the frosting.  Once all of your sugar has been added,give the frosting a taste, and if you're happy whip the frosting for about 5 minutes, or until you're happy with the consistency.  If you feel that the frosting isn't sweet enough, go on and add another cup of powdered sugar into the mix, then whip it for 5 minutes, or until you're happy with the consistency. 
Once the butter, sugar and cream cheese are combined, add in one 12-15 oz bag of coconut (and the nuts, if you have them), and again, combine.
And that's it!  You have homemade frosting!  Once that is complete, set the frosting aside, and get out what you'll need for frosting.  You can use whatever base you like, but I prefer using a lazy Susan, so I can very easily access all sides of the cake with just a spin.  I got mine at a thrift shop a couple of years ago for about $5, and it's great!  I take three pieces of parchment paper, cut into rectangular strips, and place them so that they meet in the middle of the lazy Susan, and place the first cake layer on top of it.  After I do that, I add about 1/2 cup of the frosting to a zip top bag, and cut the corner.  This is the easiest way (that I've found, anyway) to put the frosting on between the layers.

Carefully cut off the tops of the cakes, to make them level, if you're worried about that.  It's perfectly fine to leave them a little domed if you don't want to bother with it.  As I always say, it's homemade!  It's fine to look like it!


I just happen to have a cake leveler (not sure if that's what its really called, but that's what I call it!), but a serrated knife would work just as well!  
So, as you can see here, I squeezed the frosting from the zip top bag onto the top of the leveled cake, and then spread it all over, in an even layer.                      
Next, put the next layer of the cake on top of the first.  I like to flip my second layer over, so that the two tops of the cakes are facing each other.  This way, you're sure to have a level top, because the frosting helps to compensate for any imperfections in leveling the tops of the cakes.  Continue with squeezing the frosting on top of this layer (refilling the bag as you need to), and place the third layer on top.
After the top layer is put on, squeeze more frosting on top, like you did between the layers, and smooth the top, and then down the sides of the cake, taking directly from the bowl as you need more.
Then, very carefully, remove the parchment paper from under the cake, by gently pulling the paper out, and move your cake to the fridge to set up for a few hours.  

Isn't that beautiful??  And, honestly, it couldn't be easier!  

 I just wanted to end this blog post, by wishing my sister a very happy birthday!  I wish I could be there to help you celebrate, but don't worry, I'll have a piece (or two...) of cake to celebrate in spirit!