Sunday, March 13, 2016

My version of a " Real American Carrot Cake "



The first time I had Carrot Cake was here in the states (Seattle, WA; c. 2002). When I heard of it I thought it's "yuck!". I can already taste the dirt that comes with it, when you pull out a carrot from the ground. You know what I'm saying? 

Back in the Philippines carrots are supposed to be just a vegetable for salads, or as an accompaniment to meat or seafood recipes and rice. It is a savory ingredient there. I (and most poor and middle class working Filipinos) grew up on the regular yellow, white and chocolate cakes with all the variations as to how it is frosted (or back there it's more popularly called "icing") assembled and presented.
 
So if it is yellow cake-it varies with the flavor-either vanilla or butter or both in one. The icing (or frosting) will always have a "butter" or "margarine" base to it. There's also the classic "Seven Minute frosting". I am not sure when they had cream cheese there, but I have never had a cake with a cream cheese-based icing to it in the first 32 years of my life. Let me rephrase it: I don't know "cream cheese" but only when I moved to the states! Chiffon cake is also very popular there as opposed to Angel Food Cake which is liked here more instead. My Ma used to bake dozens and dozens of Chiffon Cakes to sell in an all-boys, Jesuit-run school, where my old bro attended high school. If it's chocolate cake-there's the Black Forest variation of it or the Chocolate Mayonnaise cake-no more, no less. Oh yes before I forget-the Devil's Food cake too. And as to how much cocoa are in it (Double or Triple Chocolate Cake?) No German chocolate cake, no Magic cake, etc. Imported cake mixes from Pillsbury only came popping up in grocery stores in the late 1990s.


There's the Filipino cakes which is still based from the American "quick bread" (with flour, eggs, sugar, some kind of fat/oil and baking powder) and it only differs because of the flavor (like the Purple Sweet Potato Cake [or Ube pron. as ooh-bee] and Pandan Cake [Screwpine leaves] ) but still it is an American-style cake.

Not having heard of Carrot Cake doesn't mean the Motherland is backward on cakes and baking.

Philippines boast of the Mocha (sponge) Cake which really tastes and has the color like mocha-latte coffee compared to the American mocha cake which is more of a chocolate cake (dark). Filipino Mocha Cake is baked either in round layer style or as a roulade (roll cake).

Bakeries in big and small town cities always have the 'Brazo de Mercedes' (Mercedes' Arm) in their display case and it is more of a roulade-with a creamy, tangy kalamansi (pron. as kah-lah-mahn-seeh; Filipino lemons) custard folded by a rich meringue center.

Most Filipinos has had or at least made the "no rival" (at all) Sans Rival Cake (made of huge disks of meringue, ground cashews, custard, etc..) and it is more of a European/French dacquoise rather than a flour-based American cake. Not to mention another dacquoise type of cake, the Concorde Cake. Yeah, it is a Filipino-adopted dessert made famous in the late 60's when it was served by a French pastry chef Gaston LeNotre in the first flight of the ever powerful commercial jet-the Concorde.


One would wonder-who's not familiar of the history of the Philippines-why the same country has more Spanish/French-sounding (and type) desserts? Trust me-Filipino cuisine (and baking) was heavily influenced by our big time colonizers-the Spaniards. And Filipino elites going to France to study in the universite-go figure!

So when I heard of Carrot Cake, I was intrigued at the same time cautious. And me being adventurous with food and tries not to be ignoramus about it in front of the (then newly-married to) hubby (who swears it's his favorite cake!) placed a morsel of it in my mouth and Irene was blown away! It was curiosity and revolting at the same time! My first impression about America when I ate this cake was: "these people had too much time in their hands to create THIS #$%^&*!@ cake!" Of course being me who always keep thoughts like that to herself just did that: kept my thoughts to myself. Until the next carrot cake (and I do not recall the occasion was) came into being in front of me and the next carrot cake and I mean my husband finally knew what makes me tick: because of "that #$%^&*!@ carrot cake!"

And so when I first had carrot cake in my mouth, the memories of eating those Filipino meat and vegetable stews with lots of carrots in it (Menudo, Afritada, Caldereta, etc..) came flooding my brain followed by an aftertaste of this baked-batter thing getting soaked with some kind of spice and sugar. Some crunchy thing as nuts (being the walnuts) and another sweet component which is the raisins. And I mean I feel like I was eating a vegetable stew in cake form smothered with sweetness. It was a really weird experience that my brain says "yes" but my mouth says otherwise.
Overtime I got addicted to this, big time! What gives? It's the carrots themselves, the good stuff like the walnuts and spices. Never mind the 2 cups of granulated sugar and blubber of fat in it (vegetable oil or butter). It's really a complicated love-hate relationship with this cake those first few years. Guess "love" wins! Best carrot cake you'll ever make-I assure you.


I did some research on the history of carrot cake just recently. And when I found out the origin of the regular carrot cake is a "Swiss carrot cake" with almond meal, I thought I'd create an American version using the 3 nuts grown and symbolic of the United Sates: macadamia (of Hawaii), pecans (of the South) and Walnuts (of California). This still has flour though. I bought the nuts in the bulk section of the grocery store; only costs me less than 7 bucks for all the nuts. Note: do not make the pecans and macadamia turn into paste. It should have a meal-like texture to it using a food processor.


If you do not have a cake stand, this recipe can be made into a cupcake or sheet cake.

Ingredients.

Batter:

1/2 cup finely ground pecans (do not turn into paste)
1/2 cup finely ground macadamia nuts (do not turn into paste)
2 cups chopped walnuts, divided to 3.
3 cups finely grated or shredded carrots
1 1/4 cups vegetable or canola oil (3 sticks of butter is fine too)
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra large or jumbo eggs 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Frosting:

2 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks (or 1 cup) salted butter, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
3 3/4-4 cups (1 lb) powdered sugar
2 t cinnamon, divided
Remaining chopped walnuts

Note: buy a good quality powdered/confectioners sugar. Those store brand kind looks and feels 'goopy'; tried and tested.

Instructions:

Cake.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil and flour OR line with parchment paper 2-9" round cake pans.

2. Whisk eggs, oil, milk, vinegar, vanilla extract, granulated sugar and grated or shredded carrots. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, combine flour, macadamia and pecan meals; baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

4. Pour dry ingredients onto wet ingredients and stir until well combined.

5. Equally pour carrot cake batter onto prepared cake pans and bake for 35 minutes or until bamboo skewer or toothpick (making sure it has been poked towards end of pan) comes out clean. If not, bake for extra few more minutes. Cool completely for at least an hour or more minutes. In between the 3 hours, it should have also cooled on a baking rack while still in the pan. 15 minutes after it came out of the oven.    

6. Refrigerate for 45 minutes before "crumb coating" (It is the base [thin] coating of frosting, to seal in crumbs before refrigerating it again for at least 30 minutes to an hour to finally frost the cake.)

While it chills, prepare the frosting/icing.

1. Using an electric hand mixer or stand-alone mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add vanilla and combine thoroughly, about 10 more seconds.

2. Add powdered sugar to the creamed mixture 1 cup at a time, mixing well in between each cup. Set aside covered in a cool place of your house-at least about 70 degrees F. If you do not have a cooler place in your house-then by all means refrigerate the icing; you will just have to take it out earlier than the cake to thaw and be spreadable. Chilled frosting will drag on your cake and create the crumbs or will even break it apart. 

After 30 minutes, take out the cakes and assemble it; hopefully you have a cake stand.

1. Remove 1 round cake from the pan and carefully remove the parchment paper.

2. Place the cake in the middle of the cake stand; this is your bottom layer. It should be crumb coated immediately before it warms up to avoid the cake to 'loosen up'. Trim the top of it's 'dome' to have a flat cake-using a serrated knife. Otherwise, if it baked perfectly flat, leave it be.

3. Drop at least 3/4 cups of the frosting on the top of the first layer; it serves as the filling-if you decided to make 2 round cakes.

Evenly spread it making sure it does not spill on the sides; reserve at least a quarter inch of space between the frosting and the edge of the cake. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Place the 2nd cake on top of the filling and nuts. Lightly press to so that the filling should spread towards the edge but not ooze out. Trim off the dome of the top cake-if it is not flat. If you're not particular about having a flat cake, then leave it as is. Start crumb coating-top and sides using an offset spatula. Again it is a thin coating of frosting just to seal in the crumbs.

4. Place back the cake and frosting in refrigerator to chill more for 30 (or more-if you wish) minutes. Take out the frosting 15 minutes early before the cake.

5. Finish frosting your cake-in any way you want. Just make sure it is evenly coated. You don't want any frosting to waste. Don't forget to sprinkle a light coating of ground cinnamon and the rest of the chopped walnuts on top and sides.

4. Chill again for at least 2 hours to set well. Your knife also come out clean when it is chilled well.

It is an overstatement coming from me-but if you make MY version of this carrot cake-I guarantee you: it's the best you will ever make-and it's for keeps!

Enjoy with milk, coffee or tea!


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