Friends often know each other by many names. Sometimes relevant, sometimes obscure. Just yesterday I got a letter from an elementary school friend, who currently lives in the 7th in Paris, addressed to me as “carrot cake.”
I think I first made this tempting dessert when I was 16 – after an eight hour day of bussing tables. During that shift, my boss had revealed the dessert of the week – carrot cake. It was good, but a typical semi-dry, walnut laden, not so sweet cake trying to border “good for you” and decadence. At that point in my career, I had established a semi-serious competition with the dessert chef. With this new revealing, I had another opportunity to top the chef.
At home that night, I searched through online and hard cover cook books to find a recipe. Epicurious again prevailed – a carrot cake with Maple cream cheese frosting. Giddy and ambitious at midnight, I started prepping the ingredients as if I was going to be able to finish that night. Carrots shredded in a bowl topped with brown sugar, cream cheese sitting out to acclimate to room temperature, flour sitting in a fluffy pile, I was well on my way when my post-work high faded. I left everything out that night, which turned out to be my best use of procrastination.
The next morning, I found the carrots had juiced themselves, leaving me with two cups of carrots, shredded, and ½ cup of sweetened carrot juice. I proceeded through the recipe, adding ginger, cardamom and nutmeg to my liking and prematurely iced the warm cake – allowing the cream cheese icing to sink into the crust.
Obviously I didn’t want to send my “rough draft” straight into the main event, so I packed up my cake and headed off to my elementary school friend’s house to have a proper taste testing. I brought over all the extra icing I had made in a mason jar just in case it needed more. When I got there, she greeted me with open eyes and extended fingers to grasp at the cake. I brought over the entire double-layered cake, and left with one eighth of the cake. She ate most of it.
“Hey, um, so, um, can you, um, make me one every week?”
“Yeah, I’ve got to make it a few more times before I send it into my restaurant.”
I started to leave.
“Wait, can you, um, leave that mason jar too?”
Now, every time I see her, whenever I get back into town, she attacks me for a hug, an update on life, and a carrot cake. She also claims that she needs an entire one, since her family will eat most of it, and she wants the entire thing. She also says most of this with a little, giddy girl’s voice, with tensed shoulders and doe eyes. This cake does something to her that will always bond us.
I’ll leave you with this: a taste of her letter for reinforcement, and the recipe, which I’ve adapted.
“So i don’t know if you have a recipe … really i don’t think it could EVER be truly made by anyone else but just talking/thinking about it makes me want it SO BAD that hey maybe it’s worth letting her in on your secrets?”
Hopefully, you can adapt this recipe to make someone ask for your secrets,
For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
For the icing:
10 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
12 walnut halves, to garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts and ginger. Divide batter between prepared pans.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off waxed paper; cool cakes completely.
To make the icing: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill until just firm enough to spread, 30 minutes.
Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup icing. Top with second layer. Spread remaining icing over entire cake. Arrange walnut halves around top edge. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.