On a fateful night back in November, Anthony and I were at a party. And, as one often does at parties, I had a few adult beverages. Maybe it was the wine talking or maybe it was just me, but somewhere between having a lovely conversation with our friends about their upcoming wedding and hugging everyone goodbye, I offered to bake their wedding cake.
That was all well and good, except for one tiny problem: I have never made a wedding cake before. (Oops!)
The morning after the party I woke up and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?!?” But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try. The real incentive was that the couple had requested carrot cake, and I didn’t have a great recipe for it. I knew this would force me to find the perfect one, so I wrote them a (perfectly sober) email reiterating my offer. And for some unknown reason, they agreed.
Soon I set to work testing cakes. I narrowed it down to a handful recipes that looked good and came from trustworthy sources, and I baked each one – about six in all – to figure out which one I liked best. I forced carrot cake on all our friends and coworkers for months, hounding them for opinions and feedback. Raisins or dried cranberries? Carrots too stringy? More spices or less? Walnuts or pecans? Too sweet? Too wet? Too dry? Too dense? Each cake had good points, but not one had it all. So, I took a page from mom’s book, and figured out what I liked about each one and combined them into one recipe. Then I tested my version a few more times, tweaking it as I went.
I believe this cake is perfect, at least to my taste buds. But I think the real triumph is the frosting. I tried 5 different recipes and didn’t like any of them. Fed up, I just threw 2 packages of cream cheese and 2 sticks of butter in my stand mixer and beat the hell out of them. I added a pinch of salt, some vanilla, and then just started adding confectioner’s sugar until I got the sweetness I wanted. The result was the creamiest, smoothest, and most ethereal cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. It truly is perfection!
Having nailed the recipe, I am now working on stacking and icing and piping techniques. (Any and all advice would be much appreciated!) Next weekend is our friends’ wedding, and this five-month quest for the perfect cake will come to an end. I hope it all turns out well, but I think the sheer amount of effort I put into this whole process should count for something, right?
Wish me luck!
- For the Cake
- 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 10 oz. (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. table salt
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ¼ tsp. ground allspice
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¾ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 lb. cream cheese
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. table salt, more to taste
- 2 - 3 cups confectioner’s sugar (depending on your preference)
- Make the Cake: Move the oven rack to middle position, and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two 9” round cake pans with parchment, spray them with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour.
- In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, chop the carrots very finely to about the consistency of large couscous. Transfer carrots to a medium bowl and rinse the food processor bowl – you will need it again!
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Whisk to blend thoroughly. Transfer ¼ cup of this mixture to a small bowl, add the cranberries and pecans, and toss to combine.
- In the food processor fitted again with the steel blade, mix the eggs and sugars until thoroughly combined. With the machine running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until well blended. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Add the carrots and the cranberry/nut mixture; stir to combine.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 40 - 45 minutes. Let the pans cool on a rack to room temperature before inverting them to remove the cakes. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Make the Frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), whip together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla and salt. One cup at a time, add the confectioner’s sugar until you reach your desire sweetness, and continue whipping until the frosting is light and airy.
- Assemble the Cake: Put a small dollop of icing in the center of a large, flat serving plate (this helps glue the cake to the plate.) Place one cake upside down on the plate. Using a butter knife or offset metal spatula, evenly spread about 1 cup of the frosting over the top of the first cake. Top with the remaining cake layer, right side up. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting. For tips on how to frost the perfect layer cake, check out this great video.