You must understand how nervous I was about this cake. This was my third attempt at making a carrot cake for Jeff; the first time, I bought pre-grated carrots that didn't cook down into the cake, resulting in a stringy, crunchy mess that had to be eaten with the use of a knife (Jeff: "This is great, honey! Best carrot cake I've ever had!") The second time, although I hand-grated my carrots, I suspect I either over-mixed the batter or didn't add enough flour, because the cake didn't rise at all (Jeff: "This is amazing! I couldn't ask for a better birthday cake!") They say the third time's the charm, so I had high hopes that I would finally get it right.
I did a couple of things differently this time; to begin, I decided to grate the carrots on the finer side of my grater, so that I'd get a really smooth batter.
Most importantly, I think, I also tried to stay calm and take my time, carefully measuring all of my dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. The lovely colour you see there is cinnamon and nutmeg, which give carrot cake its classic spiciness.
In another bowl went the wet ingredients: oil, eggs, both brown and white sugar, and vanilla.
The idea with separating the ingredients is that you can completely smooth out the wet ones before adding them to the dry ones, so that you don't over-mix the batter. Lumps are good in cake batter, because they produce air pockets during baking, which makes the cake fluffy (see, I'm aware of all the theory; it's just when it comes to practice that I'm a clumsy mess.)
Once the two are combined, you stir just until it's moistened. I find that trusting my judgement when following a baking recipe is hard, but I just went for an incorporated-yet-still-lumpy look to the batter (and tried really hard not to panic.)
I say "yes!" to adding crushed pineapple and walnuts. I really like them in carrot cake, but to each their own. Just a gentle stir into the batter, and then the whole thing goes into a greased pan.
I crossed my fingers, popped it in the oven, and spent the next half hour on the couch, moaning from the pain (read: sampling raw batter). However, once I got a glimpse of my cake, all of my worries and discomfort faded...
The cake looked like, well, a real cake! It had risen, and everything! Tears of joy sprang to my eyes as I hopped around, hooting and hollering, scaring the crap out of Jeff and the dog. Ah, what a moment.
As the cake cooled, I moved on to the cream cheese icing, which I decided to sweeten partly with maple syrup, one of Jeff's favourite flavours. I iced the cake, but there's no photographic evidence of the final product; it was, to put it bluntly, hideous. Who cares what the outside looks like, though, when the inside looks like this?
Folks, I finally did it. This carrot cake was extremely moist and fluffy, with the perfect amount of spice. The maple syrup acted as a subtle, yet intriguing background flavour in the icing, which I very much enjoyed. All in all, I was very pleased, and proud to serve the cake to our friends in honour of Jeff's birthday. (Jeff: "Not that I didn't love the other ones, but this one is your best!")
Lessons I learned: to calm down, take my time, trust my judgement, and stay away from the batter. I'm so jazzed, and ready for more! Anyone have a birthday coming up?
The Recipe: Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing
I followed this Canadian Living recipe to the letter to make the cake, except that I substituted walnuts for the pecans. To make the maple cream cheese icing, I omitted the vanilla, and added about 3 tbsp of pure maple syrup. I also used more icing sugar than this recipe called for, about 3 cups in total.