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Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese IMBC

This is a longer post than usual due to all the parts and adventures that came together to make this cake.

If you’ve ever perused the site Cake Wrecks, then you’re likely familiar with the naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys. A friend and fellow fan of Cake Wrecks only ever had one request if she ever had a baby shower, and that was to have a naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys cake. When the time came to plan the shower, she didn’t hesitate to ask me to create an homage to this cake for her. Her only direction was to change the carrot decorations to fish. How could I resist such a request?!

This bake presented many challenges for me. This would be my first carrot cake, first cream cheese icing, first time piping on a cake, first time trying to create fish, and first time transporting a decorated cake 2-3 hours away! Why is the transportation a challenge? Cream cheese icing of any type (American, Swiss, or Italian buttercream) is very soft which means that it needs to be kept in the fridge to hold up. Of course, the day I was traveling to the shower was going to be one of the sunniest and warmest days we’ve had in a while. After some quick research on recommendations on transporting cakes, I grabbed two large blue ice packs from the freezer and placed them in baggies to prevent them from getting the cake box wet. I placed each ice pack into an insulated grocery bag and then placed each end of the cake box into a bag. This created a make-shift cooler and it worked! The cake made it to its destination with no melting! Shout out to The Butcher’s Market of Charlotte for their awesome insulated bags!

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Make-shift cooler using two insulated grocery bags and ice packs.

Back to the cake. I decided to go with one of I Am Baker’s carrot cake recipes as it gets a lot of positive feedback and had a bunch of ingredients I would not have thought to have include in a carrot cake. For the cream cheese icing, I knew I wanted to utilize an Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) since it holds up well and isn’t too sweet. Frequent contributor to my recipes, Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery, shared her recipe for incorporating cream cheese into any meringue buttercream.

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Carrot Cake via I Am Baker

2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup (250 g) vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups (352 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt (I always omit salt)
1 cup raisins
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
2 1/4 cups finely grated carrots (6-8 medium sized carrots grated)
1/2 cup pineapple, can be from a can (crushed) or freshly diced

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare baking pan(s) by buttering generously or coating with baking spray (I strongly encourage using parchment paper).

Beat the sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer until it is light yellow, about 3 mins.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Double sifting is recommended.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly and gently add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. This can be done by hand.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the raisins, nuts, carrots, and pineapple.

Divide the batter equally between the pans. For 2 7-inch rounds, bake for 55-60 mins or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. A few crumbs is what you want for a moist cake. All to cool completely on a wire rack.

Some notes:
I made a 9 x 13 sheet cake instead of rounds to mimic the original cake and for serving size. A good baking time for the sheet cake was 30-35 mins.

This is how my first cake came out:

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Carrot cake crumble

So what went wrong? So many things.

  • I used pre-packaged shredded carrots instead of grated, so the cake did not have the right consistency to stay together.
  • I cut up pineapple rings into slices instead of using crushed pineapple.
  • I did not drain my pineapple slices after they had been sitting in my prep bowl, so more liquid was added to the batter, making the cake very moist.
  • I did not use parchment paper so, despite greasing the pan well, the center of the cake stuck.
  • I flipped the cake way too early so it was still warm and soft and came apart very easily. I had noticed the edges were sticking and got lost in trying to loosen them. Note to self: just leave the cake alone until it is cooled!

I took the night to think through what went wrong and to decide whether to try a different recipe and whether to do rounds instead of a sheet cake. Not one to let a recipe beat me, I woke up the next morning determined to tackle the same cake. Once a new batch of ingredients were in-hand, it was time to try again. I grated my carrots using both the large and small sides of the grater and did a small portion of diced carrot pieces to incorporate different levels of carrot bites in the cake, I drained my crushed pineapple, and I put down my parchment paper. When I opened the oven to check on whether the cake was done, I could see the difference. The cake had risen more and was no where near as damp as the first bake. I left my cake in the pan on the cooling racks until it was completely cooled. When the cake was ready to be flipped, I placed a large cutting board on top of it. Using a cutting board for the flip gets the cake on a good surface for trimming and moving in and out of the fridge for storage.

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Carrot cake attempt number 2 with trimmed edges.

Once on the cutting board, I moved the cake to the fridge while I set up to make the buttercream. Cooling the cake makes it easier to cut with fewer crumbs. Once cooled, I trimmed all four edges to get a smoother rectangle shape. Then, back into the fridge it went while the buttercream was made.

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Cream Cheese Italian Meringue Buttercream (using the IMBC recipe from Yolanda Gampp and the cream cheese incorporation from Ginger Barragan)

8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
8 oz powdered sugar (start with 4 oz and then add to taste. I used all 8 oz.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups meringue buttercream (Yolanda Gampp’s recipe makes 6 cups, so you will have extra if that is the one you use)

Blend the cheese slowly with the paddle attachment or hand mixer until soft, scraping the bowl frequently.

Sift sugar and add to the cheese (I did not sift and it came together fine). Blend until smooth.

Blend in vanilla and buttercream.

After making the buttercream, portion it into different bowls if adding color.

 

Before piping, though, I took the cake out of the fridge, placed a cake board on the top of the cake, and flipped it. After taking the cutting board off the top of the cake slowly (the carrot cake is moist and stuck to the cutting board surface and I didn’t want to rip off the top by moving too fast), I was able to shift the cake around to center in on the board. I used an offset spatula to do a thin layer of icing all over the cake and the sides. This is known as a crumb coat. After coating, the cake went back into the fridge for the crumb coat to set. While it was setting, I colored some of the buttercream.

I added Wilton red no-taste icing color to a portion of the buttercream with the intent of making pink fish. The pink color came out great! The fish, however, did not. Not only did I approach the piping with only a rough idea of how to pipe fish (make one large blob – large enough for the plastic mohawk babies to sit on/in – of icing with a large piping tip and then use the same tip I used to make teeth in the sarlaac cake to make fins and tails) but I did not practice and had no experience in working with cream cheese icing. It gets softer the more it hangs out in the piping bag as you squeeze.

After taking the cake out of the fridge, yet again, it was time to slather on the white cream cheese buttercream. Add as much icing to the cake as you prefer. Some people prefer a larger ration of icing to cake while others prefer a thin layer of icing relative to cake. After smoothing out the edges, corners, and sides, I decided to add a border to the top and bottom just to jazz the cake up a bit. Here is where you start to see where the buttercream began to soften in the piping bag and some of the definition from the piping tip is lost. There are also some obvious areas where the piping was inconsistent. Since this was an homage to a Cake Wreck, the imperfections just made the cake even more perfect.

Then it was time to pipe fish. Oh, the pink fish. Someone described them as Seussical but to me, they ended up looking more like uteri than fish! How perfect for there to be naked mohawk babies popping out of pink uteri? The accidents with this cake really came together to create a more perfect cake for the recipient than I could have planned. Before placing the naked babies in their new homes, I realized I had a lot of white space left in the cake and figured I’d give writing a try. I was pretty pleased with how well I wrote out “Critter.” Critter is the nickname the couple came up with early in their pregnancy and it stuck. Since it was a fun cake, I decided to go with the nickname instead of the baby’s name or the more traditional “It’s a Girl!” or “Congratulations!”

So, with all of the trial, error, mistakes, and happy accidents, the cake was complete and the cake arrived at its destination in perfect condition!

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Surprise Inside Cake – Pinky the Ghost

A surprise inside cake looks simple enough. It’s a cake of any flavor with a design or different color cake inside of it. One complaint I’ve seen pop up in a lot of conversation about surprise inside cakes is that the design typically ends up dry since it’s baked twice. Having baked one now, I can see how easily that can happy but I also see room for tweaks to prevent that from happening.

For this experiment, I kept the cake simple so that I could focus on trying my hand at the technique. To figure out my approach, I checked out cakes by i am baker and My Cupcake Addiction. I love the colors in My Cupcake Addiction’s love heart cake and may try that as a rainbow surprise in a future surprise inside cake. For my first try, I opted to use a ghost cookie cutter to make Pinky, one of the Pac-Man ghosts.
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Surprise Inside Cake

1 box of white cake mix
1 box of devil’s food cake mix
coloring gel

Prepare one box of white cake mix either by using the instructions on the box or by the modified box method substituting melted butter for oil and milk for water. Add desired color (in this case, I added red with a dab of black to get a muted pink color). Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper and pour batter onto pan. Bake at 350F for 23 mins (or as described on the box).

Place a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board large enough to place the cake on. When the cake comes out of the oven, place the paper and cutting board on top of the cake and flip it so that the cake sits on the board. Lift the pan and peel off the parchment paper that is now on top. Pop the cake on the board into the freezer for 10-30 mins to firm up. This will help prevent the cake from crumbling as much when you use the cutter. Select a cookie cutter for your design and make sure it’s small enough to sit in the cake pan you’re using for the final cake. My ghost cutter ended up being slightly taller than what I needed it to be. Remove the sheet cake from the freezer. Flip the cake over again and remove the parchment paper. Trim the top of the cake with a knife to remove the browned part of the cake and reveal the brighter colors underneath. Use the cutter to cutout shapes from the sheet cake. Cut the shapes close to each other to maximize the number of cutouts. Any extra make tasty snacks.

Arrange the cutouts on the same cutting board and pop the board back in the freezer for at least 30 mins (I did 30 but will let them freeze longer next time to better prevent the moist batter of the second cake from soaking into the cutouts).

Prepare the second box mix as above (either via the box or modified). Using a rubber spatula, place some of the batter on the bottom of a greased and floured bundt cake pan and spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan. My Cupcake Addiction suggests a half inch of batter. Bake this layer of batter at 350F for 7 mins.

Take the pan out of the oven and immediately spread a layer of raw batter on top of the baked layer in the pan. The new batter will thin out quickly since it’s going on top of hot cake. These layers of cake and batter will help to hold the cutouts in place. Take the cutouts out of the freezer and start placing them in the pan. The top of the cutout should be in the bottom of the pan (remember, the cake is upside-down in the pan). The cutouts can be arranged close to each other or with lots of space in between depending on how your want your slices to look. A more spaced out arrangement will result in not knowing whether you’ll get an all devil’s food slice or a slice with a surprise design when the cake is served. If you do a more crowded arrangement, leave some space for batter in between. Don’t press them together too tightly.

Place the rest of the batter into a large piping bag. Cut a wide tip at the bottom. Using the bag helps to get the batter between the cutouts and between the cutouts and the edges of the pan. Pipe the batter into all the sections around the cutouts. After filling the sides and in between, pipe the batter on the top of the cutouts to cover them. Since my ghost cutouts were a bit too tall, my batter did not completely cover them. I used a rubber spatula to try to coat exposed areas of cutouts with batter to encourage the cake to cover them all. When done, tap the pan on the counter a few times to get the batter to fill any gaps. Bake at 350F for 33-35 mins (or as long as directed on the box). Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 mins before flipping it over. The cake should release easily. When ready to serve, cut slices and enjoy the surprise image inside.

 

 

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Bangarang Cake

I’ve been reminded for weeks that someone wanted “a rainbow cake with rainbow icing” for his birthday cake. Ok. No problem. My first thought was to use it as an opportunity to try a mirror glaze! Unfortunately, I realized I wouldn’t have the time in the week leading up to the birthday so I went through several other ideas – 6” rounds each of a different color, two 9” rounds with the colors carefully layered – before I settled on a tie-dye 9”x13” and decided to wing it with the design of the buttercream.
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For the cake, I used a boxed white cake mix and the recipe on the box. I substituted milk for water and melted butter for oil. Note that you can either us just egg whites or the entire egg with the box recipes. Since I wasn’t leaving any of the cake white, I used the whole egg. After making the cake batter, I separated it into five individual bowls. I used Betty Crocker gel coloring for each color except for purple, which was a liquid coloring. I realized too late into coloring that my dark colors had gone bad so I was not going to get the typical red, yellow, green, etc. The colors ended up very bright which ended up being perfect! I alternated pouring batter of different colors into the greased 9×13 pan so they sat on top of each other. Half of each bowl would get poured in. After each half, the second half was added to keep the variety going in the layers. When the batter was all in the pan, I realized it looked like the imaginary food the kids had a food fight with in the movie “Hook”! Now I’m calling this bake “Imagination Cake” (imagination pie was referenced in the food fight scene). Take a toothpick and run it up and down the length of the cake or make swirl designs to add additional twists of color. Place in the oven for 30 mins at 325F. When done, let cool.

For the frosting, I went with I Am Baker’s whipped vanilla buttercream.

2 sticks of butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp almond extract
4 cups of confectioner’s sugar, sifted (her recipe goes as high as 8 but I found the minimum to be perfect)
2 Tbsp whole milk (She notes that you can go up to half a cup for a more creamy and loose icing. I found 2 Tbsp to be perfect.)
1 pinch of salt

Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with he whisk attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy – about 3 mins. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Continue to mix.

With mixer on low, slowly add the sugar, milk, and salt, frequently scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Once incorporated, whip the frosting for at least 3 minutes on medium to high speed. I ran mine for 7 minutes, same as in the recipe.

If the frosting is too thick to spread, gradually beat in the additional milk (up to a half cup, total).

Separate into five different bowls. Add selected food dye to each bowl and stir until combined. Place an open baggie into a small cup with the top of the bag folded over the lip of the cup. Pour frosting from one bowl into one bag. Lift up bag, zip or twist to close, and use scissors to snip a small tip off of one of the bottoms of the bag. Holding the bag over the cooled cake, squeeze the bag to pipe the icing in a straight line longways along the cake. Use a butter knife, rubber spatula, or icing knife, smooth the row of colored frosting across the cake and down the sides. Repeat the bagging and popping steps for your next color. Overlapping color in each row helps with coverage. Repeat until the entire cake is covered. Run a toothpick through the frosting, lengthwise, to give the frosting a little extra flair. I ended up with plenty of leftover frosting but I also didn’t make a thick layer of frosting on the cake. Let sit or place in the fridge to firm up. It’s been so hot here that I popped mine in the fridge overnight. It gave the frosting a nice texture. The frosting also softened up again nicely after sitting out for a bit.

The almond extract works really well with the other flavors and makes this frosting stand out.