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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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Banana Nut Bread

Banana bread recipes are quite varied. When you find one that gives you the right texture and flavor, you tell everyone about it! My go-to recipe was introduced to me by a former coworker. This one comes from Cook’s Illustrated. The bread is soft inside with a just-right crunchy crust.
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Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cups of sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)*
1/4 cups plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle portion and heat the oven to 300F.

*to quickly prepare the bananas, use this kitchen hack. Space the bananas out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (the bananas might leak and this provides easy clean up). Place the bananas in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Check on them until they reach desired texture. For the most mashable, let them get black without burning. Take out of oven. Remove peels and mash bananas. Set aside to cool.

Raise oven temp to 350F. Carefully line the same baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper. Spread walnuts out onto sheet. Place in oven to toast until fragrant, around 5-10 mins. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9×5 inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cooled walnuts. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla extract with a wooden spoon. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Do not over-mix! Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to three days. It can also be double wrapped with plastic wrap and double wrapped with foil and kept in the freezer for several weeks.

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Baklava

Over a year ago, I tried a bacon baklava recipe. It turned out really well! This time, I tried the recipe that the bacon one was modified from. This baklava recipe is from Closet Cooking.

Baklava is fairly straight forward and easy to make. If you’ve never used phyllo dough before, be forewarned that it is a pain. It is a thin dough so it likes to rip and tear and dry out. The dough may make you want to punch a wall, but the nice thing about baklava is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I had several layers of just pieces of shredded phyllo and some layers of uneven filling yet it looks, smells, and tastes great. So if you have the patience to not throw several sheets of phyllo against the wall in frustration, you will be rewarded with a sweet nutty treat. I used Athens phyllo dough instead of making my own.
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Baklava

4 cups walnuts, chopped (I did 2 cups walnuts, 2 cups pecans)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 cup melted butter (I always end up needing more, so have some handy)
1 lb phyllo pastry, thawed

Mix the nuts, cinnamon, and sugar into a bowl. Set aside.

Brush a 9×13 pan with butter. Place one sheet in the pan.* Brush the top of the sheet with butter. Repeat until there are 8 sheets in the pan. (*recipe recommends brushing the top of a sheet before placing in the pan, but I found it easier to brush after placing it in the pan)

Sprinkle 1/3 of the walnut mixture onto the phyllo in the pan. Brush the top of another sheet of phyllo and place into the pan. Brush with butter and add a second sheet. Repeat for a third sheet. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the nut mixture into the pan. Butter and place two more phyllo sheets in the pan. Sprinkle the last 1/3 of the nut mixture onto the phyllo in the pan. Brush another sheet with phyllo and place in the pan. Continue until the last eight sheets are in the pan. Slice the baklava with a sharp knife. Bake at 350F until the top is a golden brown.

Syrup
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 inch slice of lemon peel
2 inch slice of orange peel
3/4 cup honey

Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon and orange peels to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add honey and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and peels from the syrup. Pour the syrup over the baklava when it comes out of the oven. Let the baklava cool for several hours.

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DoubleTree Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you’ve ever stayed at a Doubletree hotel, chances are that you’ve enjoyed one of their tasty chocolate chip cookies. I asked around for a decent copycat recipe to try and was sent to The Little Kitchen’s recipe.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a Doubletree cookie, so I couldn’t do a side-by-side comparison for flavor, but these are some pretty tasty cookies!
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Doubletree Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup rolled oats
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips (I used 1 bag of regular sized chips and 1/2 bag of mini chips)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Pulse oats in a food processor until semi-fine or fine. Since I don’t have a processor, I used a hand chopper.

In a small mixing bowl, add the oats, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

To a medium bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars. Add vanilla extract, lemon juice, and eggs. Mix until you have a smooth mixture. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula at least once.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix with a spatula, being careful not to over-mix. Drop in the chips and nuts and mix until both are evenly distributed. Be careful not to over-mix or the cookies will have a cake-like texture.

Use a large cookie scoop (I used a regular tablespoon) to scoop dough into a lined baking sheet. Place dough balls close to each other for easier storage. Freeze or refrigerate for at least 2-4 hours (I left mine in the freezer overnight).

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Remove dough balls from storage and place on a new baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place dough 1 1/2” – 2” apart. Bake for 13-14 minutes or until desired doneness. Let cool on a the baking sheet for a few minutes to harden a bit before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.