Friday, May 1, 2009

Carrot Cake with Ginger-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Carrot Nests

Carrot Cake is the quintessential down-home American dessert. It can be found at every diner and coffee shop across the country. Finding a really good carrot cake, however, proves to be more difficult than you'd think. The answer is to latch on to a good recipe and make your own in the comfort of your own home. It's a fairly simple cake and frosting, and the only slightly tedious task involves grating up some peeled carrots. My opinion is that this cake should have a somewhat rustic appearance--I'm not wild about carrot cakes that are gussied up so much that they lose their home-spun character. The basic cake recipe is from The Cake Book, but I've changed the frosting by adding freshly grated ginger and lime juice. The only other alteration I've made to this cake is the addition of deep-fried, candied carrot strips to decorate the top. Pretty, but not entirely necessary.

Carrot Cake with Ginger-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Carrot Nests

Makes one 9-inch layer cake, serving 12

Carrot Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
3 cups firmly packed shredded carrots
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Ginger-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Make the cake:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Stir together the dry ingredients with a whisk. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, granulated sugar and light brown sugar at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. At low speed, add the oil, melted butter, milk, vanilla, ginger and orange zest and mix until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the flour mixture in three additions at low speed, mixing just until blended. Add the carrots and walnuts and mix until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.
4. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are dark golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and cool completely.

Make the frosting:
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract, lime juice and grated ginger. Reduce the speed to low and add the confectioners' sugar. Beat until well blended, then raise the speed to high and beat for 2 minutes, until light.

Frost the cake:
6. Place one of the cake layers right side up on a serving plate or cardboard cake round. Spread the top of the cake with about 1 cup of the frosting. Top with the other cake layer, upside-down. Frost the top and sides of teh cake with the remaining frosting. Serve the cake immediately or refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving.

Optional Carrot Nest Garnish:
4 large carrots, peeled and ends trimmed off
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Using a mandoline or Benriner set at the thinnest setting, slice the carrots lengthwise into thin strips (.75 mm). Make a stack of several strips and, using a chef's knife, cut the stack lengthwise into very thin julienne strips. Place the carrot strips in a large bowl.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil for about 1 minute, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the hot syrup over the carrot strips in the bowl and, using a spoon, make sure all the strips are covered with syrup. Let the carrots macerate in the syrup for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the carrot strips and spread them out on paper towels. Blot them with the paper towels to dry them as much as possible.
4. Meanwhile, pour the vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer or large straight-sided saucepan to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 370 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
5. Fry the dried carrot strips in batches for 2 to 3 minutes, until they just begin to brown lightly in spots. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the fried carrots to the paper towels to drain and cool.
6. You can use a large nest of fried carrot strips to garnish the center of the cake, or top each individual slice with a smaller nest. Dust the nest lightly with confectioners' sugar, if you like.