Dreamy Carrot Cake

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Christmas season brings out the best of traditional cooking in many of us as we dig through old recipe files, favorite cookbooks or, in the case of this delicious cake, stacks of recipes borrowed from friends, for the foods we love to serve during this beautiful holiday.

My friend, Debbie, shared this dreamy recipe with me recently for a birthday party I hosted to celebrate my husband's 50th.  It garnered rave reviews with every incredibly moist bite.  If you need a cake to impress your mother-in-law, this is it.  And it looks just as beautiful as it tastes!

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk *
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrots
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
3 1/2 oz. flaked coconut (I used the Trader Joe's kind)
1 cup chopped walnuts

* I never have buttermilk in my fridge. For a substitute, put 1 tablespoon lemon juice into a scant cup of milk and let set on the counter for 10 minutes, then pour required amount into batter (3/4 cup).


  • Line 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with wax paper. Lightly grease and flour. Set aside.
  • Stir together first four ingredients
  • Beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrots and next 3 ingredients. Pour batter into cake pans.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Remove pans from oven and drizzle buttermilk glaze evenly over the layers; cool in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove from pans and cook completely on wire racks.
Buttermilk Glaze:  (Warning - this is what takes the cake to over-the-top-deliciousness)

1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Bring first five ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Boil, stirring almost constantly (wooden spoon preferred) for 4 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in vanilla
Cream Cheese Frosting

3/4 cup butter, softened
11 oz.  cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Whip butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
  • Add powdered sugar and vanilla.
  • Whip until smooth
Assemble on a festive cake stand, frosting in between the layers as you go and covering the entire cake with a final layer of frosting. Garnish with coconut, if desired.

Prepare for rave reviews!

Bring on the Chocolate

It started out as a tea-drinking kind of night - peppermint with just a hint of sugar. But then I got distracted by this amazing recipe for hot chocolate from the smittenkitchen blog and and the tea is now cooling in my cup, a forgotten thought. I mean, it's hot chocolate weather, after all.  And this is not just any old recipe for hot chocolate.  It's seriously one of the best I've had, aside from the divinely perfect Liquid Truffle from French Broad Chocolates in Asheville.  The wonderful thing about this mix is that you can make a huge batch of it and store it for up to two months in an airtight container on your counter.  If you make the batch big enough, that should carry you through the holidays, depending on how often you share it with others.

Mix the following ingredients in a food processor and pulse/grind until crumbly and powdery:

1 cup of white sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used baking chips)
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Now how easy was that?

For serving, heat 1 cup of milk and add 3 tablespoons (heaping or level, depending on the richness level you prefer) of chocolate mix and stir. Top with freshly whipped cream.

A Bread for all Seasons

The hand-written directions for my friend Jayme's banana bread has seen years of use.  Holding a place of honor between the recipe for my Mama's honey bread and my Aunt Edna's angel food cake, this well-loved, batter-smeared, child-handled piece of paper has carried me through many seasons of cooking for my family.  It has been whipped out whenever there are over-ripe bananas on my counter, or when a whiny child begged for something sweet, or for an after-school snack when the days were long and Math was hard and tummies were growling for some comfort food.

This recipe has gone on vacation with me during summers at the beach when the Atlantic was still frigid.  Wet, shivering fingers reached for it's just-baked goodness as a child huddled in the cocoon of a fluffy towel, munching contentedly on a thick slice of its crumbly warmth.  It has produced rows of neat loaves to be given to neighbors at Christmas or to nestle in a basket with a home-cooked meal for a grieving family.  This bread has been served at birthday parties, dinner parties, baseball practices, church potlucks, neighborhood carry-ins, reunions and funerals.  It has graced our table at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  More often than not, it was served with coffee during early dawn hours or as a bedtime snack with a glass of milk.

Tonight I am baking this bread again, and as the fragrant aroma spreads through the house, it will draw my family to the kitchen.  Together, we'll sit at the table with our thick, steamy slices and carry on this sweet tradition.

Brown Butter Goodness

If there is a single dish that could be considered a staple on the Amish dinner table it's mashed potatoes drizzled with a generous amount of browned butter. This was one of the first things I learned to cook as a young girl in my mama's kitchen.  Standing at the sink, I would wash the earthy smelling potatoes gathered from the wooden crate in the cellar and then deftly peel the skins into a pile of thin shavings, to be fed to the chickens later.  The potatoes were boiled in a large kettle of water until tender then plopped into Mama's old Sunbeam mixer and whipped to no-lumps-allowed smoothness.

The key to creamy potatoes was learning to whip the potatoes first, with no additives, until they were mostly mashed, then adding incremental amounts of butter, warmed milk and that secret ingredient that kept them from getting stiff - cream cheese. But the crowing glory of a great pot of this traditional dish was the browned butter.

When I talk about browned butter most people raise their eyebrows with a quizzical look and ask,  "What's browned butter?" Oh, let me tell you!  Browned butter is heavenly goodness that enhances the flavor of everything it touches.  It's simple, really.  You pull out a tiny skillet or pot (the older the better), turn it to medium heat and put a slab of butter in it.  Then you watch it (this is very important or you'll end up with burnt butter) as it melts, then bubbles into golden foam and within a few more seconds turn just the right shade of brown. You then pour this melted goodness over the mound of whipped potatoes making sure it drizzles into the little crevices you have created with a wooden spoon to receive little pools of this golden liquid.

The next time you want to jazz up a dish, top it with some browned butter and add a little taste of Amish cooking.