The week after Halloween. The one week out of the year when Americans shun sugar, bellies still aching from an overindulgence in tiny packaged candies the weekend before, guilt looming large from the unhealthy eating habits to which we’ve succumbed.
Evidence of last weekend’s binge-fest still lingers in most of our homes and workplaces in the form of empty candy wrappers. And the reject candy that’s been picked over sits lonely in its oversized bowl, begging to be eaten and feeling neglected that it always loses out to the Reeses and Starbursts of the world. Sorry, Milky Ways. That’s just the way the
cookie candy crumbles.
Despite the scene I’ve painted you above, the end of Halloween also marks the beginning of the holiday season. What follows in the next seven weeks is a series of holidays that bring together friends and family for parties, gift exchanges, and, of course, copious amounts of homemade food. And what would these holiday events be without a little something sweet? Something packed with the same ingredient we all swore off just a week prior…sugar.
As you can probably tell from scrolling through my recipes, I’m not much of a baker. I’ve realized that this stems largely from my inability to follow any recipe to a T, instead preferring a little change here and a little alteration there to create a dish that inspires me personally. With baking, however, those little changes can create huge problems. You see, there’s a science behind baking. And unless you’re really versed on how wet and dry ingredients interact with one another and with heat, something I am not, you don’t go messing around with a quality baked recipe.
I found a recipe for a Brown Butter Carrot Cake one year ago, almost to the day, and it quickly became one of my favorite cake recipes in all the world. No alterations necessary. The naturally-sweet carrot-based cake is dense and decadent. Its sweet and spicy flavors enhanced by the addition of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
But the star of this show is the brown butter cream cheese frosting, saccharine like a traditional frosting, but also slightly nutty from the addition of brown butter. Not to mention, the aromas that spread through the house while the butter is simmering on the stovetop. Their sweet, warm goodness filling the air with a sense of comfort. A sense of innocence. As I was preparing the frosting, adding a little bit of powdered sugar at a time, I also found myself taste testing, liberally, one spoonful at a time. You see, someone had to make sure this frosting was the perfect balance between creamy and sugary and, though I could have pawned it off on my better half, as the cook of the household, I felt this was my burden to carry. Lick after lick I persisted until I’d found the perfect consistency to coat my carrot cake with this sinfully creamy concoction.
Together the spice of the cake bathed in its rich, nutty blanket of frosting make a holiday dessert that is as decadent as it is delicious. Plus it’s got carrots in it. And if we’re going to break our post-Halloween “no sugar” rule so soon, at least we can all rest easy knowing that there are vegetables tucked somewhere in there too. Saved by the beta-carotenes!
And from your favorite butter-obsessed canine, who sat patiently by my side from the moment the butter began to brown…
Brown Butter Carrot Cake
- 1 pound of carrots, finely grated with a food processor or microplane
- 3 large eggs, brought to room temperature
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1.5 cups of canola oil
- 1/3 cup of buttermilk
- 5 teaspoons of vanilla extract (or the pulp of 1 vanilla bean)
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
- ½ cup of shredded coconut or coconut flakes, toasted (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line two 9” round cake pans with parchment paper, pinching the edges to get them as smooth to the cake pan as possible. Trust me on this one—it makes getting the cake out of the pans without breaking a synch!
In a large bowl, mix together the carrots, eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring thoroughly to make sure they are well combined.
Add the mixture to the pre-lined cake pans, making sure the mixture is distributed evenly between the two pans. If you only have one pan to work with, bake one and then the other. I found there was roughly 3 cups of mixture in each pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and, while hot, use a paper towel to press down on the top of the cake to flatten it out. (Note: Some prefer to use a knife to lop off the top of a cake, but I’ve found this method works far better and results in fewer crumbs getting into the frosting.)
While oven is still set to 350 degrees, spread the shredded coconuts or coconut flakes on a baking sheet and bake until they begin to turn golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Allow cakes to cool in their pans and come to room temperature before icing. Don’t skip this step as it’s integral to frosting the cake without getting ugly crumbs scattered throughout your frosting. Then, carefully peel the parchment paper from the sides of your cakes, lift one cake up and flip it onto your hand so you can peel the parchment paper from the bottom. Flip it again, carefully, onto a cake plate so that the top of the cake is facing up.
Once you’ve made the frosting (see below), ice the top of the first cake layer and then add the second layer on top, using the same method described above. One tip for frosting is to begin with a generous amount, plop it directly into the center of the cake top, and, using a cake spatula, distribute the frosting evenly around the cake. The trick here is to not lift the spatula, not even once, until the frosting is distributed evenly. Frost the top of the second layer before moving onto the sides.
Once the cake is frosted, add the toasted coconuts to the top and sides.
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, brout to room temperature
- 16 ounces of cream cheese, brought to room temperature
- 5 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- a dash of sea salt
- 3-4 cups of powdered sugar
Place one stick of butter in a small saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the butter is browned and gives off a nutty scent, about 5 minutes. Pour melted brown butter into a small bowl and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. If the butter hardens completely, remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before continuing.
Once cooled, cream together the browned butter, regular butter, and cream cheese until smooth. Add vanilla extract and salt and mix together.
Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, mixing well between each addition. Taste test after 3 cups and, if you feel additional sugar is necessary (I didn’t), add it in a little bit at a time until you find your desired texture and flavor.
Recipe adapted from The Faux Martha.