Friday, April 23, 2010

Carrot Cake

I've never been a fan of carrot cake. And people, I love cake. I can pass up cookies, fudge, and even brownies. But a cake with butter cream frosting wins every time. So for me to say, "I can pass over carrot cake" means something.

However, I had an abundance of carrots. I just couldn't eat another stir fry that week and glazed carrots wouldn't go with anything I had planned. I had just checked out Small Batch Baking from the library. The book has lots of recipes for scaled down versions of baked goods. Which is great, because I don't have to give up my favorite cakes and it eliminates the temptation to eat cake for every meal. Inside was a recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Cream cheese frosting? Heck yes! In the words of one of my dear friends, "You could put cream cheese frosting on an old shoe and I'd eat it!"

So with my handy dandy assistant grating carrots, I put together the rest of the ingredients. The book advocates baking in old tin cans, but I just used a muffin pan. I've tried the tin can method with another recipe, and it worked fine. It makes two cute little layer cakes. The pan made 6 little cupcakes that provided desserts for three meals (thus evening out the calories a little bit). However, if you have mini spring-form pans that should work too. If you use the muffin tins, you don't have to worry about the elaborate explanation about how to cut the cakes and frost them; unless you just want layered cupcakes. There is a good deal of frosting for these tiny cakes.

As far as taste goes, these little cakes were fantastic. It took a lot of will power not to eat them all in one sitting. They will certainly be made again!

Baby Carrot Cakes

Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the cans
3/4 c. + 2 tbs sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring cans
1/4 c. + 2 tbs buttermilk
1/4 c. vegetable oil
Yolk of 1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c. grated carrots
2 tbs raisins
2 tbs chopped pecans or walnuts, plus more for garnish
2 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
2 tbs finely chopped fresh or canned pineapple, well drained (optional)
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Pans Required:
Two 14 or 14.5 oz cans
1 baking sheet

Mandy's Note: I just used a 6 cup muffin tin.

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Grease the insides of the cans and lightly dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. Place the cans on the baking sheet for easier handling, and set aside.

3. Place the buttermilk, oil, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir to mix.

4. Place the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-size mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Add buttermilk mixture and whisk just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the carrots, raisins, nuts, coconut, and pineapple if using.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly between them. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, 37 to 39 minutes.

6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the cans to a wire rack to cool for 10 min. Then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each can, and invert the cans to release the cakes. Turn the cakes upright and let them cool on the rack. (The cakes can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).

7. To frost the cakes, cut each cake in half horizontally. Spread a layer of the Cream Cheese Frosting about 1/4 inch thick on the cut side of one cake half, then stack the other half on top of it. Frost the top and sides of the cake. Repeat with the remaining cake and frosting. Garnish with additional nuts. (The frosted cakes can be stored loosely but well covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days).

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 1 Cup

4 oz cream cheese, cubed, at room temperature
2 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-size bowl, and cream them with a fork or a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 45 seconds. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the cream cheese mixture; then beat, using a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, until the frosting is creamy. Stir in the vanilla. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Two at the Table

Okay... sometimes three.

But basically, I'm not feeding 5 kids and a husband like my grandma did in her mid twenties. And according to some things I've read, not many others are either. I feed me and my hungry boyfriend. So why are all the recipes for 4 or more (especially the good ones)? So a few months ago I delved into cooking for two cookbooks and cutting larger recipes down to size. I was also using produce from my Grow Alabama box. It was great fun, but I was spending a lot of money to supplement the box for my fancy foodie recipes. So, out came my inner food nerd (more explanation later). I started keeping receipts, figuring out how to lower the bill with out dropping all foodie inclinations.

This blog will document how I feed my boyfriend and I for $50 dollars a week. A large focus will be on in season produce, but pantry cooking allows me to keep my budget under control. Besides the recipes, I'll also explain how I put together menus, write about local restaurants, my balcony garden, and how to obtain local products.

Look for the first recipe post soon!

8/12/10: Because Dennis and I have commited to trying to support local farms and sustainable practices, we upped the budget by $10. This enables us to buy better quality meat and produce. So we now spend $60 a week on groceries.