Monday, September 17, 2012

Carrot Cake with Spiced Frosting and Salted Pecans...



It's almost fall and I'm so ready for it.  Boots and sweaters, chilly days, crisp leaves, apples and pumpkins...  it's my favorite time of year.  Last week, we experienced our first day that felt like fall - cool, in the 50's, and rainy.  I loved getting to use my green flowered umbrella.

For the fourth cake in my weekend of cake baking, I baked another carrot cake, at the request of a coworker for her birthday potluck.  Since my Browned Butter Carrot Cake was such a hit a few weeks ago at a party, I was happy for the chance to make it again.

And although I thought it was practically perfect as it was, with the cake moist from the nutty browned butter, I did wonder if I could improve on it at all.  The changes I made were slight, but fantastic.

The cake itself needed no improvement, in my opinion.  I loved it exactly as it was.  So instead, I added freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon, with plenty of good quality vanilla, right into the cream cheese frosting.  The pretty flecks of spices gave the frosting a lovely pale cappuccino color.




Visually, I thought the pecans might look a little more elegant if they were chopped more finely, so instead of chopping them with my knife, I ground them in the food processor, along with a generous pinch of coarse salt.  The salted pecan "crust" all around the cake was the perfect contrast for the spiced frosting and the rich cake.

A bit of salt with something sweet always makes it better.




With the scraps I sliced off the tops of the cake layers to level them, I cut little rounds of cake and layered them with extra frosting, to make a tiny little cake for Jamie.  With a few of the chopped pecans sprinkled on top, it was the perfect little dessert.

My coworkers loved the cake, and never have I seen a carrot cake disappear so fast!







Browned Butter Carrot Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Buttercream and Salted Pecans
printable recipe

cake:
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups finely grated carrots (5-8 carrots, depending on their size)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
frosting:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 ounces (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup toasted pecans
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

To make the cake: 
Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare three 8-inch cake pans by spraying the bottoms with non-stick spray, lining with a circle of parchment paper, and then spraying the parchment paper with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter (for the cake) over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another larger bowl, whisk together the grated carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Gradually whisk in the flour mixture until combined.  Add the brown butter and whisk until incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.

Bake a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes.  Set the pans on wire racks and cool completely in the pans. 


To make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter, cream cheese and vanilla.  Beat on medium low for 1-2 minutes until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, meringue powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add to the mixing bowl, a cup at a time, mixing on low to combine.  Increase speed to medium and beat for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. 


To assemble the cake:

Remove the cooled cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment paper.  Level the tops of the cakes with a sharp knife or cake leveler.

Place one layer of cake on a cake plate.  Top with just enough frosting to spread it about 1/4 inch thick.  Add the second layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Top with the third layer of cake, bottom side up so you have a smooth, crumb-free surface for the top.  Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting all over the top and sides of the cake, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.

When the crumb coat has set, finish frosting the cake, swirling as desired; there will probably be a little leftover frosting, which you can freeze for another project.

In a food processor, pulse the pecans and the salt until ground somewhat fine.  Press against the sides of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve, but let it come to room temperature for about an hour before serving;  refrigerate any leftovers.  The cake will stay moist and fresh for days, if refrigerated and covered. 

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen