Sunday, September 30, 2012

Breakfast for Two - Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame

In college, I studied two years of French to fill my foreign language requirement, and I think I picked French because of the movie Sabrina (the Harrison Ford version).  I loved the transformation she underwent while living in France, coming home and surprising everyone with her new look and experiences in Europe; although she really didn’t change that much, still being shy, awkward and a little unsure of herself.  I can relate to the awkwardness she felt, having spent most of my teen years and early 20s feeling like the ugly duckling who didn’t quite fit in, and being completely unsure of who I was or who I even wanted to be.

I imagined myself strolling along cobblestone streets, fashionably dressed with a perfectly tied scarf, eating pastry and cheese and wine every day, taking gorgeous black and white photos of the architecture, and writing the next great American novel, after which I would finally feel like I had found myself.

Surprisingly, though, I ended up finding myself in China; amidst the pollution and poverty, the politics I didn’t understand, the lunches of chicken feet, silk worms, turtle soup and rice instead of beautiful little French pastries, the humid summers, the breeze carrying the scent of salty seaweed and fish off the ocean, and the bone-chilling winters, I found a part of myself I didn’t know existed.

My French teacher was an odd little man with many strange quirks.  For example, he would ask a question while looking at one student, and then at the last second switch his eyes to someone else, taking that person by surprise, who was left fumbling for the right answer.  He would appear very calm and pleasant, but then suddenly fly off the handle if someone dared to yawn in class.  I’m sorry, but in college, every second of every day it was a struggle to stay awake, between work, classes and late-night studying.  Yawning in class is unavoidable.  I learned to discreetly hide my yawns behind my hand under the pretense of scratching my nose.

I didn’t quite reach an intermediate mastery of French, although I should have after two years.  But I remember that I would sometimes dream in French, strange, too-much-studying-and-working-induced dreams, and in my dreams, I spoke and understood the language flawlessly.  Living in China, I also dreamed in Chinese.  I tend to have odd dreams in general, though – the other day I dreamed that a friend of mine had a secret basement that was accessed through a hidden door in her washing machine, and they were into some sort of shady business down there.  The next night, I dreamed I ordered a sandwich for lunch, and the employee who made my sandwich took a bite out of it before handing it to me, like it was no big deal.

My teacher used to tell us about eating Croque Monsieur when he visited Paris, and while it sounded completely exotic to me at the time, I realize now that it’s just a fancier version of a grilled cheese sandwich.  Although there are many possible variations, with smoked salmon or chicken, tomatoes, and various types of cheeses, a Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, typically made with Gruyere cheese, and topped with a Béchamel sauce.  When a Croque Monsieur is served with a fried or poached egg on top, it’s known as a Croque Madame.

Of course I had to make one with the egg.  There are few things more satisfying than breaking the yolk of a perfectly cooked egg and watching it cover everything like a creamy cheese sauce.

I wasn’t able to find any Gruyere cheese, except for a ridiculously overpriced bag of shredded cheese for fondue, so I bought a tiny little package (very tiny, as in three dollars worth, since it cost over $20 a pound!) of another soft cheese with bits of black truffle.  Some shaved ham from the deli counter.

Béchamel sauce isn’t something I make too often, since it’s typically a heavy, fattening sauce made of butter, flour, cream and milk, seasoned with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.  But a little bit goes a long way, and not much was needed for this sandwich.  I made ours with skim milk and a little half ‘n’ half instead of cream, and it was thick and delicious, just like a white Southern gravy (without the sausage), that you want to smother on some hot, steaming biscuits.

A little cracked pepper over the egg was all it needed for garnish, and we ate our sandwiches for breakfast on Sunday morning.  Maybe someday I’ll get to enjoy one in a little French café with a perfectly brewed cup of espresso…

Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame
printable recipe

  • 4 slices bread
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced ham
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese (or your favorite cheese)
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk (or a combination of skim milk and half 'n' half), warmed
  • coarse salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • olive oil, for the griddle
  • 2 eggs (optional - w/o eggs, this sandwich is a Croque Monsieur; w/ eggs, it's a Croque Madame)

Place two slices of bread on a cutting board.  Sprinkle with half the grated cheese, then add the sliced ham, the rest of the cheese, and the other slices of bread.  Set aside.

To make the Bechamel Sauce, in a small, non-stick skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle the flour into the pan.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes to create a roue which will thicken the sauce.  Very slowly add the warm milk and/or cream, whisking to smooth out the sauce.  Continue to cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly.  Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.  Reduce heat to low, and set aside.

Preheat a griddle to 350.  Brush lightly with olive oil.  Grill the sandwiches until golden brown on one side.  After flipping the sandwiches, drop the whole eggs onto the griddle;  fry the eggs until the whites are set.

To assemble the sandwich, place the grilled sandwiches on plates.  Spoon the Bechamel sauce over the sandwiches and top with the fried egg.  Sprinkle with a little cracked black pepper and serve immediately.

Yields 2 sandwiches.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Orange Marmalade Muffins with Brown Sugar Streusel

Last weekend was one of the few weekends in several months that we were able to spend at home, with no obligations other than what we wanted to do.  Jamie planned to work on his car as much as possible, and I planned to try a few recipes, edit some photos, and do some reading.

So on that Saturday, which also happened to be the first day of fall, I put on a pot of coffee, simmered some apple cider with cinnamon and nutmeg on the stove to sip on later, and baked up a batch of muffins for breakfast.

The idea of mixing orange marmalade right into muffin batter as a substitute for some of the sugar just came to me one day, and I immediately started formulating the recipe in my mind until I had a chance to write it down.  I couldn't wait for the chance to try it out, and hoped my idea would taste as good as it sounded.

The orange marmalade muffins exceeded all my expectations - they were soft and slightly sweet, so moist, and with just a hint of orange.  A little orange extract would further enhance the flavor, but I just added some cinnamon to complement the orange marmalade.

A crunchy brown sugar and oat streusel topping was a delicious contrast to the soft muffin, and was just perfect for the first day of fall.

Later that morning, I sipped hot, spiced cider and my mind wandered to all the other fall baking I hope to be able to do in the next few months - I just love a quiet day at home...

Orange Marmalade Muffins with Brown Sugar Streusel
printable recipe

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
streusel topping:
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 375.  Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray, or line with 12 paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the orange marmalade, applesauce, oil, brown sugar, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until moistened.  Spoon batter into the cups, filling them 3/4 full.

In a small bowl, use a pastry cutter to blend the topping ingredients until coarse and crumbly.  Sprinkle topping over the batter and press down lightly with your fingers.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.  Serve warm, with orange marmalade on the side.

Yields 12 muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blueberry Strawberry Galettes for a Picnic in the Park...

I've been longing for a picnic outside all summer, but it was so hot out for so many months, that sitting outside in 95-degree heat for no other reason than to eat lunch on a blanket was unthinkable.  Labor Day weekend ended up being so beautiful, though, and with both of us having the day off work, I started planning the lunch I wanted us to take to the park.

Caprese sandwiches - soft wheat bread spread with olive oil and black pepper mayonnaise, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, and a little salt...  Perfection.  Cheese and grapes.  Wine, which we drank in little plastic cups.

And for dessert, individually-sized galettes, with a sweet juicy filling of blueberries and strawberries, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon.  This is the sort of pie you can pick up and eat with your hands, which is perfect for a picnic.

After we ate lunch, we relaxed on the blanket under the shade of a tree in Wash Park, while people strolled by with their dogs, or on bikes, and paddle boats floated past on the pond.

Warm from the wine, we ended up falling asleep, right there in the park...

Blueberry Strawberry Galettes
printable recipe
  • 1/2 recipe for Perfect All-Butter Pie Dough, divided into 4 equal portions
  • 6 ounces (1 cup) blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon course Turbinado sugar

Prepare the pie crust; on a lightly floured surface roll each portion into a circle, measuring approximately 8 inches in diameter.  Don't worry about getting them perfectly round - these are supposed to be rustic.  Cover the pie crust rounds with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Combine the blueberries, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally; increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until the filling thickens enough to coat a spoon.  Set aside to cool for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spoon 1/4 of the filling onto the center of one of the pie crust rounds.  Fold the edges up, overlapping the dough to create a rustic edge.  Repeat with the remaining crust and filling.  Place the galettes on the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water.  Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the crust, getting it in between all the folds, so that it sticks together and has a nice golden sheet after it bakes.  Sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Enjoy!

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Football Cake for Brooks' First Birthday

In my lineup of cake orders a few weekends ago, the third one I baked (although my first official order), was a cake for Baby Brooks.  Brooks turned one this month, and for his birthday party, his mom decided on a football theme, since it was also the weekend to kick off football season.

Instead of a typical sheet cake that looks like a football field, I suggested a tiered cake that I thought would be more unique, with kid-friendly cake flavors of chocolate and yellow, and topped with vanilla and chocolate frosting.

Not pictured, are some little cake ball truffles I made and shaped into footballs, dipped in chocolate, and piped with white chocolate to look like little footballs.  I should have made more of these - they disappeared in no time at the hands of the kids (and adults) at the party.

Adorable plastic football players and goal posts from Party City completed the cake.  Brooks is such a cute baby, and his teeny, tiny newborn photos are featured here, on Katie's photography blog.  Once he got a taste of the cake, he went to town on it, and the party ended with a little boy covered in green and brown frosting and ready for a bath!

Football Cake
printable recipe
  • three 8-inch layers of chocolate cake
  • two 6-inch layers of yellow cake
  • 3 - 3 1/3 cups vanilla buttercream, tinted grass green
  • 1 cup vanilla buttercream, white
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate buttercream
Assembly Steps:
  1. Level all of the cakes with a sharp knife or cake leveler, saving any scraps for another use.
  2. Place a 10-inch cake board on a lazy susan or turntable.  Place the first 8-inch layer of cake on the board, bottom side up.  Frost with a thin layer of the green buttercream.  Repeat with the 2nd and 3rd layers.
  3. Frost the bottom tier all over with green buttercream.
  4. Follow the instructions in a previous post for securing the bottom section of the cake with dowels, followed by a 6-inch cake board to support the top tier.  Be sure to poke a hole in the center of the 6-inch cake board.
  5. Place a 6-inch layer of cake on the cake board, bottom side up.  Frost with a thin layer of the chocolate buttercream.  Place the second 6-inch layer of cake on top.  Secure the cake with a long dowel down the center of the cake, through the hole in the cake board, all the way to the bottom.
  6. Frost the top tier all over with chocolate buttercream, taking care not to mix it with the green buttercream.
  7. Fill a piping bag with the white buttercream.  Fit the bag with a flat tip, Wilton #45.  Pipe lines, starting at the bottom of the top tier, over the side of the bottom tier, down to the bottom edge; these lines represent the lines of a football field.  I piped 11 lines, with two of them spaced wider apart than the other.  (Helpful Tip: use a toothpick to lightly mark the buttercream where you're going to pipe the lines, before you start.)
  8. Since the birthday boy was turning 1, I piped "#1" in the wider section, still using the flat tip.  Switch to a small round tip, Wilton #4.  Pipe the numbers of the field around the bottom of the cake, next to the corresponding lines.  For my cake, I piped them in this order:  Goal, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, Goal, and with "Endzone" piped in the larger section.
  9. On top of the cake, I used the same small round tip to pipe the "Happy Birthday" message.
  10. Pipe six footballs around the sides of the top tier.
  11. Switch to a medium open star tip, Wilton #32.  Pipe a border of stars around the edge of the top tier.
  12. Fill a piping bag with the rest of the green buttercream.  Fit the bag with a grass tip, Wilton #233.  Pipe grass all around the top of the bottom tier, and then at the bottom edge.
  13. Finish the cake with little plastic football players cake toppers!

Recipe and design from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies and Pumpkin Bread

It’s the first day of fall, and I love that it happened on a Saturday this year.  I drank my first caramel apple cider of the season the other day, and it tasted of all things fall.  We have cider leftover from cooking roast pork tenderloin with cinnamon apples and sweet potatoes spiced with cardamom for dinner last night, and I might simmer some of it on the stove with a cinnamon stick so the house smells amazing today.

I have orange marmalade muffins baking in the oven for breakfast, a partially-read book (Gone Girl) and three unread magazines on the coffee table (Better Homes and Gardens, Food and Wine and Martha Stewart), endless cups of hot coffee to be sipped and a whole weekend ahead with no obligations, which doesn’t happen very often.  Next weekend is going to be busy with cake orders, so I’m going to enjoy the quiet time today.

This fall is the third I’ve spent with Jamie, the second year of my blog, and the first for my new business.  Life is good and there’s so much to be happy about.

The leaves are starting to change color.  The season is short in Colorado, just two to three weeks, before all the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare.  We don’t get a lot of variety of color – orange and red aren’t as common – but lots of brilliant yellow, especially where the Aspen trees thrive.

A drive through the mountains would be so beautiful today.

While shopping for the week’s groceries last Monday, I saw a bin full of colorful mini pumpkins and gourds.  “Is it too early to decorate with these?” I asked Jamie, hopeful he might say, “Of course not!”  But it is, I know it is.  I get excited, just like a kid who makes their Christmas list in May, and then asks every day for the next seven months, when is Santa going to come?.

Pumpkin is always in high demand this month, so I make sure to have a couple cans stocked from last year, for instant pumpkin baking gratification when the urge strikes.  I shared a lot of pumpkin recipes last year, but there’s one that’s always worth repeating  – pumpkin bread.

My mom has always made the best pumpkin bread with chocolate chips, and it’s a recipe I’ve used over and over, with very little variation.  This week, I baked two loaves of pumpkin bread, but since I also wanted to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, I left the chocolate chips out of the bread this time, adding in some toasted pecans instead, and a little cream cheese icing on top.  The bread doesn’t really need cream cheese on top, especially if you make it with chocolate chips, but then again, no one really eats cream cheese out of necessity.  It’s just a fantastic ingredient.

The bread stayed moist and fresh all week, and the tangy cream cheese on top was the perfect complement to the fall spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

I couldn’t find my go-to pumpkin cookie recipe, so I simply used my standard chocolate chipcookie recipe, added a can of pumpkin, increased the flour and added spices, of course, and I think I like these even better than what I’ve made before.  They’re very soft and cakey, and the bittersweet chocolate chips I used were a nice contrast to the sweet cakey cookie.  There was enough of a difference between the two recipes that they didn’t seem repetitive of each other, and they disappeared quickly at work.

I hope you all have a lovely fall weekend!

For some other recipes to indulge your pumpkin cravings this season, here are a few I posted last fall:

And please visit the new page on here for “Bakery Orders”.  The page is a work in process, but provides some information on my new baking business!

Pumpkin Bread
printable recipe
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray two 9x5 loaf pans with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the pumpkin, sugar, oil, milk, eggs and vanilla until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  Add by spoonfuls to the mixing bowl, mixing on low to combine, then on medium speed for 1 minute.  Stir in the chocolate chips and/or pecans, if using them.

Divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake on the middle rack in the oven for 55-65 minutes, until the top is cracked and golden brown, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.  Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.

For the cream cheese icing (which I never use if I add chocolate chips, but this time I only added pecans to the batter), mix the following ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth, and spread over the top of the bread before slicing.  This makes a generous amount of icing, and can easily be halved and still yield enough for two loaves.

Cream Cheese Icing
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon clear butter-flavored extract
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

Yields 2 loaves

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
printable recipe
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2/3 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) chocolate chips

In the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.  Beat in the eggs, vanilla and pumpkin - mixture may appear curdled.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  With the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls, stirring just until moistened.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Mixture will be thick and sticky - if it's a little too thick, mix in a few tablespoons milk.  Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375.  Drop the dough by spoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on a greased baking sheet (I don't bake these on a silpat, since they tend to spread out too much).  For large cookies like mine, bake for 9-10 minutes, until they just begin to turn golden.  For small to medium cookies, bake for 7-8 minutes.

Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool before storing in an airtight container.  I like to store mine in tupperware while they're still warm - the steam helps to make them incredibly moist.  Another trick, if you find that your cookies tend to get dry and hard the next day (which I've never had happen with these) is to place a few slices of apple in the container - the cookies absorb the moisture from the apple and stay soft.  These are even better the second day!

Yields 4 dozen large cookies / 5-6 dozen small-medium cookies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Revisiting the East Coast, and Blackberry and Mint Iced Tea

The summers of my childhood were filled with days spent exploring the woods across the street from our house, riding bikes, roller skating on the back patio in those little adjustable skates that fit over tennis shoes, swimming in our little three-foot-high pool and trying to get my cats to participate in tea parties under the shade of the huge trees in our backyard.  The evening was for catching fireflies in the front yard, rolling down the hill between our house and our neighbor's until our clothes were covered in grass stains, and complaining about being sent to bed before it was completely dark out.

And growing up in the South, there was plenty of sweet tea.  We probably made a fresh gallon of sugary, lemon iced tea every single day in the summer.

When we sold our house in South Carolina to prepare to move to Colorado, we lived temporarily in an old, white house, which we refer to as "the white house".  The white house was divided into oddly proportioned sections to create five separate apartments.  We got a section on the first floor, leading onto the wide, wrap-around porch.  We lived there with infestations of mice and ants, and fortunately we weren't there for long, but I loved the dinners we shared on that porch at night.

Dinner was often a big salad with lots of vegetables, cubes of ham and cheese, gobs of ranch dressing and crumbled cheese crackers.  Slices of soft bread and butter.  And sweet tea, of course.

And when it rained, we'd eat dinner on the porch anyway, with the rain misting all around us.  Sometimes, the rain would cool the evening down, and sometimes, it would create a warm, humid steam which curled my hair up even more and made every bit of my skin sticky.

Last month, Jamie and I flew to Baltimore, MD for his cousin's wedding, and when we left the airport to head to our hotel, the humidity wrapped around me like a damp blanket.  I instantly recalled those summer days and nights of my childhood.

When we got home, I suddenly craved sweet tea, but instead of dissolving just sugar into tea, I used some of the blackberry syrup I made for Italian Cream Sodas.  With my cold glass of tea, sweetened from the blackberry syrup, fresh blackberries and mint, I sipped tea from the balcony in our condo, longing for the day when we have a house, and dreaming of a big, Southern wrap-around porch to relax on summer nights and warm early fall evenings...

Blackberry and Mint Iced Tea
printable recipe

  • 6 Lipton "cold brew" tea bags
  • 3/4 gallon cold water
  • 3/4 cup Blackberry Syrup (click for recipe in previous post)
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces fresh blackberries
  • handful of mint leaves
  • ice

Place the tea bags in a gallon pitcher and add water.  Let steep, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.  Remove the tea bags, pressing to extract as much flavor as possible.  Add the blackberry syrup, lemon juice, lemon slices, blackberries and mint, and fill the pitcher the rest of the way with ice.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour, to let the flavors infuse into the tea, then serve.

Yields 1 gallon.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

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

  • 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
  • 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