Saturday, March 23, 2013

PRIZE-WINNING CLASSIC CARROT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING


Cheri Eby of Gunnison, Colorado, entered this yummy, moist cake in a Colorado Outfitters Association dessert contest and it took first prize.  After I made it, I agreed with the judges' decision.  This is the best classic carrot cake I've made yet, and my taste testers all raved.  Whether it was Cheri's recipe or my tweaks or a little of both, I can't say, but I do know I'll be making it again.

My changes:  I grated the carrots very fine using a coarse microplane grater.  It was hard to detect any traces of carrot in the cake because they were so well integrated, and I and my taste testers liked that.  I used 12 oz. cream cheese instead of 16.

This carrot cake doesn't have much salt in it, but it does have extra sugar.  Normally, I would decrease the sugar, but I decided to follow the recipe and I'm glad I did.  Carrot cakes are so easy to make because you barely mix the ingredients together.  In fact, if you over mix, the cake will fall or be tough, just like muffins and pancakes.  You don't even need to get your mixer out.  The best way to make a carrot cake is by hand, using a whisk and spatula.  This is a dessert that's welcome year round, easily made in a 9 x 13 pan and mixed by hand.  You can't beat that for convenience and ease.

Prize-Winning Classic Carrot Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home February/March 2008
Rating:  10 out of 10
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CAKE:
1 (8 oz.) can unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsps. baking soda
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. table salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar)
2 cups peeled carrots, grated using coarse microplane grater
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (1/2 cup for cake, 1/4 cup for garnish)

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease a 13x9x2" baking pan.  Line pan with parchment cut to fit.  Drain pineapple, reserving 2 Tbsps. juice for cake.  Discard remaining juice or save for another use.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and buttermilk.  Stir in reserved 2 Tbsps. juice and carrots and 1/2 cup nuts with spatula or spoon, then stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients lightly, mixing till just barely combined.  Do not over mix.  Pour into pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes or till toothpick inserted near center returns clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto towel-lined wire rack and peel off parchment.  Cool thoroughly, then return cake to cooled pan before frosting.

FROSTING:
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar and beat till again smooth.  Continue to add sugar gradually, beating well after each addition.  Spread frosting over cake top.  Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup nuts sprinkled over frosting.  Yield:  12 servings



Friday, March 22, 2013

COCONUT CAKE WITH COCONUT FRENCH BUTTERCREAM FROSTING


What could be more Southern than coconut cake?  This is my own recipe and it's rich and filling, so two 8" layers go a long way.  Expect to serve 12-14 with this moist, tender and tight-crumbed cake that resembles poundcake. 

The French buttercream frosting is silky smooth and ultra rich.  If you've never heard of French buttercream, it's a vintage recipe, and it's not hard to make.  Back in the 60's we used to make it with shortening, and we called it "mock whipped cream frosting," but it's so much better made with butter.  Some people call it "custard frosting," because you make a pudding first, then beat it into the whipped butter/sugar mixture. 

Everyone has their own idea of what coconut cake should be.  Actually, I like them all, and I'm throwing mine in the ring as another option.  A perfect Easter dessert....I'm just sayin'
.



Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut French Buttercream Frosting
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
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COCONUT FRENCH BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt or table salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup superfine sugar*
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut flavoring**
2 tsp. coconut-flavored rum or regular rum
1/4 cup cold heavy whipping cream (optional)

*You can make superfine sugar by pulsing in food processor.  Measure sugar after it is pulsed to superfine, not before.
**The amount of coconut flavoring will vary according to manufacturer.  I used coconut flavoring from Spices, etc., recommended by Martha Stewart and Cook's Illustrated for its natural taste.  If you use a different brand, use less flavoring and taste your batter to determine if you need more.  With coconut flavoring, less is more.

Combine flour, salt and milk in small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly till mixture boils and thickens.  Set aside to cool.

In bowl of stand mixer, beat sugar and butter on high till light and fluffy.  Gradually add flavorings and cold flour-milk mixture, beating till frosting stands in stiff peaks.  If desired, beat in heavy cream at end, mixing only till combined.  (Do not add cream until frosting is thoroughly whipped, and do not overbeat the cream once added.)  Refrigerate until cake is cooled, but let it stand at room temperature until softened before frosting the cake. 

Yield:  enough to thinly frost two 8" layers.  If you like thick frosting, you should double the recipe.

COCONUT CAKE:
3 cups White Lily*** all-purpose flour, whisked, then spooned lightly and leveled
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, soft
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
2 cups superfine sugar* (See note above about superfine sugar.)
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. coconut flavoring** (See note above on coconut flavoring.)
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice)
2 Tbsp. coconut-flavored rum or regular rum
2 Tbsp. coconut water or lite coconut milk
1-1/2 to 2 cups sweetened coconut flakes, pulsed in food processor in batches till finely grated

***If you live in an area where White Lily flour is unavailable, you can use any low-protein flour or cake flour.

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour two 8-inch round pans and line each with a parchment round cut to fit the bottom.  Sift flour and baking powder onto a sheet of wax paper. 

Beat butter, salt and sugar on medium speed of stand mixer till creamy and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating till yellow disappears after each addition.  Add flavorings with last egg.  On low speed, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk and beginning and ending with flour.  Beat just till blended, being careful not to over mix.  Divide batter evenly between pans.  Bake 24-27 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn cakes out onto towel-lined racks to cool completely.  Remove parchment to hasten cooling. 

When cool, baste or spritz tops of cake with the rum and coconut water combined.  Frost with room temperature Coconut French Buttercream Frosting.  Sprinkle coconut over top and sides of cake.  Yield:  12-14 servings



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CREAMY, LOW-FAT ROASTED ASPARAGUS-FENNEL SOUP


I'm hoping the New Bern Farmer's Market will have asparagus and fennel sometime soon.  Fresh, local produce is always the best, IMHO.  But, even with grocery-store veggies, this soup has quickly become my fave.  Roasting the veggies intensifies flavors.  Using cashews instead of heavy cream or butter produces a smooth, almost silky, soup with a rich and creamy taste.  The fat in cashews is "good fat," unlike heavy cream or butter which is "bad fat."  You might consider serving this soup for Easter dinner.  Me?  I'm having it whenever I can get asparagus and fennel.

Easy Roasted Asparagus-Fennel Soup
Source:  The Bear Cupboard
Rating:  10 out of 10
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1 lb. fresh asparagus, rinsed, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, rinsed, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup whole, raw, unsalted cashews
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Morton kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2-3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
Shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish
Additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Heat oven to 400F.  In 9 x 13 pan, combine asparagus, fennel, garlic, cashews, oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. white pepper.  Roast 20-30 minutes, till veggies are soft and aromatic.  Remove from oven and puree in batches in a food processor or blender till very smooth, or place veggies in a 2-3 quart pot and puree with an immersion blender.  Slowly add broth while whisking or stirring; heat to almost boiling on medium heat; cover pot, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes (or longer) to blend flavors.  Add additional broth if thinner consistency is desired.  Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if desired, but remember that the Parmesan will add more salt.  Serve hot in bowls and garnish with shaved or grated high-quality Parmesan cheese.  Yield:  4 servings

TIPS:  
If you have saved Parmesan rinds, throw them in the pot when you add the broth, and discard them before serving.  

Shave Parmesan easily by using a vegetable peeler.

Cooking for one or two?  No problem, this soup freezes beautifully, sans garnish, of course.

No fennel?  No problem.  Substitute onion.