Jordan: There’s a restaurant near my apartment that sells a four-layer carrot cake with roughly equal parts cake and frosting. It is monstrous and beautiful and impossible to eat in one sitting. My boyfriend and I once split a slice and still almost couldn’t finish it. He picked some up the other day and while it was perfectly fine, all it did was leave me with a craving for better carrot cake. Something not so painfully sweet, and with ALL the things in it.
Kitra: And I, like most people (I hope) will never say no to a chance to eat carrot cake. Or have my house smell like carrot cake. Or have it in my fridge for breakfast. Or dinner.
Carrot cake is one of those cakes that can go in a lot of different directions. Fancy layer cake? Casual sheet cake? Dinner while you type a blog post? Carrot cake has got your back.
The thing is, everyone has a different idea of what it is. Dense or fluffy? Nuts or none? Raisins? How many spices?
Is it just a vessel for cream cheese frosting? Should you actually be able to see the carrots or is this just a spice cake pretending to be healthy?
This is our version of carrot cake. Enough carrots that what you pour into the pan looks more like a carrot slurry than a batter. Walnuts because the cake needs some crunch to break up the density.
Also, raisins! Raisins belong in everything. Those people who complain about raisins being in oatmeal cookies or trail mix because “I thought it was a chocolate chip”? They are wrong.
Chocolate chips ruin the whole vibe of trail mix. I have never been disappointed that something was a raisin and not chocolate. I have been disappointed that it was chocolate.
Point is: if you like a light, fluffy, delicate carrot cake, this is not for you. If you like a chunky, dense, vaguely earthy carrot cake, read on.
Jordan: This is a coffee cake, which means you can eat it for breakfast. It also uses a pound of butter, so you probably shouldn’t, but that’s not going to stop us.
Kitra: I eat ice cream for breakfast about 40% of the time, so this seems perfectly reasonable.
That’s sad and we’re not going to comment on it.
I mean, that percentage is lower in the winter. I eat a lot of Girl Scout Cookies for breakfast instead.
So if you’re looking for a cake that is better for you than Kitra’s usual breakfast fare but still feels like a comforting plate of carbs and chocolate, you’ve come to the right place!
If there’s one thing we know, it’s how to provide you with healthy breakfast options.
This is supposed to be a coffee cake (that’s cake to have with coffee, not cake made with coffee) mashed up with a loaf of chocolate babka. Call it babka-inspired: It has chocolate filling and swirly layers, but no one is going to mistake it for the real thing.
And that’s fine, because it’s “breakfast” and mostly chocolate. This cake is moist and pretty, so what’s not to love.
We both brought leftovers to work (it’s a LOT of cake) and both sets of coworkers demolished it, which is the sign of a successful cake in our book.
I’ve long been a supporter of Valentine’s Day, even—or especially—for people who aren’t in a relationship. We as a society put so much emphasis on ~romance~ and finding “The One” and the idea that if you’re not coupled up, you’re somehow less than a full person. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. There are SO MANY WAYS to be a person and only some of them involve finding a single partner, falling in love with them, and spending the rest of your life together.
I suggested cupcakes this week because I think Valentine’s Day should be about all kinds of love. Love for your friends. Love for your family. Love for your cheerful next-door neighbor and for your coworker who shares memes with you on bad days and for your dog. (Just don’t give your dog cupcakes.)
When we were growing up, for Valentine’s Day the THING in our house was to make candy to bring to school and share with your friends/teachers/whoever you wanted. And as the sister who has been single for literally every Valentine’s Day of her life, that’s my primary association with the day.
(Except that I tend to forget about actual Valentine’s Day, because February 14th is also the day that Oregon became a state and I’m very pumped about that every year. Happy Birthday Oregon!)
To me—and, I suspect, to Kitra too—there aren’t many better ways to show you care than by making something. I loved making handmade Valentines in elementary school, and when I was in college I would send Kitra Valentine’s Day care packages covered in stickers and filled with silly things.
And I love making cookies shaped like Oregon, and a banner… shaped like Oregon. But also yes, bringing food for my friends and laughing at whatever Jordan came up with that year.
These cupcakes are made to be shared, both because it’s Valentine’s Day and it’s nice to share things, but also because they’re delicious. We made this almond cake as a sheet cake back in the pre-blog days, and it’s just as good in a smaller form.
And because we love a good themed decoration, we added raspberries for taste and color. Even though nothing says love like sprinkles—the glitter of the food world—we went with crushed raspberries stenciled into hearts on top because hot damn it’s cute. And tasty.
The frosting is an almond buttercream, and it all works very well together. Make these cupcakes for whoever you love this week, or any week.
[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake for Valentine’s Day 2018.]
Jordan: This cake was delicious. Kitra also broke a chair taking pictures of it.
Kitra: I forgot that a screw was loose and wanted to get this cake from all the angles because it’s. just. so. pretty.
When we were in New York to see a musical a while back (Come From Away, go see it, it’s amazing), we stopped by Kalustyan’s to browse the truly absurd amount of spices, herbs, and miscellaneous flavorings they have there.
We picked up a couple of things, but the first one to see use was the black currant juice powder, because it is truly the most remarkable color and tastes great.
Plus it’s the king of berries!
Or so they said. I buy it.
Literally. We bought it. And it was delicious—bright and fruity, and when folded into whipped cream made a delightful replacement for the heavy buttercream you might expect from a Valentine’s Day cake.
While we’d hoped it would stay hot pink in the cream, it turned into a lovely shade of purple and we’re not mad about it.
We paired it here with a vanilla buttermilk cake, which was moist and dense in the best senses of both of those words.
When we looked back to write this post, the first though both of us had was “my coworkers loved this cake,” so it’s clearly also a crowd-pleaser. Which is good, because this makes a lot of cake.
You could easily scale down the recipe and do this as a single layer cake with a thick layer of frosting and it would be a great afternoon snack… But if you make the full thing, we don’t think your coworkers will mind.
Kitra: 2018 happened. It’s over. We’re moving on with cake.
Specifically, a lucky cake. Poppy seeds are considered lucky in Hungary, especially around New Year’s.
And when we briefly lived there, the holidays were marked by a Black Friday-esque battle for oranges at the grocery store.
Imagine, if you will, dozens of middle-aged eastern Europeans, swarming the aisles of Tesco to fill their carts to the brim with boxes and bags of oranges. We’re not exaggerating here; people would buy literal cartloads.
Every person you passed in the store had nothing but oranges in their cart.
To this day, all of my Googling has been unable to come up with an explanation for this surreal phenomenon. We’ll blame it on the Soviet Union, just like all of the rest of Hungary’s idiosyncrasies.
So we paired a documented Hungarian tradition with one we’re only mostly sure we didn’t dream.
Here’s hoping this cake brings you a bright, lucky, and only mildly perplexing 2019.
We also did some other things since we last posted!
While we may revisit some of these in later posts, we’ll share the links here now as a belated Christmas/Hanukkah gift to you and an apology for being gone so long.
Spiced Brown Sugar Pound Cake | We’ve had this bookmarked since it first went up on Shutterbean more than a year ago and recommend that you don’t wait nearly as long as we did to make it. It’s from Julia Turshen’s Feed the Resistance and it’s truly excellent.
Olive Oil Cake with Farmer’s Cheese Filling | We made this, as Alice Medrich suggests, as a Hanukkah cake but it was delicious and would be welcome all year round. We swapped farmer’s cheese for the creme fraiche in the filling, but suspect it would be great either way.
Kitra: Election Cakes are part of the largely forgotten American tradition of bribing people to participate in democracy. First it was politicians offering free booze outside of polling locations, then the country turned to cake. Women made massive batches of election cake and offered them as incentives to come to vote. And we’re not the only ones who did this. In Australia, it’s still a common practice to serve “democracy sausages” outside of polling sites.
Jordan: Kitra vaguely remembered that one of the early presidents once won an election by providing free booze at the polls. Turns out it was George Washington, who lost his first election in Virginia but won the second by spending his entire campaign budget on alcohol.
Speaking of presidents, our election cake inspiration came from an 1887 White House cookbook full of poison antidotes and cake recipes that seem to be missing most of their ingredients and all of their directions.
The full recipe for Election Cake:
Three cups milk, two cups sugar, one cup yeast; stir to a batter, and let stand over night; in the morning add two cups sugar, two cups butter, three eggs, half a nutmeg, one tablespoonful cinnamon, one pound raisins, a gill of brandy.
Brown sugar is much better than white for this kind of cake, and it is improved by dissolving a half-teaspoonful of soda in a tablespoonful of milk in the morning. It should stand in the greased pans and rise some time until quite light before baking.
That’s it. That’s the entire recipe.
Notice, no flour.
Four cups of sugar.
ONE CUP OF YEAST. YEAST!
How long does it bake for? What kind of pan? No one knows!
So obviously we had to make it. And also a safety cake with flour, instructions, and a very reasonable amount of yeast.
To reconstruct this cake, we started by assuming that it was wrong. Four cups of sugar and no flour sounded like a disaster, but two cups of flour and two of sugar might work. We decided that the first mention of sugar must have been a mistake and swapped it for flour. We also reduced the yeast significantly. We cut it in half to account for using active dry yeast rather than fresh yeast, then again for the advances in yeast effectiveness that have probably happened since 1887, then reduced it a bit more for good measure.
I just thought it should be a living buzoozle of yeast.
That felt like a bad idea. Also like a cup of yeast would be kind of expensive.
I wasn’t thinking a cup, but like, maybe a ¼ cup.
The actual process for this was pretty concerning. It turns out that adding a very liquidy batter, raisins, and brandy to creamed butter and sugar gives you… very liquidy butter and sugar with raisins and brandy. So we added a little bit of flour, threw it in the oven, and crossed our fingers.
You don’t need to butter this cake. This cake is ALL. BUTTER. My immediate reaction upon turning it out was “So greasy…”
In fact, testing it with a toothpick was very concerning because even though the cake still felt quite soft, the toothpick came out with nothing but butter on it.
A selection of our reactions to this cake upon trying it:
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s like we invented baked oatmeal, but without the oats.”
“It’s like we already made french toast out of the other cake.”
“This is bread pudding.”
And honestly? It’s not bad. It’s pretty good actually, just… not election cake.
It has potential, though. We’ll revisit it next time there’s an election. Until then, here’s a recipe that actually works… and, if you want it, our variation on the 1887 cake. We recommend you make the former.