Chunky Carrot Cake

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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.

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Chunky Carrot Cake

Adapted from Alton Brown

Notes

We made several big changes to this recipe. First, almost every carrot cake recipe needs more carrots. The compensate for the extra moisture, we swapped in a bit of whole wheat flour, a tip we stole from Stella Parks. Then we added in plenty of nuts and raisins. The extra volume was enough to fill a larger pan, which means we could have the sheet cake of our dreams.

The instructions below use a food processor, but it’s totally doable without. Just grate your carrots using the large holes of a cheese grater and whisk your ingredients very thoroughly in separate bowls before adding them to the main mix.

We used 8 ounces of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of whole wheat, but feel free to adjust the proportions to your liking. We think you could have done as much of half of the flour with whole wheat, or you could reduce the amount if you’re really not a fan. We also suspect it would be great with a higher proportion of brown sugar to white, if you’re up for experimenting.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb carrots, washed, stem ends cut off
  • 340g (about 2.75 cups) flour, a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoons allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 120g (1 cup) walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 100g (⅔ cup) raisins
  • 280g (1⅓ cups) white sugar
  • 55g (¼ cup, packed) brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 170g (¾ cup) plain yogurt (not Greek-style)
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350° and coat a 9”x13” pan with baking spray or butter and flour. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

Using the large holes of your food processor’s shredding blade, grate your carrots and transfer them to a large mixing bowl.

Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt to the bowl of the food processor and blend for about 5 seconds to mix. Add the flour mixture to the carrots and toss/stir to coat everything. Add the walnuts and raisins and toss/stir again.

Add the sugars, eggs, and yogurt to the food processor and blend to combine. With the processor running, slowly add the oil until everything is well-combined. Pour the liquid mixture over top of the carrot/flour mixture and stir to combine.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and even out the top with a spoon or spatula. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 325° and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges are golden.

Let cake cool completely in the pan before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Everyday

Notes

We like a less-sweet frosting, and Deb Perelman’s is definitely on the less sweet side. We also swapped in some plain yogurt in place of the milk/cream, which gave it even more of a tanginess. If you don’t have enough yogurt for that, feel free to use an equivalent amount of cream or whole milk.

Ingredients

  • 8oz (225g, or one block) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz, or ½ a stick) butter, softened
  • 160g (1⅓ cups) powdered sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until mostly smooth. Add the sifted powdered sugar and salt and beat until thick and smooth. Add yogurt and vanilla and continue beating until well-mixed and slightly fluffy.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

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Kitra: There are two dishes that define summer to me: ratatouille and this cake. What they have in common is that, like in most rural areas, where we grew up zucchini is both a gift and a curse. In trying to use it up as fast as it grows (impossible), people get crafty. Since this cake came into our lives, I’ve looked forward to zucchini season. And then “forgetting to clean up bits of grated zucchini and trying to scrape it off the counter weeks later” season.

I only have a hazy memory of where this cake came from. It’s on a printed ¼ sheet of computer paper, and in my head it came from someone at the school where our mom used to work.

Jordan: I had no idea, so we texted our mom to ask and she said “Somewhere in the back of my head I think someone at Riverside gave me the recipe, but I could be wrong.” At which point Kitra enthusiastically gave herself a high-five, then gave me a high-five.

Self-fiving didn’t work well enough, so I had to high-five the doubters.

Wherever it came from originally, it’s a great cake. It actually doesn’t use a ton of zucchini, but it has the benefit of being a great use for the infant-sized zucchinis we always had around, the ones that aren’t particularly nice to eat on their own.

You know, the ones that are better as weapons than as food.

In this case, the zucchini isn’t really noticeable but helps keep the cake nice and moist. This is a lightly chocolatey cake—light enough that even I, the person who doesn’t like chocolate cake and thinks chocolate chip cookies would be better without chocolate chips, enjoy it.

It’s a cake’s cake. Like a man’s man, but… a cake’s cake.

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Notes

The recipe calls for half a cup of chocolate chips, but you can use as much as you like. (Though we wouldn’t recommend omitting them.) Kitra doesn’t bother measuring and just adds handfuls until she finds it aesthetically pleasing. You want to shoot for at least one chocolate chip per bite, but not so many that they overwhelm the cake.

This cake keeps well at room temperature, so go ahead and eat it for breakfast. It’s got vegetables.

Ingredients

½ c milk
1 ½ tsp white vinegar (or lemon juice)
½ c (1 stick) butter, softened
½ c vegetable oil
1 ¾ c (350g) sugar
2 eggs
2 ½ c (300g) flour
¼ c (20g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
2c grated zucchini (about 240g or 8.5oz, from a 9-inch zucchini
½ c (110g) chocolate chips, or more as desired

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 pan.

Combine milk and vinegar in a bowl or liquid measuring cup and set aside to sour while you do the next step.

Cream butter, sugar, and oil together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and beat until the mixture is fluffy. Add sour milk and beat until creamy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and baking powder. If your cocoa is especially lumpy, you may want to run it through a sifter.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir gently until mostly combined; it’s alright if there’s still some white streaks at this stage. Fold in the zucchini until the batter is completely combined.

Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Scatter chocolate chips evenly across the top; feel free to add more chocolate chips if you like.

Bake 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out free of batter. Let cool slightly before serving; eat warm or at room temperature.

Flag Cake

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Jordan: This week’s cake involved a lot of indecision. I wanted something fresh and fruity; Kitra… did not.

Kitra: It had been a long hard week and I want to eat my feelings, which is why I was thinking s’mores.

Which is fair. But I made the point that we could make s’mores cake any time, and opportunities for holiday-themed cakes only come around every so often.

Hey, flag cake was my suggestion. Nothing says USA like a sheet cake the size of a toddler.

I wanted red-white-and-blue cheesecake, which we could also make any time. I guess I just didn’t want s’mores cake. It’s 90 degrees outside and I want fruit, so sue me.

I think we missed an opportunity to toast marshmallows on my porch using nothing but the sun. Sky demon.

The sky demon will be here until October.

Fair point. So we made America a birthday cake. Even though she’s had a rough week month year always. Even bad people deserve birthday cakes.

Do they really?

No. But we deserve their cakes.

We made you a birthday cake, but you don’t get to eat it, you bitch.

#USAUSAUSA

Anyway, Kitra had made this cake before, and her recommendation held up. This is a good fluffy vanilla cake, nothing fancy. Cream cheese frosting. Fruit. All of the best things in life.

Any tips for making this?

The very tiny containers of berries you find at the farmer’s market are half-pints, not full pints. You can make it work, but you really need at least a pint and a half (3 cups) of raspberries for low-stress flag-making. Learn from my mistakes.

The original recipe recommends a tiny tea strainer to coat your berries in powdered sugar (insert Boston Tea Party joke here). Any tea strainer will do in a pinch. Ours was shaped like a duck.

Improvising: the American way.

Flag Cake

Flag Cake

Adapted, very slightly, from Smitten Kitchen. See Instagram for some behind-the-scenes shots.

Tips for making this:

  1. You can add more powdered sugar to the frosting if you like it sweeter; we prefer it less sweet, plus we only had two cups of powdered sugar left. The cake is fairly sweet, though, so a tangier frosting is good here.
  2. We used white raspberries for the stripes, but you can also use regular raspberries and coat them in powdered sugar, as we did for the blueberry stars. Alternately, if you have white raspberries, you can use them for the stars too and skip the powdered sugar altogether. If you use powdered sugar, dry your berries very thoroughly to ensure good color.
  3. If you don’t have cake flour, the original recipe suggests 2/3 cups (460 grams) all-purpose flour plus 1/3 cup (45 grams) cornstarch.

Ingredients

Cake
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
4 cups (465 grams) cake flour (see note)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml)

Frosting
8-ounce (225 gram) block cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick or 1/4 pound) butter, softened
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar

Decoration
Powdered sugar (see note)
1 cup blueberries
2-3 cups raspberries

Directions

Cake

Preheat oven to 350°. Line the bottom of a 9×13″ pan with parchment paper (or, if your pan is gross and rusty, line the entire thing) and coat lightly with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes), then add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and sift half over the butter-sugar-egg mixture. We combined these directly in a sifter, but unless you have a particularly large sifter, we recommend combining them in a bowl and then transferring them to a sifter or wire mesh sieve. Mix until just combined. Slowly add buttermilk and mix until combined, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and bake 40-50 minutes. When done, the cake should be golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out free of batter. Remove from oven and cool completely before decorating.

Frosting

While the cake is cooling, make your frosting. Using an electric beater, beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy and smooth, then mix in the vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until combined. As noted above, you can add more powdered sugar if your frosting is especially thin or you like a very sweet frosting.

Decorations

If you like, use a serrated knife to level the top of your cake a bit. This is really up to you; we leveled ours slightly, but the frosting will hide any unevenness unless your cake is very well-domed.

Once the cake is cool, spread frosting over the top and smooth it out. No need to be finicky here, as the berries will hide most imperfections.

Outline the blue square with blueberries; the edges should fall about halfway down the short side of the cake, and about a third of the way along the long side. Scatter a handful of blueberries in the center; these will be your stars. Using a tea strainer or small mesh strainer/sifter, dust the center blueberries with powdered sugar. Fill in the rest of the square with plain blueberries.

An accurate flag cake would have 13 stripes, but as long as you start and end with a red stripe, no one will care. (That means you’ll have one more red stripe than you do white stripes.) If you’re going to powder your raspberries, lay down the white stripes first, coat them in powdered sugar, and then fill in the unpowdered berries. (Smitten Kitchen recommends just eyeballing the space you’ll need to leave for the red stripes, but we found that a few lightly placed raspberries were easy to remove without damaging the cake if needed.) If you’re using white raspberries, it’s easiest to start with the red stripes at the top and bottom and then go from there. If you bought enough berries to start with, you can go at it freestyle; we had a shortage so carefully spaced the berries out, but this is not the recommended route. Again: learn from our mistakes.