Week 24: Belated Birthday Carrot Cake

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This week’s cake was something special. For 23 weeks, my number one cooking inspiration, and biggest cheerleader behind the project has watched the Sweet Sweet Love cakes progress from afar without tasting a single slice of anything. Ehn-ee-thing. Nada.

This person is my mom.

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To make up for lost time, I let her pick this week’s recipe. While my mom is my raison d’etre in the kitchen, her mom was the same for her and it’s no accident that I fell hard for food and cooking—I have my matriarchy to thank for that.

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Week 23’s cake is inspired by the massive carrot cake my grandma used to make for my mom’s birthday when she was a kid, and since I missed her birthday in March, this was the perfect cake to make for my homecoming weekend.

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I set out to find the perfect recipe (including crushed pineapple!) by perusing my mom’s collection of cookbooks. Despite her love of cooking, she has a very modest selection of cookbooks, reserving a limited number of spots for the very best, most useful or books that hold sentimental value. After a handful of fruitless flips, I reached for Nourishing Traditions a classic health-foodie book she’s held on to but doesn’t use much because of the laborious recipes. I should’ve took this as a red flag warning!

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However, the book contained the perfect recipe, one which my mom and I agreed was pretty close to what my grandma used to make for her. If you’ve been following along, you might have picked up that while I have a major sweet tooth, I generally prefer to write and prepare recipes that err on the healthier side—subbing out refined and processed ingredients for alternative whole foods and decorating with nuts and fruits.

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The Nourishing Traditions carrot cake is definitely one of those recipes, but that’s me and that’s how I like to bake and like I said, I come by my preferences honestly. My mom has her degree in dietetics and my grandma was making her own yogurt and kombucha before it was cool.

I have to let you in on a little, well BIG actually, secret. I am terrible at reading recipes. This weekend was one of those instances where I read the title, glanced at the ingredients list and deemed it the perfect recipe. Directions? Who cares about directions?

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Let me give you a little piece of advice I should be following myself, before you invest time in tracking down difficult ingredients and brand spankin’ new cake pans, read the recipe and directions in full. This will save you SO much time and prevent adding that extra two tablespoons of sugar reserved for the frosting into the cake as well as unnecessary trips to multiple grocery stores.

This week, I did not head my own advice, and when I went to make the cake (several hours before serving) I finally read the first line of the recipe, “Add the flour, yogurt and cream. Set out bowl covered with cloth for 24 hours to ferment.” Oops.

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Needless to say, I made a 45 degree shift and found this recipe from epicurious and I read it in full before starting. For the frosting, I still made the recipe from Nourishing Traditions with honey as the sweetener.

The cake yielded a delicious delicate crumb full moisture from the carrots and pineapple. I ended up riffing, and one and a halving the recipe as well as tossing in a handful of toasted pecans for added texture. By one and a halving the ingredients, I was able to add one more layer to the cake, which resulted in your classic bakery cabinet triple layer carrot cake. I also used vanilla bean paste, rather than extract for a beautiful speckled cream cheese frosting.

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To top it off, and make it rather fancy, I cut little triangles out of carrots and snipped some thyme from the garden for the green tops. If you ask my mom, I’m sure she’d agree that this was a cake worth waiting for.

Final Thoughts on My Mom’s Belated Birthday Carrot Cake:

  • Read the recipe.
  • Read the recipe.
  • Read the recipe.
  • Repeat lines 1-3.
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