Please excuse the rather plain cake plate for serving; I do believe that Mom deserves the frilliest, prettiest of cake stands, but for fear of losing it all in transport, I had to err on the side of (dowdy) sensibleness.
Now with the holiday season in (almost) full swing, one might be expect to find me knee-deep in mistletoe and ornaments. And while those baubles have a place in the house these days, there are also cake pans laying about, a box of icing tips open and waiting, and some birthday candles at the ready.
Today is someone's birthday.
I am lucky enough to have both a Mum and a Mom. "Mum" is my own mother, a woman after whom I follow in many ways - our humour, our aesthetic, and our looks (though neither of us truly see it), are rather in sync. We have a shorthand version of communication, where I can simply describe a situation, often searching to find the right words, and even with those gaps she instinctively knows what I mean and how I would react; because, in truth, she'd most likely react the same way.
My "Mom" is my husband Sean's mother. Coming into my life when I was already headstrong and full of opinions, she is the person who has brought me a new perspective. With distinctly different backgrounds and experiences, it is because of our divergent styles that she has shown me new avenues to expand my horizons. For instance, I never knew how much I adored Depression Glass until I saw her charming collection, and she is now the one with whom I am happy to wander antique markets and country stores.
She is a quilter, whereas I come from a family of knitters; it has been her love of that art that has taught me to appreciate the details of a well-stitched piece, and the beauty in fabrics. It is with her that I have enjoyed conversations over a cup of tea, shared at a tiny table laid perfectly with china and silver and a tiered tray with filled with dainty sandwiches, delectable sweets and delicate scones with cream.
She was the one with whom I bought my earrings for my wedding day.
But most of all what Mom has brought into my life has been enthusiasm; whether it be for the seasons (she has a greener-than-green thumb), the holidays or her grandsons, Mom is one that is ready to embrace each one, with arms open wide. In truth, my celebratory efforts seem minimalist in comparison to hers, me with my clear lights and greenery, her with kaleidoscope of fantastic rainbow-hues and sparkles for days.
Today is her birthday, and in the midst of all the snow outside my window, a winter-white cake seemed apt. Four moist layers of warmly-spiced carrot cake sandwich luscious cream cheese frosting, crowned with a delicate circle of floral-ish decorations. Charmingly vintage, I do hope Mom will approve.
Have a wonderful day.
Mom's Birthday Carrot Cake
I originally came up with this variation on a recipe from Dorie Greenspan for our housewarming party. Mom had spoken fondly of a carrot cake from her childhood, and I was attempting to recreate it for her - happily, she said my efforts were a success. The use of both fresh and dried ginger adds another dimension of subtle, spicy heat.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups of grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
zest of half an orange, grated fine
1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup of dark or old-fashioned brown sugar
1 cup, plus two tablespoons canola oil
1 batch Cream Cheese Frosting from Ina Garten, I omit the almond extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Butter four 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Dust with flour, and tap out any excess. Set aside.
Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In another medium bowl, stir together the carrots, walnuts, coconut, fresh ginger and orange zest. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the oil and sugars. Beat, on medium high speed, for about five minutes or until the mixture is smooth and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula now and again.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture, blending just until all the flour is incorporated. With the mixer still on low, add the carrots and stir to combine.
Divide the batter evenly between the four prepared cake pans and bake until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely (turn the cakes right side up).
Smear a bit of frosting on the base of your cake plate or stand. Place one layer on the cake plate, then place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter, tucking the edges under the cake - this parchment will keep the cake plate neat.
Spread between 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of frosting over the cake (I never have measured, you are aiming for a thin, even layer), then place another cake on top. Repeat process with the next two layers and top with last remaining layer.
Spread top and sides of cake with thinly with frosting, forming what is called a crumb coat. It does not need to be perfect, but the cake should be completely covered so that crumbs will not migrate into the final coat. Chill for at 30 minutes or until the frosting is slightly firm to the touch.
Use the remaining frosting to coat the top and sides of the cake, as desired. Use a thin-bladed knife to score where the frosting meets the parchment paper to break the seal, and remove.
Makes one 8-inch cake.
• This cake is exceedingly tender, which is why I use multiple cake pans instead of splitting the layers. You could easily use two pans to make two layers, adjusting the cooking time accordingly.
• The Cream Cheese Frosting is very soft, and not the easiest to pipe. If it gets too warm, chill both the cake and frosting for about 10 minutes to firm up. Even with such measures, keep in mind that this is not the type of frosting that allows for a perfectly-smooth finish.