Carrot Cake With Walnuts
I adapted this recipe from "Larry Rosenberg's Carrot Cake" in The Martha Stewart Cookbook. Larry's version is delicious but I wanted to experiment a bit with the spices. I added allspice to the dough and replaced the vanilla in the icing with cardamom and lemongrass. I first made this cake for a group of Italian friends thinking that I could introduce them to something new and convince them that "American" food is better than they thought. When they tried it, though, they all seemed to be familiar with carrot cake. So, is carrot cake NOT American? I had it up there with bagels & lox, clam chowder and southern barbecue. Am I wrong? The Italians liked it enough to ask for the recipe. Here it is:
Ingredients for cake:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice (or a combination of any of the following: powdered nutmeg, clove, and ginger)
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs beaten
2 cups grated carrots
Ingredients for icing:
8 ounces softened cream cheese
½ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks softened unsalted butter
2 tsp whole cardamom pods
1 tsp dried lemongrass (or try ground ginger or, of course, vanilla extract)
½ cup finely chopped walnuts plus optional walnut halves or marzipan carrots.
TO MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 375F. Cover 2 round cake pans with a thin layer of butter and then dust with flour and shake out the excess. The pans should be 8 inches and 6 inches in diameter, respectively. Line the bottom of each with parchment paper.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar, oil, and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in the grated carrots. Add the sifted dry ingredients from the medium sized bowl and stir to just barely mix. Overmixing might make the cake tough.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and place them in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350F. Bake for 30 minutes or until cakes are done in the center. This time it took me 40 minutes, so keep checking. (Place a toothpick into the center of the cake, pull it out and if it is clean, no bits of cake clinging to it, the cake is done.) Let cakes cool on wire racks before removing them from the pans.
TO MAKE THE ICING: Crush the cardamom pods and extract the seeds. Grind them to a fine powder along with the lemongrass in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Ideally, combine all icing ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at a low speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat at high speed for 5 minutes more. (I do not have an electric mixer so I just beat the icing with a wooden spoon until my arm ached and I was out of breath, about 30 seconds. The result was not as smooth but what can you do?) Music to beat icing by: The Best of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Their childlike yet very stripped down proto-punk rock sounds will energize you while you beat the crap out of that icing.
Spread the icing smoothly over the top and sides of each layer cake. There is enough icing to coat the cakes with 2 layer s of icing. Do the first, called a “crumb layer” due to all the stray crumbs that can still be visible in it, then place cakes in the fridge or freezer for a couple of minutes until icing is hard. Then proceed with the second layer. This will look smoother and more attractive. Press the chopped nuts into the sides. Stack the layers. You may want to decorate the top with, say, marzipan carrots or walnut halves.