Shilpa of Aayi’s Recipes is continually making me envious by her beautiful parade of cakes, and no wonder: she has a keen interest in cakes and cake-decorating, and has greatly expanded her talents by studying the subject hands-on with local masters. Despite her self-criticism of the final outcomes, she manages to astound me- and the rest of her readers- with her exquisite attention to detail and gorgeous design. Each time I view the latest one, I find myself wide-eyed in disbelief that she has just begun this hobby!
Let me be honest with all of you: I have never attempted to develop any skills with complicated frosting/icing work; instead, I seem to prefer finding myself in awe at weddings, birthdays, and other occasions when one of these beauties stands before me- silent and breath-taking to behold- and for now, that’s fine with me! I’m far more interested in churning out edible ladoos and burfis to tell you the truth… So, you’ll have to excuse this little attempt with its rather messy frosting, and slightly-off-center arrangement of nuts…
This is a beet cake. Apparantly, any recipe for carrot cake can be made with beets instead (is it just me or are there other people contemplating gajar halvah at the moment?), and I do find myself wondering if turnips, rutabagas and radishes would work as well- maybe not. What I do know is that for several years I have been searching for the perfect carrot cake recipe: one that would recall the good old days before the low-fat revolution of the 1980’s took place, one that is like the many slices that I’ve purchased and didn’t regret spending $3-4 dollars on, one that is sinfully-rich, moist, and flavourful, one that screams out: “chilly nights are upon us in Wisconsin”, “mulled cider or wine is in order”, and “tonight would be a great night to sit near the burning hearth”… But really, despite these very subjective images that I tend to connect to a fork-ful, this cake is enjoyable at at any time of the year, and in any weather. And thus far, this particular recipe is the best I’ve found, and yes…I would pay $3.50 for a slice!
I have changed a few things with the original recipe. Mostly the spicing. (I also reserve the nuts for the filling and exterior and I greatly-disliked the icing recipe that accompanied the original cake recipe and thus found a much better one elsewhere to use). There are some of you that dislike cinnamon-flavoured sweets, but I assure you: if I am able to acquire a taste for cinnamon-infused savories, then it stands to reason that… well….what can I say? I played with the original author/creator’s spicing, so you can too! (But Pel is still thinking that his formula beats all others!)
Beet or Carrot Cake
(inspired by this one from Burt Wolf’s Menu Cookbook)
3 1/2-4 C shreds of peeled beets or carrots
1 C brown sugar, firmly-packed
1 C ghee (hee-hee… ghee makes this cake most decadent with a rich, browned-butter flavour, but vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, peanut) is the more usual choice. Don’t reduce it: this is divided by at least 20 slices of cake- so splurge a little!)
1 t vanilla extract
3 1/2 t ground cinnamon (I use a mix of true/Ceylon and cassia/Chinese cinnamon)
2 T chopped crystallized/candied”stem” ginger
1/4 t ground cardamom
1/8 t ground cloves
1/16 t ground nutmeg or mace
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 C raisins, soaked in hot water for awhile and then chopped*
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour/maida (I suppose half-ata would be just fine)
1 1/2 C raw walnuts, pecans or hickory-nuts halves (I used pecans this time, but walnuts are most traditional)
ghee/oil for roasting nuts and greasing pan(s)
Icing-frosting (recipe below)
0)Pre-heat oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line the bottoms of 2 8″-9″ round cake-pans, or one 9″ spring-form pan with parchment-paper (use the bottom of the pan as a guide and cut to fit). Grease the top of the paper as well. I’ve tried it without the use of the paper: the cake tends to stick!
1)Roast the nuts in ghee/oil over med-low flame, stirring constantly until nicely-roasted and fragrant. Remove and drain. Reserve intact halves for decorating. Coarsely-chop the remainder for filling.
2)Mix the beet or carrot shreds with the sugar in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
3)Add the ghee and mix well.
4)Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
5)Add the vanilla, spices, baking soda and powder and mix thoroughly. Add the raisins.
6)Add the flour in four parts, mixing just well-enough between each to blend. I try not to exceed 100 strokes of the spoon total.
7)Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (about 30 minutes for two 9″ pans, or 40-45 minutes for one 9″). Place on a rack and allow to cool completely.
8)Meanwhile, prepare the cream-cheese frosting/icing:
1/2 C butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 pound of confectioner’s/powdered sugar (plus more if needed)
A)Cream (beat well until fluffy and pale) the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla; add sugar little-by-little until stiff enough to hold a peak. (If you add too much, a sprinkle of milk will cure it)
9)Remove the cake(s) from the pan(s) and paper. If you baked a single, thick cake: carefully remove it from the pan and paper; slice it horozontally in half to form two layers/rounds.
10)Place one layer on a cake plate. Spread about 1/3 of the icing over the top. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over this and gently press them into the icing.
11)Place the second layer over the first. Press this layer gently, but firmly atop the other. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the surface with the remaining nut-halves.
12)Chill for a few hours if you wish (I prefer it chilled), slice and serve with hot tea or coffee.
*I’ve also seen and eaten cakes that contain fresh/canned pineapple and/or coconut- very good. Other dried fruits might be nice too- instead of raisins- like apricots, prunes, etc.)
**P.S. Today is my birthday. I’m really quite old now… I would like to extend warm gratitude to my dear friend, June, for not only allowing me to photograph parts of her kitchen, but for the wonderful time I had at a dinner recently had there.)