Admittedly, carrot cake isn’t something one normally associates with Paris. (Although if you want to see a Parisian go ecstatic, show them a block of Philadelphia cream cheese.) But when I had a slice of Barbra Austin’s carrot cake, I found myself polishing off the whole slice and begging for seconds. I met Barbra a few years back when she was shuttling back and forth between Paris and New York City, where she was baking professionally. I think I might have nudged her in the direction of making Paris her full-time home and I’m happy she’s here. Barbra blogs at BarbraAustin.com, updating readers about restaurants and bakeries, and is a terrific storyteller as well. So I asked her not only to share her recipe, but to provide this guest post. Merci, Barbra! -dl
If I had a FAQ page on my blog, “What brought you to Paris?” would surely be the first item. The problem is that I don’t yet have a clear answer.
I came to visit a couple of times in my 20s, and as a pastry cook I was surely inspired by Paris. But I didn’t start studying French until 2006, and my motivations for doing so, and for embarking on a two-month stay not long after that, remain shrouded in some mystery to me.
(Not the reasons themselves, but how I could have possibly thought they were sound – something best discussed with lots of wine at hand.)
That trip was a bit of a disaster, yet I decided to come back the following year. And with subsequent visits things started to get easier. I used to think it was because I had become familiar with the culture and customs, and because I had made strides with the language and come to understand the rules of etiquette.
While all of this was necessary (and highly recommended), it was not sufficient. There was a second part to all of these lessons that might be titled, “You aren’t French. Deal with it.”
Sure, there are people who move to Paris at the earliest opportunity because it is their own country that doesn’t fit them, who step off the plane with a perfect accent and well-tied foulard. But I am not one of them.
The small-batch, full-fat yogurts that my local fromager carries are delicious, but I will never be able to pronounce “yaourt”. While I appreciate Parisian style as much as the next girl, I still ride the métro in my gym clothes.
I have dated some French men but have had better luck, overall, with fellow Anglophones (keep it to yourselves, peanut gallery). I keep my windows open in the summer in spite of my neighbor’s grave and baffled disapproval. Though I have long been comfortable holding my fork in my left hand, I am still not entirely sure what to do with a fish knife. I love a good bistro meal, but I eat a burrito at El Nopal at least once a week.
Because here’s the thing: No matter where you go, there you are.
And so, when my birthday rolled around this year and I decided to have a party, it was not a moelleux or a biscuit or a dacquoise that sat in the center of the table, surrounded by a seriously good Ossau Iraty, delicate chèvre, crusty baguettes, saucisson, ham, figs, and no small amount of Champagne, but a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
This recipe is an adaptation of one in Gourmet’s Best Desserts, tinkered with by my dear friend and pastry chef Heather Miller and me when we were working together at a now long-defunct NYC restaurant called Washington Park. We were on a brown butter kick, and decided to try using it to replace some of the oil in the recipe. It worked.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
One 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) double layer cake
For the cake layers:
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (60ml) vegetable oil
- ¾ c (180ml) melted brown butter (or more oil)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (400g) sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- generous pinch each of nutmeg and cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups (13 ounces/375g) loosely packed grated carrots
- 1/2 cup (60g) raisins, preferably golden raisins (sultanas)
For the frosting:
1 pound (450g) cream cheese, at room temperature
4 oz (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 cups (240-360g) powdered sugar, sifted
a few drops of vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour two 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. To make the cake layers, sift together the flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. With a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the eggs until they are pale and frothy (they need not increase dramatically in volume). With the mixer running, drizzle in the oil and melted butter, then the vanilla.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the eggs and mix carefully until just combined. The paddle will accomplish this easily but if you only have a hand held mixer you may want to just do it by hand.
4. Fold in the carrots and raisins, then divide the batter between the two pans. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the surface springs back when gently touched. Cool the cakes completely before frosting.
5. To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar (do this on low speed to avoid a dust cloud) and mix until light and silky. Add the vanilla.
Serving and Storage: This cake is best served at room temperature but will keep for a few days stored in the refrigerator.
Related Posts and Links
How to Brown Butter (Simply Recipes)