My friend Cole Escola had a birthday recently and to celebrate I decided to cook him and his friend Jeffery Self a birthday dinner. You may know Jeffery and Cole as stars of their own show on LOGO, “Jeffery & Cole Casserole.” To honor their show, I once made them a casserole; now, for his birthday, I decided to make Cole two more C dishes (ones that he requested): chiili & carrot cake.
Before we get to the food, though, I’d just like to point out that Cole has been posting a “Doodle A Day” to his blog and these food-related doodles of his made me smile:
Now, for the food. The chili? It came from Michael Symon’s new cookbook Live To Cook and it rocked our world:
It had pork shoulder, slab bacon, chiles in adobo, black eyed peas (hold the Fergie), and beer: tell me, could any chili recipe be better? It couldn’t I tell you, it couldn’t. But I can’t share the recipe here because I already gave you the recipe for Chef Symon’s tomato soup and if I keep sharing recipes from the book, you won’t buy it. So now you know what to ask for this Christmanukkah.
But let’s talk Carrot Cake, that’s the title of the post right?
After searching through all of my cookbooks, I made a discovery: most of my baking books don’t offer actual carrot cake recipes, just carrot cake CUPCAKE recipes. Yes, I mean you Martha Stewart and Karen DeMasco. What do you have against actual carrot cake? Why must you fall prey to this hideous cupcake trend? For shame!
No, for an actual carrot cake, I turned to the South and found exactly what I was looking for in one of my favorite cookbooks ever: The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock.
If you don’t know the story of Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock, take the time to read this remarkable article about them by Kim Severson, “Chicken on the Plate, Family on the Side.” Ms. Lewis, who’s since passed, was a Southern cooking legend; and her food still thrives in Mr. Peacock’s hands at one of my favorite Atlanta restaurants, Watershed. (You can see pictures of two meals there in this Atlanta post I did two year ago.)
Their recipe for carrot cake is wonderfully simple but tastes deliciously complex. Several flourishes–cocoa powder in the batter, peanut oil instead of vegetable oil, beating cold (not room temperature) butter and cream cheese for the frosting–make it unlike any carrot cake you’ve had before. And Cole, the birthday boy, was certainly pleased. On Twitter he Tweeted: “@amateurgourmet just made me a meal that’s making me wonder what else there is to live for now.” High praise indeed! Happy birthday, Cole.
Three Layer Carrot Cake
recipe by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock
For the cake–
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted after measuring
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 Tablespoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups peanut oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups finely grated carrots
1 1/2 cups not-too-finely chopped pecans
Three 9-inch cake pans, lightly buttered and floured [I used Pam and also a parchment paper round, which I also sprayed and floured, just to be safe]
For the frosting–
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
24 ounces cream cheese, chilled
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350.
Put the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cocoa in a mixing bowl and whisk together to blend.
Put the sugars in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the peanut oil.
Then whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla.
When fully blended, add the flour mixture all at once, and mix just until smooth. Stir in the grated carrots and the pecans.
Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans.
Drop each pan sharply onto the counter from a height of about 6 inches to remove any air pockets. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the center of the layers springs back gently when touched. [It took me more like 30 – 35 minutes; I figured it was better they were a little more cooked than undercooked, so the cake wouldn’t fall apart.]
Remove from the oven, and place on cooling racks until completely cooled, then unmold.
To make the frosting: Cut the butter into 2-inch pieces, and put in the mixing bowl of an electric mixture. Mix on medium speed just until the butter begins to become malleable, about 3 – 4 minutes. Add the cream cheese in pieces and mix until thoroughly blended. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, and mix until blended. Increase mixer speed slightly, and continue mixing for 2 – 3 minutes, until the frosting becomes light and fluffy. Remove from the mixer and fold in the pecans.
To assemble the cake: Place one of the cake layers, bottom side up, on a cake plate or pedestal. Spoon approximately a quarter of the frosting onto the layer, and spread it over evenly. Place a second layer, bottom side down, on top of the first, and spread with an equal amount of frosting. Place the final layer, bottom side down, on top of the others, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Store in a cool but not refrigerated area until serving.