I just took my Carrot Cake out of the oven, and the air is richly perfumed with cinnamon and so many memories of birthdays past.
I first made this perennial favorite for my oldest daughter's first birthday.
I can't recall why; perhaps I thought that the pureed carrots made it appropriate for a toddler? Certainly I tend to think of it as a wholesome cake. It is a dense, moist cake, too. You never have to worry about it slumping or tasting dry; it is sturdy and reliable, and it lasts for days . . . assuming there aren't more than two parents plus a birthday girl to eat it. (If you've got a crowd, I have found that people tend to be greedy. Don't count on left-overs!) I make this cake at least once every year; if I don't make it, people get a bit plaintive.
Although I rarely look at our old photo albums, today I indulged in a fit of nostalgia. So much has changed, but my girl still has the same cheeky grin -- albeit, toothier.
Last night I couldn't sleep, and I started thinking about the night 15 years before when I lay awake all night with mild contractions. I remember feeling ready to get on with it: I wanted to meet my girl.
I remember being vaguely aware that nothing but would ever be the same again.
My daughter was born at 2:18 pm on June 17 in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, England after what I like to describe as "inadvertent natural labor." Named after both grandmothers, she was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. My first impression on meeting her was that she looked just like her father! That similarity is more than skin-deep; she is smart and strong-willed, also like her father.
She walked early, talked early, read early . . . and now she is anxious to grow up and assert her independence in other ways. This year has been one of enormous physical and emotional change, and sometimes it is hard for me to keep up.
I suppose that is why I am grateful for these small rituals, these paper-chains of continuity between the past and the present.
Carrot Cake: at my birthday girl's request.
Berta’s Carrot Cake
(from The New Basics Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins)
2 cups all-purpose or plain flour (if weighed in ounces, it will be approx. 12 oz)
2 cups granulated sugar (16 oz)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup (8 oz) corn oil
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots (approximately 10 2/3 oz)
1 cup (8 oz) chopped walnuts
1 cup (8 oz) moist sweetened coconut
¾ cup crushed pineapple, drained (approximately 6 oz)
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Line two 9 inch cake tins with waxed paper and grease the sides.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla, and beat well. Then fold in the carrots, walnuts, coconut and pineapple. (I use my Kitchen Aid mixer for all of these steps; run it on low for the last step and scrape the sides well.)
Divide the batter between the two tins and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. The cake will need approximately an hour to cook through. The edges will pull away from the sides of the tin and a toothpick will come out clean when it is ready.
Cool the cakes in the tin for 10 minutes, and then invert them onto a baking rack and let completely cool before frosting.
This cake tastes really delicious and wholesome without frosting, but for a birthday cake you are going to need great creamy gobs of cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups (approximately 18 oz) confectioners/icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon
Cream the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and well-incorporated.
Slowly sift in the icing sugar, and continue beating until smooth (no lumps!). Stir in the vanilla and lemon juice. Adjust the sugar for thickness. It needs to be fairly thick or it will slide off the cake!
You may want to garnish the cake with finely chopped walnuts and/or grated coconut. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.