Monday, April 23, 2012

Carrot Cake Battle, part 2 - Bunny Cake!

Bunny cakes!  Bunny cakes are part of my husband's family's Easter tradition.  However, they made theirs with banana bread on the inside.  When I entered the family equation I was totally fine with bunny cakes for Easter but thought they should be made of carrot cake instead.  I mean, bunnies are full of carrots, right?   And honestly, my husband's favorite cake is carrot cake, so why wouldn't I do BUNNY carrot cake??  Thus our family tradition is to have carrot cake at Easter time, most likely shaped like a bunny. 

Back to my tried and true most favorite carrot cake recipe ever.  It is Bill's Big Carrot Cake, by Dorie Greenspan.  Whenever I make this recipe I am again amazed at how delicious it truly is.  You might note that unlike the Confetti Cake Carrot Cake, this cake has more spices, coconut, and raisins inside.

Let's get baking!

First whisk together your dry ingredients in one bowl, and mix the carrot, walnuts, coconut, and raisins in another.  Here is a safety tip for you:  Though you might think it is a good idea to grate the carrots with a box grater instead of lugging out your food processor and grater blade, don't do it!  I had this grand idea to grate them all by hand and all was going along swimmingly until I got to the last inch of each carrot.  Then it gets very precarious and if you aren't SUPER careful, you will grate away a chunk of your finger with the carrots.  OUCH!  Not only is this painful, but now you have a contamination issue because there is FINGER in your carrots!  YUCKY!  After a good bandage on my finger, throwing out a bunch of grated carrots (thankfully I had moved some aside just previous to my incident so I didn't lose TOO much), and throwing the box grater in the dishwasher, I got out the food processor.  Learn from my mistakes!  Does anyone a solution as to how to grate that last inch or so of carrot?  Because that food processor doesn't really get it either... they just spin around and around and don't get grated!  Please share your ideas with me!

Next beat together the sugar and oil until smooth, and add the eggs, one at a time.  Once the batter is really smooth, slowly add the flour mixture, beating only until the dry ingredients disappear.  Gently mix in the carrot mixture. 

Now the tricky part is to divide the batter EQUALLY into 3 cake pans.  To do this, I weigh the mixing bowl filled with batter.  (I already know the weight of the bowl when empty.  If you don't, measure this BEFORE you start your baking process!!)  
Bowl full - bowl empty = weight of batter.  
Weight of batter/3 = weight of batter for each pan (let's call this LAYER)
Bowl full - LAYER = weight of bowl after 1st pan is filled
subtract LAYER again = weight of bowl after 2nd pan is filled
subtract LAYER again = bowl empty
This sounds way more confusing than it really is. 

All right, cakes, buckle your seat-belts and get ready for a ride into the oven!  The belts around my cake pans are made to help the cakes rise evenly, avoiding the dome-top.  I find this to be helpful with cakes I plan to layer.  You may also note that I am supposed to have 3 cakes now.  I only  have 2 of these 9 inch cake pans, so I cooked my cakes in batches.  These two went in first, then once they were out, I rinsed a pan in cold water, dried it, and loaded it up with the last batch of batter.

Mmmm, a nice golden carrot cake.  Moist and SO delicious.

I did not make the following icing for the bunny cakes, but I DID make it for the Carrot Mini-Cakes.

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 4 or 5)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola or safflower oil
4 large eggs

For the Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (3¾ cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup shredded coconut

Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut, for topping

Getting ready: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Butter and flour three 9x2-inch round cake pans.  Place two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut and raisins. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, and continue to mix until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix in the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the three pans.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to pull away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes.  Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

To make the frosting:
Working with the stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy.  Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice. If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop out about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this portion.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or cover generously with plain frosting.) Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake top side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting (or more plain frosting.) Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top— and the sides, if you want— of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now, while the frosting is soft.

Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.
Printable recipe

I decided not to do the Cream Cheese Frosting above and do a Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting instead.  This recipe is from Confetti Cakes for Kids.  This is a Swiss Meringue Buttercream in which cream cheese is added.  What could be better??
Before you start a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you must wipe down all of your utensils with lemon juice or vinegar.  Any tiny trace of oil will not work!

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Place your mixing bowl over a bowl of simmering water.  Get out a candy thermometer and clip it to the side of your bowl.  Whisk like the devil until all of the sugar crystals are dissolved and the mixture is at 160F.  If you don't have a candy thermometer, stick your finger in the mixture and rub your thumb and finger together to see if you feel any sugar granules.  There should be none.  

Wipe off the condensation from the side of your mixing bowl and set it on your mixer, fitted with the whip attachment.  Beat on high speed until the mixture forms a stiff meringue.  This is the most delicious tasting meringue ever.  Go ahead and stick your finger in there and give it a taste!  Next you will add the cubed butter, a few cubes at a time, then the vanilla, and finally 8 oz. of cream cheese.  

Cream Cheese Buttercream
adapted from Confetti Cakes for Kids (my adaptations in italic, in parentheses)
2 3/4 c plus 3 TB granulated sugar (2 c. only)
1 1/4 c (10 oz.) egg whites
2 1/2 c (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1/4 c. plus 2 TB vanilla extract (2 TB)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened

In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the sugar and egg whites.  Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Whisking constantly, heat the mixture until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, 160F.  Wipe the condensation from the bottom of the bowl and place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whip attachment.  Beat on high speed until the mixture forms a stiff meringue and the bottom of the bowl comes to room temperature, about 10 minutes.  Replace the whip attachment with the paddle attachment and slowly add 5 sticks of unsalted butter, a few small cubes at a time.  When all of the butter is incorporated, add 2 TB vanilla extract and 8 oz. softened cream cheese, and mix on low speed.  Once cream cheese is incorporated, bring to medium speed again until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  If the mixture starts to look curdled, keep mixing on medium speed.  It will work itself out.  If the mixture is too runny, put it in the refrigerator until cool.  Take 1/3 of the cooled mixture out and warm it slightly in the microwave.  Place the remaining buttercream back in the mixer and whip on medium speed.  Add the warmed buttercream and beat until creamy.

You can use this buttercream immediately, store it in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, or refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 10 days.  

Now we are ready to assemble the bunny cakes!

1.  Take one 9 inch round and cut it in half.  Put a layer of buttercream on one side and stack the cakes.
2.  Cut another 9 inch round in half and repeat step 1 with one more layer, making a 3 layer half circle.
3.  Cut a wedge off of the front of the circle.  The point on the big piece (near the number 3 on the photo) will become the nose of the bunny.
4.  Cut the tip off of the small wedge and place it on the back of the big piece.  Here is your tail!  It is such fun, you might get an audience like I did!  This is my friend's little cherub.  He was very excited to watch the transformation of cake into bunny!

5.  Ice the entire cake.  At this point I kind of think you could make your bunny into a whale if you ever had a need for a whale cake!  However this is a bunny, so get out some coconut and gently press it to the sides of the cake.
6.  Make a face for your bunny.  I used blueberries for eyes and a dried cherry for the nose.  Then I cut ears out of white and pink paper and stuck them on the bunny's head!

Ta-da!  Bunny cake!  I recommend wrapping the cake layers tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerating them before icing the cake.  This cake is super moist so it is not as easy to sculpt as some cakes would be.  It would also probably help to refrigerate the entire cake before serving.  Just take it out and get it to room temperature again for best taste, but I think that would help the bunny stay together better.  This bunny kept trying to lay down and take a nap, as I made it and we ate it shortly thereafter.  But is it really a "problem" to have a cake that is TOO MOIST??  I have a hard time saying that is a problem!

Have fun!

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