February 03, 2012

It's a Carrot Cake Day!

Sitting here, tightly wrapped into the blanket, holding fifth enormous cup of hot tea and leaning on my radiator the only thing that I really want now is to forget how horribly cold it is outside. How the cheeks start hurting the very first second they are standing in front of the reality of the icing fresh air. How the fingertips painfully goes to sleep even hidden in the double mittens. How the tears uncontrollably start running after a few glances at the white snow snoozing on the side of the street, but not crunching anymore - it's simply to cold. Or how this freezing twinge gets into the mind and occupies all the space taking away even the smallest enjoyment from the everyday life.

But let's try to forget that for a minute or two. Let's concentrate on something else. On carrots, for example, since today is a Carrot Cake Day. Did you know that?

carrot cake

Carrots seem to be a very old foodstuff enjoyed by the barefoot ancient people, by their barbarian counterparts, by pretty mademoiselles from medieval times and from then on - by us now. However, in a very early use they were grown more for their aromatic leaves and seeds than for their roots, which, in fact, till the mid-16th century were only purple or white. The more familiar variety of orange vegetables was created by Dutch growers as a tribute to William I, Prince of Orange, and since then we all somehow want our carrots to look that way.

We've become married to the colors we associate with particular foods. We eat with our eyes, to some extent. Philipp W. Simon

If it's got clearer about the color, than it's still not that clear about the carrot cake. Today, in world full of experiments, border-crossings, extravaganza and boundless creativity, erupting everywhere where's possible, there is no surprise to see various vegetables being incorporated into the desserts. Or the desserts being created out of the vegetables. The generations before us though were not like that. Food for those people was the subsistence rather that a work of art, and the carrot cake got its shape not because somebody wanted to experiment by putting a nicely orange root into the dessert, but because this nicely looking vegetable was the sweetest among the others. Sugar and other sweeteners at that time were scarce and expensive, so to satisfy all the sweet-toothed ones alternatives were needed. Carrots suited perfectly: they could be grated, boiled, roasted, mashed, and eventually even canned. For this flexibility and perfect sweet taste carrots were started to be used in the pies, puddings and cakes. That's how we got into today's carrot cake era.

carrot cake w/ marshmallow frosting2

For this Carrot Cake day I have a slightly different than usual recipe. It doesn't have flour, but has a lot of hazelnuts, whereas the common cream cheese frosting is replaced with marshmallow filling. I did not use a lot of sugar, because I was genuinely following that notion, discovered couple of centuries ago, about the natural sweetness of the carrots. Besides, the marshmallow filling was also supposed to add fair contribution to the sugary taste, and actually the final result was a perfect balance of sweetness.

For the nut part I was using hazelnuts, but they can be successfully substituted with almonds, cashews or even walnuts (they may end up giving nipping bitterness).  Due to not having flour the cake turns out to be very moist, soft and quite difficult to cut into the half in order to spread the filling (I had a pretty troublesome experience). Just make sure it's baked through and completely cooled down, but if you want some guarantees of success you may like to add a couple of tablespoons of whole wheat flour (actually, any kind of flour) into the batter. Or, you may omit the filling and stick to the cream cheese frosting. Or, omit the filling, omit the frosting, and stay with plain carrot cake, which is absolutely beautiful just the way it is.

carrot cake w/ marshmallow frosting3

Flourless Carrot Cake with Marshmallow Filling
adapted from The New York Times

1 1/2 cup (160 g) hazelnuts
2 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp grated lemon zest
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated carrots (5-6 big carrots)
1/2 cup marshmallow filling (for home made - recipe below)

Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Let them cool and then take out the skin by rubbing between hands.
Heat the oven to 350 F (150 C). Line a 9-inch springform pant with parchment and lightly oil it.
Combine the hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in a food processor. Blend until the nuts are finely ground. Add the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest, and pulse together.
Beat the eggs until thick. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and forms a ribbon when lifted from the bowl with a spatula. Beat in the vanilla. Add the hazelnut mixture and the carrots in three alternating additions, and slowly beat or fold in each time.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Place in the oven, and bake one hour until firm to the touch. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool completely on a rack.
Take out from the baking pan, and remove the parchment. Carefully, with a big long knife cut the cake into the half. Spread the marshmallow filling on one of the parts and top with the another.
If the cake is not eaten up right away, it should be kept it in the refrigerator.

Marshmallow Filling
makes about 2 cups

2 Tbsp gelatin powder
2/3 cup (236 ml) water
1 cup (200 g) sugar
2/3 cup (220 ml) corn syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Melt the gelatin over 1/3 cup of the water. Place the sugar and the remaining water in a pot and heat until it is warm to the touch. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm syrup and stir until fully melted.
Pour the gelatin syrup mixture into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and begin beating at high speed. Continue for about 20 minutes, until the mixture cools down, almost doubles in volume, turns pale white and forms soft peaks.
That's your marshmallow filling. Use it right away or keep it in the refrigerator.

carrot cake w/ marshmallow frosting4