Fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frosting

My dad’s 50th birthday was on Friday. I emailed him to ask what his favorite cake was.

His helpful response: “I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

Given free reign like that, I decided to do something a little different. Something he’d never order in a restaurant or ask for someone to make him, but that would still knock his socks off.

I also wanted to make something summery because of his late August, dog days of summer birthday. S’mores cake? Eh, I’ve made it in cupcake form before and wanted to try something new. Chocolate-orange? Nah, that seems like more of a cold weather one to me. I thumbed through All Cakes Considered for ideas. I hemmed. I hawed. I pondered.

Eventually I got stuck on my favorite thing about summer: figs. The rest came together pretty quickly after that. A fluffy white cake with a fig jam in the middle. A light, whipped honey meringue buttercream on top. Not too heavy, but certainly tooth-achingly sweet. Good for the kids.

But I wanted to slightly temper the sugar rush for the adults. Something herby. Which of course led to my favorite fig accompaniment, thyme. It’s piney, but not too piney like rosemary sometimes is. It doesn’t overpower the delicate honey flavor in the frosting, but it does effectively counter the sweetness while adding a little flair of its own.

Of course, the best part of this flavor combo is that I can say that I made my dad a fig-tieth birthday cake, on account of him being alive for a long thyme.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry!

I cut plain slices for my niece and nephew, then said to my dad, sister, and brother: “I didn’t think the kids would like this, but if you’d like I can put some fresh thyme over your piece of cake.”

Sister: “What’s thyme?”
Brother: “That sounds really weird. But usually when you try to get me to eat something weird, it’s good, so okay.”
Father: “If you say so.”

I sprinkled a few leaves over each piece of cake. I could tell they didn’t trust me one bit.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingThen they tasted it. “I can’t believe that’s… actually really good.” Well gee, thanks for trusting my judgement, folks. But I knew I had a winner when my sister and dad both took tiny slivers for seconds, and chose to add thyme to them completely of their own volition.

My dad knows I post my recipes on the internet. He saw me taking my photos and figured (correctly) that they were for a post. He said, “People aren’t going to think that’s good when they read the recipe. It’s too weird. They’re not going to realize how good it tastes and they won’t make it.”

It’s not that weird. Prove him wrong.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingFig and Thyme White Cake with Whipped Honey Frosting
Adapted from Whipped Cream Cake by Melissa Gray in All Cakes Considered and Brown Sugar Meringue Buttercream from Sky High Cakes as posted on Completely Delicious

Serves 10 to 12

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
9.6 ounces (about 19 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into chunks

Garnish:
scant 1/2 cup fig jam, at room temperature
fresh thyme leaves, stripped from woody stalks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8-inch pans, then line with a parchment paper circle. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, beat eggs until thick and pale yellow. Set both aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Add beaten eggs and beat again until fully integrated and foamy. Add sugar and extracts and beat again for about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until barely combined — there should still be some visible flour. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients the rest of the way to avoid over mixing.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, removing when a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven heats unevenly, swap positions of the two layers about 10 minutes into the baking time.

Place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then flip out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.

For the frosting, there’s a little bit of timing involved in making this all work. Start by combining the water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Do not yet put it over the heat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Put sugar solution over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer. Book without stirring until it reaches 238 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Turn the mixer with the egg whites back on medium speed. Carefully pour the hot (seriously, really really hot, be careful) sugar mixture in a thin stream into the egg whites. Try not to hit the beater or the side of the bowl.

Once the sugar syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is down to room temperature (touch the side of the bowl to check). This will take several minutes.

With the mixture still running, add the butter cubes a few tablespoons full at a time. Once all the butter has been added, continue to beat until smooth. The mixture may start to look curdled at one point, especially if your butter was a little too cold or too warm. Just let the mixer keep running and it will work itself out. Once the frosting is smooth, creamy, and light you’re good to go.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. I’m no expert cake decorator by a long-shot, but the best tip I can give for tidier looking cakes is to line the plate with strips of parchment paper tucked under the cake before you frost it. Try this! It really helps your cake look better to not have frosting smeared all over the plate.

Spread the fig jam evenly over the first layer. Then using an offset spatula, spread a small layer of frosting on top of the fig jam. Go almost all the way to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, then frost the top and sides to coat.

Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top of the cake, then serve.

Guinness-chocolate cupcakes with Baileys-whiskey buttercream, that we are not calling “Blankish blank blank cupcakes”

So y’all, I’m gonna be real. Those drinks with Guinness, Baileys and Irish whiskey? You know, the ones that taste like a chocolate milkshake when they go down as long as you chug it before it curdles? And all of the cutesy baked goods that are inspired by those flavors? You know what I’m talking about, right?

That name has got to go.

Naming a cocktail with a crass joke about terrorism? Not cute.

I’m not saying that nobody should ever be allowed to make crass jokes by way of cocktail names. You’re allowed to. But I think that if you’re going to order something like that, you should know you’re making a statement. The statement being, “I’m a bit of a dick.”

Maybe I’m being too generous, but I think a lot of people order this drink or make these cupcakes and don’t even think about what the name means. Someone who doesn’t know anything about the Troubles in Ireland might not realize that they are ordering what, in different circumstances, might be a “9/11 flaming Twin Towers”. Even if you like dark humor, it’s generally not something you inflict on (drunk) strangers.

I’m of the opinion that if someone tells you something is offensive to them, you should believe them and not think they’re just “being overly sensitive.” And plenty of people have said that the name of this cocktail is offensive.

I also think that you should make an effort to not say the offensive thing around them, and reconsider saying it at all, especially around people you don’t know. And the internet is full of people you don’t know.

Yeah, it’s a “bomb” style cocktail. Yeah, it’s made with ingredients from Ireland. But there really has to be something better to call it.

Now, I’m not so sure about the cocktail. But thanks to a commenter from this awesome thread about boozy desserts on The Hairpin, there’s definitely a better name for the cupcakes: Finnegans Cakes! Irish and filled with booze, just like the cupcakes.

Finnegans cakes

So make these for St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow. Both are ostensibly Irish, but actually an American construct entirely. Perfect!

Finnegans cakes

Finnegans Cakes
Adapted from Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes by Smitten Kitchen

Makes 24 cupcakes

Cupcakes:
1 cup Guinness
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Frosting:
5-6 cups confections sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Baileys
1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Line 2 muffin pans with 24 paper liners and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium pot over medium heat, bring Guinness and butter to a simmer. Whisk in cocoa powder until lump-free. Set aside to cool briefly.

In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt until combined.

In the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together eggs and sour cream until combined. Add Guinness mixture and beat again briefly until combined. Then pour in dry ingredients and beat again briefly — there should still be some white streaks left. Fold together the rest of the way with a spatula until fully combined.

Divide evenly into muffin tins — each cavity should be 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. Pop in the oven and bake for about 17 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. (Swap positions and rotate halfway through if your oven heats unevenly.)

Let cool briefly in tins. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

The plain cupcakes can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for a couple of weeks, as long as they are in airtight containers. Or, once they’ve completely cooled… frost them!

With your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the butter until very light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar about 1/4 cup at a time, whipping well in between each addition. Once the frosting is very thick and no longer incorporating, add the Baileys and Irish whiskey and whip again until combined and fluffy. If needed, add a little more powdered sugar to bring to desired texture.

Put into a piping bag with a tip of your choice, or just spread the frosting on with a knife. (If you don’t pipe, you’ll probably have some frosting leftover.)

The obsession continues with s’mores cupcakes

s'mores cupcakes

My ongoing obsession with s’mores-flavored-things-that-aren’t-s’mores continues with these delightful cupcakes. I used this as an excuse to buy a culinary blowtorch, which was very fun to use. (Tip: that particular torch is used with butane canisters that are usually used with camping stoves, which can be found cheaply at hardware stores or, apparently, Asian markets.)

Toasting the marshmallow frosting is a really nice aesthetic touch, but I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference as far as the taste, so you’d be fine without if you’re not an impulse buyer like I am. If you decide to go for it, be careful when you’re toasting them — it’s easy to set those cupcake liners on fire. But I’m definitely not speaking from experience, no way, no how. I definitely did not ever-so-slightly singe the edges of any of those liners.

s'mores cupcakes

The plain cupcakes can be made ahead of time and stored in airtight containers overnight, and probably a little longer in the fridge. The ganache can also be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge.

However, from what I’ve read that this frosting doesn’t take well to being stored. It makes far more than is needed for these cupcakes, so I’ve had it in my fridge. I’ve been eating it on my failed attempt at the All the Colors of the Rainbow (Chip) Cake, and it seems to have stood up just fine. You can take your chances if you want, but it is fairly quick to whip up so you might want to do it when you need it.

A funny thing about this marshmallow frosting… it doesn’t actually contain any marshmallows, or even marshmallow fluff. My friend Emily loves the smell of a freshly opened container of marshmallow fluff (yeah, I know…), and she kept asking if she could come over and sniff when I was made this frosting. Smelling freshly cracked egg whites just isn’t the same, I suppose. Anyway, the lack of marshmallows means this recipe is vegetarian without having to drop mad dough on those yummy-but-pricey vegan ‘mallows.

S’mores Cupcakes
Chopped and screwed from Graham Cracker Cake from All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray and Fluffy White Icing-Marshmallow Frosting by Cake Duchess

Makes 24 cupcakes

Cake:
25 graham crackers
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Ganache:
8 ounces chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk according to preference)
1 cup heavy cream

Frosting:
1 cup sugar
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/3 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Position your rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.

Turn your graham crackers into crumbs in your food processor. Add coconut and pulverize until everything is pulverized and integrated.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed until smooth. Add sugar gradually and beat until fully blended, scraping down the sides as needed.

Add two of the egg yolks, beat for one minute, add the other two, then beat for an additional minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, then beat for one minute more.

Reduce the speed to low, and add graham cracker crumbs and milk in three batches, stirring to combine between each addition — about 1 heaping cup of crumbs and 1/3 cup of milk for each batch. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then stir again briefly to make sure the batter is fully blended.

If you only have one bowl for your stand mixer, transfer this batter to a large bowl and wash and dry your mixing bowl. If you have an extra, well bully for you.

Add egg whites to clean mixing bowl and attach your whisk attachment to the mixer. Beat on medium speed until frothy, then add cream of tartar. Increase speed to medium high and beat until the egg whites have firm peaks.

Add about a quarter of the egg whites to your bowl of graham batter, and fold in gently until combined. Then fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide batter evenly among your 24 cupcake liners, and toss them in the oven. If your oven is not big enough to put them side by side, you’ll have to be extra careful about swapping them halfway through your cooking time.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in pans for ten minutes, then remove from pans and cool fully on a wire rack.

Then, ganache darnit (sorry), get that chocolate and cream out! Put the chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl. Add cream to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom, until it just starts to boil. You’ll just have the tiniest bubbles starting to form at the edges. Pour your hot cream over the chocolate chips and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Stir carefully until melted chocolate combines with the cream to create a dreamy creamy chocolate sauce. Cover and let chill in the fridge until it firms up to a consistency like soft fudge.

While your ganache is chilling, cut holes into the top of your cooled cupcakes — a bit bigger than an inch in diameter, and until you’re about a half inch away from the bottom of the cupcake. I use a small paring knife.

Once your ganache is chilled, add it to a piping bag with a large round tip (or a zip top bag and snip the corner off until you have a large tip). Put the tip all the way to the bottom of the hole in each cupcake. Squeeze and slowly raise to fill the hole completely with ganache. I like to fill them until each cupcake starts to bulge a little bit. It’s fine if your ganache is not completely level with the top of the cupcake.

Once you’ve filled all the cupcakes, it’s frosting time!

Put your egg whites in the bowl of the stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Stir on medium low speed until your whites become frothy and thick and form soft peaks.

While your egg whites are whipping, combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat without stirring. Boil until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 245 degrees — you’ll have a thick clear syrup that is covered with bubbles. Do not let it turn brown! Remove from heat.

Try to time your egg whites so they are are ready when the sugar comes off. Turn the mixer to high speed, set a timer for 7 minutes, then very carefully pour the sugar syrup into the mixer in a very thin stream. Once you’ve poured all of the sugar syrup in, sit back and don’t touch!

In the last minute of stirring, add the vanilla.

Now you have a fluffy white frosting. Taste it. Doesn’t it taste just like marshmallows??

Add to a piping bag with a large round tip. Be gentle with it so you don’t deflate it. Starting in the middle of each cupcake, right on top of the ganache, squeeze a blob of frosting out that is about the size of a mini marshmallow (maybe a big mini marshmallow…). Now squeeze out little matching blobs all around the one in the middle until you’ve covered the top of the cupcake.

Now for the fun part! With a small flame, gently torch the top of each cupcake until the frosting is browned to your liking. For some people this means golden brown, but for those of you who are in the “char it to hell” camp, go nuts.

If you’re making these to bring somewhere but still want to taste them before you go, add some of those cake cores to a bowl. Heat up the leftover ganache for 15 seconds or so in the microwave, and drizzle over the cake. Then glop a big spoonful of frosting on top. Yum. You might want to eat it with a fork, though.

All the Colors of the Rainbow (Chip) Cake

So, my friend Liz loves rainbow chip cake.

all the colors of the rainbow (chip) cakeLiz is one of my best friends, and the list of things I wouldn’t do for her is short. I recommended her for a job at my office, which she subsequently got hired for and of course excels at. I give her advice when she asks for it, and try very hard to shut up when it’s not wanted. I’m always willing to lend her money if needed, which is not something I do lightly. But one thing I cannot do for her is make a Betty Crocker box mix cake. Even for her birthday.

I just can’t.

This is not the first time I attempted to make her box-mix fantasy a from-scratch reality. A few years ago, I made her a Funfetti cake. Because she had told me her favorite cake was Funfetti. She kept going on and on about the “little balls” for the frosting. “That’s the best part!” Having always been more of a chocolate girl myself, I don’t have any childhood memories of Funfetti cake. I knew Funfetti was sprinkles, so I picked up a bottle of those jumbo rainbow nonpareils to sprinkle on top. Funfetti = sprinkles. “Little balls” = jumbo nonpareils, right?

So, I whipped up a basic white cake with rainbow jimmies mixed into the batter, and frosted it with a basic buttercream. I piped “friends love Liz” on the top in green icing (we had been re-watching Arrested Development around this time — “Take a look at banner, Michael!”). And topped the whole dang thing with those jumbo nonpareils. I even made a homemade cake topper re-enacting the time her cat got his head stuck in a jar! (It’s a long story, but the high point is my mister rolling over and groggily telling me to “go be a hero” at two o’clock in the morning when this occurred.)

Anyway, this cake was perfect! Just perfect! Except for two things: 1) Liz had said her favorite cake was Funfetti, which is the Pillsbury white cake with sprinkles. In fact, her favorite cake is Rainbow Chip, the Betty Crocker white cake with colored, soft candy chips mixed into both the batter and frosting. Those candy chips, I now know, are the “little balls” she kept going on about. 2) Before Liz had a chance to actually eat any, someone started a cake fight. Yeah. I was not enthused to scrape cake and frosting off of all the surfaces of my kitchen. But the silver lining was that Liz didn’t get to taste my completely wrong cake and demand that I never defile her precious “Funfetti” (read: Rainbow Chip) box mix with a homemade version again.

For my second chance, I was prepared. I was inspired by this post — homemade rainbow chips are clearly the only way this cake can work. But I can’t get behind seized chocolate. I knew Liz would be a stickler for texture. The chips in the frosting are supposed to be velvety soft and easy to bite into, a mouthfeel that regular white chocolate cannot provide. Enter modeling chocolate. A bit of work? Yes. Exactly what this recipe needs? Also yes.

If you have any trouble with the modeling chocolate portion, you should really just hop on over to Hungry Happenings. Beth has great step-by-step photos and troubleshooting tips. I’ll admit, on my first attempt at this, I had… a bit of trouble. It’s been pretty hot here lately, and my mister is very… frugal… so he doesn’t like to crank the A/C. So it was very hot in the kitchen when I attempted this, and I had the problem of the oil separating out of the cocoa butter. I kneaded and kneaded but it was just getting worse and worse, because it was So. Damn. Hot. I decided it was a lost cause, threw it in a container in the fridge to deal with later, and consoled myself with the fact that at least my hands were incredibly moisturized as a result of my failure. After a night in the fridge, my chocolatesque mess had hardened into a layer of solid cocoa butter on top of a layer of the rest of the stuff. I decided to see if it could be saved. I broke the cocoa butter into chunks and massaged it so it melted slowly, all the while kneading it back into the dough. It took a long time, but it worked eventually. The resulting modeling chocolate would probably not have been ideal for most modeling chocolate purposes, but for the rainbow chips it was workable. If you want to avoid the potential nightmare of making your own modeling chocolate, you can also buy it online. Then you just have to deal with the tediousness of making the chips from it!

In case you hadn’t figured this out already, this cake is a labor of love. Have a good podcast to listen to or something to watch on Netflix while you’re prepping all those rainbow chips, is all I’m saying.

Initially, I planned to use the homemade rainbow chips in both the frosting and the cake. I coated the rainbow chips in flour before mixing them into the batter to prevent them from sinking to the bottom… this was a failure. My first attempt ended up as more of a white cake with a kaleidoscope bottom; not so much a rainbow chip cake. So, given that they just melt into indistinguishable color splotches in the cake anyway, I decided that using plain old rainbow jimmies would be fine as long as the frosting was right. Those little balls.

Anyway, while it may be homemade, there’s nothing nutritionally defensible about this cake. It’s filled with super bleached cake flour and corn syrup. But at least it’s not a box mix, right? Right??

all the colors of the rainbow (chip) cake All the Colors of the Rainbow (Chip) Cake

Inspired by Homemade Rainbow Chip Cake by Not Without Salt
Various parts and portions adapted from or instructed by King Arthur’s Elegant White Cake by Cookie Madness, Modeling Chocolate by Joy of Baking, and Chocolate Basics by Hungry Happenings

Rainbow Chips:
16 ounces white chocolate
1/3 cup light corn syrup
gel food coloring

Cake:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature heaping
1/4 cup jimmies, rainbow or in any color(s) you want

Frosting:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
heaping 3/4 cup rainbow chips

Melt your white chocolate in a double boiler (or if you’re classy like me, a metal bowl over a saucepan). I generally put the chocolate in the bowl, the bowl on top of the pot and keep the stove on until the chocolate just starts to melt. Then cut the flame and stir the chocolate around. Once it’s almost melted with just a few bits, move the bowl over to the counter (away from the pot) and continue to stir, letting the residual heat melt the last bit of the chocolate. Pop your thermometer in there, and continue stirring until it cools to around 91 degrees. If you haven’t heated the heck out of it in the first place, it shouldn’t take too long. Really. Don’t keep it on the double boiler until it’s molten lava. Let residual heat do the work for you. If you do not have a thermometer, Beth of Hungry Happenings recommends putting a smidge on your lip — it should feel cool, unless you are some kind of weird medical marvel or a snake/lizard.

Add corn syrup, and stir (quickly!) to combine. It will thicken up very fast. Scrape the mixture onto a counter top or cutting board. Knead until smooth.

So you’ve got your giant ball of modeling chocolate. Split it into as many equal portions as colors you want to use. The original rainbow chip cake has pastel pink, blue, yellow, and green, so stick with those if you’re a traditionalist. You could also do just a few contrasting or coordinating colors — wedding colors for a bridal shower, sport team or school colors, or just the favorite colors of whomever you’re making it for. But I wanted to go all out and use all the colors of the rainbow. You ask me to make you a rainbow chip cake? I will make you a rainbow chip cake.

Using a fresh toothpick each time, drag some gel color onto your first ball of chocolate. I’m not going to give exact measurements because it will depend on your gel and your preference, but start with less than you think you need! Knead until all the color is incorporated and it’s not streaky, and add more gel as needed until you are happy with what you’ve got. Roll it into a ball, flatten into a disc, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Repeat for each color.

You can make this well ahead of time (a couple of months, even), and just throw the plastic wrapped discs into a zip top baggie in the fridge. You should plan on making your chips at least a week or so before your bake time, because it will probably take longer than you think. My original plan was to roll the modeling chocolate into long, skinny snakes, and chop them up to get cylindrical bits. However, the combination of my questionable modeling chocolate and my superheated house, it was just not cooperating with that. You might try this, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have to do like I did: Watch a few episodes of The X-Files and roll little balls from your modeling chocolate. Mine were about the size of brown lentils, maybe a tad bigger. I put them on a cookie sheet as I rolled them, and once one was filled I put it in the freezer. Then, once I had filled another, I took the original one from the freezer, used a spatula to pry them all up, and put them in a storage container to return to the freezer. Repeat until you’ve used up your chocolate, and store the completed rainbow chips in your freezer until ready for use.

Oh my god, this recipe is already so long and we haven’t even gotten to the cake. I will try to keep the rest of this brief.

Prep two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans: spray or butter the bottom and sides, throw a parchment paper circle on the bottom, then spray or butter the parchment. You are all using Alton Brown’s fabulous tip for cutting parchment circles, right?

Go ahead and preheat your oven to 350, too.

In your mixer with the whisk attachment, cream butter, shortening, sugar, baking powder, salt, and extracts on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light in color. Add egg whites one at a time, allowing each to be fully integrated before adding the next. Add one third of the flour, then stir on low to combine. Same deal with half the milk. Scrape down the sides as necessary. Repeat: flour, milk. Then top it all off with the last of the flour.

You don’t want to over mix — that will overdevelop the gluten which will give you a tough cake. It’s better to err on the side of caution and turn it off while there are still some lumps and streaks. They’ll get mixed in while you fold in the jimmies. Which you should do now.

Pour batter into pans, pop in the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Once you’re getting close, check that sucker often. White cake can dry out so easily, so you’ve got to get it out when it’s just barely done. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack, then remove from the pans and let cool completely.

Frosting! This is pretty similar to the frosting I use on the Carrot Cake for Someone Special, only with the cream cheese dialed down — it’s not a cream cheese frosting, it’s a buttercream frosting with a tang. So, follow the same procedure there: mix butter and cream cheese with whisk attachment until fully combined, add the sifted powdered sugar in increments to prevent dusting your entire kitchen in it, add vanilla extract, whip until fluffy. I didn’t do this, but I’d highly recommend setting aside some of the plain frosting to do a crumb coat with.

But then! Those little balls. Gently fold in your painstakingly created rainbow chips. I did this before a five hour drive to beach, with the frosting in a cooler. Then the cake ended up being stored overnight in the fridge after being frosted, because everyone got too full/inebriated to eat it. The colors from the chips didn’t bleed. I don’t know how long it would be before they started to. I’m just giving you the information I have.

Now, you know what to do! Plop the first layer down, frost the top almost out to the edge, plop the second layer, and frost the top and sides. (Like I said, a crumb coat with the plain frosting is recommended.) Be sure to put strips of parchment paper underneath your cake while you’re frosting — when you’re done you just pull them away and your plate/pedestal is pristine! If you have any leftover modeling chocolate, you don’t have to let it go to waste. Modeling chocolate is also known as chocolate clay, which is quite the accurate name for it. You can sculpt or cut out anything that tickles your fancy and throw it on top of the cake as an edible decoration.

Carrot cake for someone special

Carrot cake is my mister’s favorite. I like carrot cake all right, it’s pretty good. But favorite cake? Really? Live and let live, I guess. But as a result, I’ve had the opportunity to try a few carrot cake recipes, not to mention a few fun offshoots like carrot cake whoopie pies. This cake recipe is definitely a keeper.

I first made this into cupcakes for my mister’s birthday in June this year and brought them to a park near our house for a laid back cookout. Luckily, I snapped a quick photo before a dog trotted by and snagged one, turning the birthday message into “Happy Birthday Ndrew.”

carrot cake for someone special

Then my mom asked for carrot cake in her birthday in July, so I got a chance to make it into a layer cake as well. Which I of course forgot to photograph. There are a few differences between making the cupcakes and the layer cake, which I’ve outlined below.

I use buttermilk powder in this recipe for one reason — it lasts a lot longer in the fridge. I can never get through a whole quart of buttermilk and it always ends up sitting in my fridge until it turns into a solid block of curd. The powdered stuff (I use Saco) lasts for years in the fridge. So if you have it on hand or it’s easier for you to get, you can certainly use regular buttermilk.

I’ve never made this cake vegan, but my suggestions are as follows: soymilk/apple cider vinegar for the buttermilk, flax “eggs”, a caramel sauce made with brown rice syrup (there’s a good recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), and Tofutti and Earth Balance for the frosting.

Carrot Cake for Someone Special
Adapted from Best Carrot Cake of All Time by kpurwin

Candied Carrot Garnish:
2-5 carrots, the biggest you can find
1/2-1 cup sugar
1/2-1 cup water
sugar, to coat

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons buttermilk powder (or 3/4 cup buttermilk)
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot (4-5 medium carrots, or 2 monster mutant carrots)
1 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
3 1/2 ounces grated coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts

Buttermilk Glaze:
1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon buttermilk powder (or 1/4 cup buttermilk)
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
11 ounces cream cheese (almost 1 1/2 packages), softened
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

So, first you’ve got to make the candied carrot garnish. This has to dry overnight, so plan ahead. I’ve made this cake for birthdays, so I use this letter fondant cutting set to cut out a happy birthday message. You can use any shaped cutters you want, but fondant cutters are recommended because they are smaller than cookie cutters.

Slice your carrots into 1/8″ to 3/16″ wide rounds. You’ll probably only use about half of each carrot, depending on how wide they are and how big your cutters are, so the rest can be saved for another purpose (like grating into your cake). Cut as many garnishes as you want out of the slices. If they get stuck, use the blunt end of a bamboo skewer to gently push them out. If you’re using letters or other fairly detailed cutters, I recommend making doubles of every shape you’re going to need. Some of them don’t turn out quite right, so this gives you the option to choose the best looking ones. Plus, the leftovers make a good snack. Ask my sugar-hyped two year old niece.

So you’ve got your shapes. If you’re into waste not, want not, you can save those scraps from the rounds and chop them up to make mirepoix.

Stir your sugar and water into a small or medium saucepan, depending on how many shapes you’ve got. This should also dictate how much sugar and water you use — just make sure they are equal amounts. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is lightly simmering, then toss in your carrots. Cook for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of your letters. They should be slightly softened with a bit of give, but if you cook them for too long they will become shrunken and wrinkled.

Remove the carrots from the syrup and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you’re into weird cocktails, you could save this carrot simple syrup and experiment — carrot caketini? I don’t know. You can also mix it with powdered borax to use as roach bait! (What? I live in a city rowhome.)

Anyway. Let carrots cool slightly, then toss them in granulated sugar to coat. Spread back out on the baking sheet and keep an eye on them. If you don’t let them cool enough the first time, the sugar coating may melt a bit. It’s not a huge deal if this happens, just coat them again.

Let your beautiful candied carrot garnishes dry out on the baking sheet, uncovered, overnight.

Okay, onto the cake!

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray or butter two 8- or 9-inch pans, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper as well, then set the pans aside. For cupcakes, prepare two muffin pans with liners. You’ll probably have enough batter for 4-6 more besides those, so if you have another muffin pan you can have that at the ready, or you can wait for the first batch to be done and then bake the remainder. You can spray the liners if desired but it’s not really necessary.

Mix the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, salt, buttermilk powder (if using) and chopped walnuts. Sift mixture into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the flour and coated walnuts in separate bowls.

At this point it’s a good idea to grate your carrots, weigh your coconut, and start draining your pineapple. I peel my carrots, then grate them with the grating disc on my food processor so it takes about 30 seconds. You could use the pre-grated stuff in a bag I guess, but I find it to be really dry and not as sweet. For the coconut, I generally use the dehydrated super-finely grated stuff, because I have some friends that don’t like coconut. I figure it’s a texture thing and use this, which all but disappears in the cake, and I just don’t tell them it’s in there. If you use this, it will look like a lot of coconut! It’s fine. Then I dump the pineapple in a fine mesh sieve and let it sit for a little bit to get all the excess juice out.

Dump the eggs, sugar, oil, 3/4 cup water (if using buttermilk powder — otherwise add buttermilk), and vanilla into your mixer bowl. With the paddle attachment, slowly stir until it starts to incorporate, then gradually raise the speed to medium. Mix until smooth and fully blended.

Add the dry ingredients, then stir at low speed until blended, scraping down the sides as needed. Fold in grated carrot, crushed pineapple, coconut, and coated walnuts with a spatula until, once again, fully blended. Pour batter into prepared cake pans (split evenly) or muffin pans (2/3 full).

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes (cakes) or 20 to 25 minutes (cupcakes). It’s a good practice to swap your pan positions halfway through the cooking time, especially if they are on different racks. Give each pan a quick 180 degree spin, as well, just in case your oven is cooking unevenly. Test in the center of the cake with a toothpick — when it comes out clean, they’re done.

When you have about 10-15 minutes left on your timer for the cake, begin making the buttermilk glaze. For the full cake, the full recipe applies — for the cupcakes, you’ll only use about half of it. Feel free to eat the rest with a spoon, I won’t tell. (I’d be implicating myself, too.)

So, the glaze: In a large pot, mix sugar, baking soda, butter, corn syrup, buttermilk powder, and 1/4 cup water (if using buttermilk powder — otherwise add buttermilk). Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium heat. It will bubble up a bit from the baking soda, so I really must stress that you should use a pan that is bigger than you think you might need. Boil, stirring often, for 4 minutes — it’ll get a bit of a caramel color to it. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Right about now, your cakes should be done. Remove them from the oven and set, in the pans, on a wire rack. Use a bamboo skewer to poke holes throughout the (cup)cakes. I usually just start from the tester hole I made in the middle, and work my way out in a spiral. For cupcakes, I’ll stab it around 5-8 times… for layer cakes, a lot of times. I didn’t count. Sorry.

Drizzle half of the glaze over each cake layer, or for cupcakes, drizzle a heaping spoonful over each one. Spread with an offset spatula to make sure it covers the cakes evenly, then let it soak in for 15 minutes.

Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely, right side up, on wire racks.

I usually make the cakes the day before I need them, and then frost them the next day. For layer cakes, put a piece of parchment paper on top of each layer. You should still have the parchment paper on the bottom from baking. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Use too many pieces because it keeps sticking to itself. Curse gently to yourself. Can be refrigerated overnight, and probably frozen but I haven’t tried it.

For cupcakes, I just slip them into ziplock bags — not willy nilly, but about nine cupcakes per bag, stored flat in layers in the fridge.

Onto the frosting: With the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until fully combined. You’ll likely have to scrape the sides and the whisk a few times before this happens. Add 1/2 of the sifted powdered sugar, then turn the mixer to stir — too fast and you will end up covered with powdered sugar. Once it is combined, scrape down the sides and add the rest of the powdered sugar, repeating to get it integrated. Once it is fully combined, add the vanilla extract and turn the mixer up to medium. Let it whip until it becomes light and fluffy — a couple of minutes, at least.

Note: If you want to pipe the frosting onto cupcakes, especially if you are piping this onto cupcakes that you are ill-advisedly bringing to an outdoor birthday party in June, I’d recommend adding a bit more powdered sugar — maybe about 1/2 cup. This is a very creamy, dreamy frosting without a whole lot of structure.

Unwrap your cake layers (remember to remove the parchment paper from the bottoms). Put the first layer of your cake on a platter, tucking strips of parchment paper underneath the edges to protect the plate. Put a big old glob of frosting on the middle and spread with an offset spatula so it is almost to the edges. Place the next layer on top, and then frost the top and sides. Generally, using a crumb coat is recommended when frosting layer cakes, but this cake is so dense and moist that it doesn’t really need it. Once your cake is fully frosted, remove the strips of parchment to reveal your squeaky clean plate or cake stand!

For cupcakes, spread frosting on with an offset spatula, or pipe on (keeping the above note in mind).

Back to the garnish. Remember the garnish? You may notice that letters or other detailed shapes look very strange, because of weird clumps of sugar or general disfigurement. Pick through to find the best looking ones, then get to work re-shaping as needed. Use a bamboo skewer to poke out sugar clumps that have formed in the holes of your P’s and D’s. Use (clean!) hands to gently massage off sugar clumps on other areas, and to gently stretch and squeeze any malformed letters back into shape. Once you’ve got everything accounted for, gently lay them on top your (cup)cake(s)!

This concludes the longest recipe ever. Make it for someone you really love.