Sweet and Simple – Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Another installment of the birthday cake series! Like I mentioned previously, my class has a tradition of celebrating each other’s birthday with birthday cake. For another classmate’s birthday, I decided to make carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. A classic cake that everyone loves… unless you’re allergic to carrots or walnuts, I suppose. Luckily, no one in our class is, although one guy is allergic to hazelnuts, which means any nutella ideas are out :(.

Since carrot cake is such a traditional cake that everyone is familiar with, I knew I had to get it right, from the flavors to the decorations. Although the cake is straightforward, it does require a bit of work, specifically in grating carrots. Luckily, I live with housemates who are always willing to lend a hand. One of them (actually her boyfriend) grated all the carrots while another made the cream cheese frosting. With all this help, all I had to do was bake the cakes, assemble them, and decorate (the funnest part!).

I chose a classic design for the cake with piping along the outer edge of the cake and crushed walnuts coating the sides. Clean and simple is sometimes the best way to go. A lot of times I try make things more complicated than they need to be, but as I grow older, I realize that simplicity is oftentimes the better solution (and saves you a lot of unnecessary stress). Even though complex and crazy recipes are more intriguing and exotic, they aren’t always the best. I’m an avid follower of Top Chef and a lot of times, the chefs get knocked for trying dishes that are too complicated and not executing them well.

Doing something a little simpler, and doing it well will usually earn you more points than doing something complex not very well. The same thing applies to life. As I’m growing older (and wiser, hopefully), I’ve realized that prioritizing one’s life is extremely important. There’s no way someone can have their hands in so many pots and juggle so many things (well, there are a few people I know who can do that and they are absolutely amazing). It’s much better to choose a few things that you love to do and do them well than to try to be involved in many things and not do the best job you can. Sometimes simplicity is the sweetest, just like this carrot cake.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from this recipe

For the cake:
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (for decoration)

1. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
2. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. Stir in carrots and fold in pecans.
4. Pour batter into two 9 in. cake pans (greased and lined with parchment paper).
5. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
6. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
7. In a medium bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla smooth and creamy.
8. Place one of the cakes onto a plate. Frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
9. Place the second layer on top and frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
10. Place the third layer on top and frost the whole cake with the remaining frosting.
11. Decorate as you wish and enjoy!

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Impressing Foodies – Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake

I’m very lucky to have a group of friends who love to cook and bake as much as I do. Having these common interests makes it a lot easier to get along with them and share my experieinces. However, it’s a little more challenging when you want to cook or bake something for people who love food as much as you do. Take my friend’s boyfriend for instance. He’s a self-proclaimed foodie who cooks and bakes much fancier things than I do. In fact, he wooed my friend with a three-course meal on one of their first dates. (Which reminds me, I need to find a guy like that.)

Anyways, his birthday was coming up and she wanted to make him something impressive. We all know he loves salted caramel and chocolate ganache, so once I found this recipe from Bon Appetit, I knew it was the perfect cake for him. This cake is the definition of richness with two layers of chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. It was definitely the hardest cake I’ve made so far since it had so many components.

The first layer topped with chocolate ganache and salted caramel

Since my experiences with caramel haven’t been that great, I was a bit worried about making the salted caramel. It’s really easy to burn caramel, so keep an eye on it when it’s cooking on the stove. Since my friend and I were both a little paranoid about burning caramel, we may have took it off the stove a bit too early. So, the caramel wasn’t as thick as we wanted. To drive off some liquid, we kept it on the stove on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. After that, the caramel was the perfect consistency.

Assembling the cake was both the funnest, but the messiest part. First, we spread a layer and piped a ring of chocolate ganache on top of one of the cake layers. Then, we filled with ring with a generous amount of salted caramel and placed the second cake layer on top. Lastly, we frosted the cake with chocolate ganache and decorated it with toasted almonds and drizzles of salted caramel.

The cake was decadent and delicious, but extremely rich. So much that I could only take a few bites at a time. You’ll definitely want to have a glass of milk nearby to help wash down the cake. The caramel could have been slightly saltier, so don’t be afraid to add more salt. If you’re looking for a rich, decadent cake, definitely try this one. However, be warned, it’s a fair amount of work, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1 1/4 cups almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

For the caramel filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine fleur de sel (we used fine sea salt)

For the chocolate ganache:
1 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups heavy whipping cream

For the chocolate cake:
1. Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.
2. Add the milk, eggs, and melted butter and beat at low speed until blended.
3. Increase the speed and beat for 2 minutes.
4. Dissolve espresso powder in 1 cup hot water and add to the batter.
5. Beat until blended (batter will be thin) and divide batter between 2 pans greased and lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake the cakes at 350F until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes.
7. Flip the cakes onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.

For the caramel filling:
1. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.
2. Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes.
3. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to high.
4. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber.
5. Remove from heat and add cream (mixture will bubble). Then, whisk in butter, then sour cream, lemon juice, and pinch of sea salt/fleur de sel. (We noticed that our caramel was pretty thin still, so we left it on low heat for 15-20 minutes to thicken up.)
6. Let cool completely.

For the ganache:
1. Place chocolate in large bowl.
2. Bring cream to a simmer in medium saucepan.
3. Pour cream over chocolate and let chocolate soften for a minute. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. Cool, then cover and chill.

To assemble the cake:
1. Spoon 1/2 of the ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip.
2. Pipe a ring of ganache around edge of layer.
3. Spread 1/2 of the caramel filling evenly inside ring.
4. Sprinkle the caramel with large pinch of fleur de sel and some almonds.
5. Top with second cake layer, ganache, ganache ring, caramel filling, fleur de sel, and almonds.
6. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Press remaining almonds onto sides and drizzle with caramel. Basically, just decorate it how you want to. 

Summer Blues


Summer is quickly coming to an end… at least it is for me, since classes start tomorrow! Eeks! How did time fly by so fast?

This summer, I traveled and ate my way through Boston, New York City, and San Diego.

Boston Done Right: Paul Revere, Cannoli, MIT, and the Charles River

Sights of the City: Times Square, Taxis on 80th St, View from Empire State Building, Downtown Manhattan

NYC Eats: Shake Shack, Chelsea Market, Momofuku, Doughnut Plant

Peaceful La Jolla

I also finally crossed off a few items on my baking to do list (but still haven’t tried making my own kimchi! need to do that soon!).

Purple Ombre Cake – Check!

Kolaches – Check!

And I spent valuable time and made amazing memories with my friends and family. Even though I was working everyday, this was actually one of my most fun summers.

To express my summer blues (and match my blue floral dress), I did a variation of blue ombre nails. I was inspired by this nail design from Miss Renaissance. I had slightly darker shades of blue than she did, but they worked well.


Although I’ll miss the laid-back, relaxing vibe of summer with the sunny days (well, only after the fog has burned off) and the rather peaceful feel of campus that comes with the absence of undergrads, I’m looking forward to what this new school year brings. Fall semester is always a fresh start for me – it feels more like New Year’s to me than January 1st. With a new season comes new friends, experiences, and memories. So, even though I’m a little sad to see my summer end, I’m excited to see what fall brings. Plus, I’ve been dying to make some pumpkin and apple desserts!

Q: How do you Impress a Master Cake Baker? A: With a Purple Ombre Cake

One of the best things about grad school so far has been the camaraderie amongst all of my classmates. We’re a class of 25 students, relatively large for our department. But somehow, nearly all 25 of us have managed to be friends and hang out with each other at least once a month. One of the main reasons why we hang out with such regularity is that we have created a tradition to celebrate each person’s birthday together with a homemade cake baked by my friend Rachel.

For every birthday since mine in October, Rachel has made a birthday cake. Somehow, she became the designated cake baker for our class. She’s made some pretty amazing cakes, including a banana chocolate chip cake (for yours truly), a peanut butter chocolate monkey cake (from smitten kitchen), a red wine chocolate cake, a super red velvet cake, and many more.

My birthday cake (aka the inaugural cake)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Monkey Cake!

So, when it was Rachel’s birthday last weekend, I knew I had to return the favor and bake her an amazing cake. Obviously, it couldn’t be just any old cake. It had to be beautiful, delicious, and most important, memorable. If you’re active on Pinterest, I’m sure you’ve seen this gorgeous purple ombre cake from rasberri cupcakes. The minute I saw it, I knew I wanted to make it. And Rachel’s birthday was the perfect occasion! Especially because she loves the color purple. 😀

4 shades of purple (instead of 50 shades of grey…bad joke i know)

I enlisted the help of my friend Lin because there was no way I could have done all the work myself. Steph’s recipe was actually very simple and straightforward. One of the more difficult steps was coloring the batter. Making darkest and lightest layers were fairly easy, but making the other two colors were a bit trickier since they were harder to distinguish from each other. We started with the darkest batter; however, we should have started with the lightest batter since it’s easier to make the batter darker rather than lighter. 😛 Another minor difficult we encountered was removing the parchment paper from the cakes. I allowed them to cool on cooling racks, but when I peeled off the paper, a substantial amount of cake came off with it. Luckily, the layers were fine and I got to taste test the cake from the bits of cake left on the paper.

      

Since Rachel actually likes currants, we followed Steph’s recipe to a T, using the blackcurrant jam as the filling between the cakes. However, I’m sure this cake would taste delicious with blackberry or raspberry jam. Or to make it a bit more colorful, you could use lemon curd or even mango curd (to make it more exotic). We also decided to make a blackcurrant buttercream from another of Steph’s cake recipes. The buttercream was a beautiful pink color and chockful of currants.

Topping the cake with frosting

The funnest part was decorating the cake. I let my creative self come out, which doesn’t happen very much when you work in a technical field :P. First, I spread on a thin crumb coat first and then covered that layer with more frosting. With lots of frosting leftover and a box of blackberries in the fridge, I decided to place dollops of jam along the outer edge of the cake, pipe dots of frosting on top, and top them with blackberries. The only trouble I ran into was that the frosting melted a bit on top of the jam. I also added a few raspberries to the center to add another pop of color.

The finished product! Looks a bit professional, right?

The most satisfying part about making this cake was seeing everyone’s reaction, especially Rachel’s, when she cut into it. I was worried about how the inside would look, since I had no idea until the cake was cut. Luckily, it was a major success!

The cake layers were gorgeous shades of purple and the cake itself was pretty delicious. However, if I were to be extremely critical, I would say the cake was a bit dry. That was probably because we had made the cake the night before so Rachel wouldn’t see it. I’d suggest if you can schedule it right, make the cake the day you’re planning on serving it. As I assembled the cake, I scraped up the bits that were stuck to the parchment paper for the sake of taste testing and thought the cake was pretty moist.

This cake is quite a bit of work, but it’s so worth it. I received many compliments and Rachel absolutely loved the cake, which was the sweetest reward. I’ve found that the most enjoyable things in life aren’t given to you as gifts or presents. Instead, you receive the most satisfaction and joy in making others happy.