I decided a few weeks ago that birthdays in 2020 don't count, and whatever ages we turned this year would carry over into 2021. This especially applies to friends and family who have had to spend their birthdays in lockdown. Despite the lack of "normality" when it comes to anything right now, staples things like birthday cake remain.
We celebrated my boyfriend's birthday last week, but when I first asked him what cake he wanted he said a racing car, and then made reference to the one in the vintage Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book we both grew up drooling over (and which still sits in the recipe bookshelf at my parent's house). Anyone who knows this book and how intense some of the cakes in it are will understand why pushed back on this particular request.
While I'd usually be game for any baking challenge, things have been a little busy around here over the past few weeks. So I asked him if there was any chance he could choose something a little easier this time around. He very graciously agreed and said he'd like a carrot cake instead. Happy days.
We have a family carrot cake recipe that comes from my mom, which she's been baking for years. It's a brilliant recipe and probably one of the best carrot cakes you'll ever eat. Yeah yeah, I know. Much like brownies, everyone reckons their (or their mom's) recipe is the best, but you'll often find carrot cakes are dry, flavourless and the icing is far too sweet. I believe the secret to brilliant carrot cake is crushed pineapple. It needs to be the tinned stuff though, as fresh pineapple causes a reaction that will end in tears for you, the cake and your oven.
After being told by one of my sisters (and family recipe mafia boss) that I wasn't allowed to share it, I decided to use one by baking blogger Broma Bakery, whose recipes are usually pretty reliable (because trust me, there are hundreds and thousands of recipes online and in books which are total BS, but that's a post for another day).
When I first went through the recipe I realised it was very similar to my mom's, and because I'm not a huge fan of raisins and refuse to add them to things like cakes, I swapped those for pecan nuts. So at the end of the day, the recipe ended up being more like the one I wanted to use in the first place. Go figure.
Boyfriend Birthday Cake
This recipe has been adapted from both my mom's and Broma Bakery's Best Carrot Cake in The World - a carrot cake mashup of sorts. I used a 20cm round cake tin for this cake and baked it in two batches - the only reason why I made my life difficult was that I currently only have the one size tin and wanted to make a two-tier cake. This can also be baked as a sheet cake if you're not keen on levelling your cake and icing it as I did.
- 2 cups peeled and grated carrots
- 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
- 1 cup desiccated coconut
- 1 cup pecan nuts, chopped + extra for decorating
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Icing
- 115g butter, at room temp
- 150g cream cheese, at room temp
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 cups icing sugar
- Preheat oven to 180°C, grease and flour two 20cm round cake tins and line the bottom of each tin with baking paper.
- Combine the carrots, pineapple, coconut, pecan nuts, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla extra in a large bowl. Mix until combined.
- Sift the rest of the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and then incorporate the mixture into the bowl of wet ingredients. Stir until totally combined.
- Evenly divide the cake batter between the cake tins (if I'm feeling particularly OCD I'll weigh the batter and then split accordingly), and bake for about 30 minutes.
- Check if the cakes are done using a cake skewer, which should come out clean. If your cakes are still slightly underdone, bake for another 5-10 minutes and check again. (I've found this baking time totally varies based on the oven you're using). You don't want the cakes to dry out, so don't overbake them!
- Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for around 15 minutes before removing from the tins. Place on a cooling rack and let them cool completely before you ice them. And seriously, let them cool completely, otherwise, your icing is going to melt. Rushed cakes end in disaster. Every. Time. If you are going to be levelling your cakes to make them completely flat if a dome has formed during baking, you're also going to need them to be cool. The best thing to do is bake a day ahead, cool, wrap tightly and store in the fridge overnight.
- While your cakes are cooling, make your icing by combining the butter and cream cheese together, and using a stand or hand mixer, whip until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue whipping for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Sandwich the two cakes together with a bit of icing and using a pallet knife or the back of a spoon, cover the entire cake with icing and decorate with more pecan nuts.