For some, music is the magic key to accessing a particular past experience, a buried memory. For others, it’s perhaps a chanced blend of particles in the air whiffed up through the nostrils that triggers waves of nostalgia to come lapping lazily the back of the mind. For me, it’s food. Don’t ask me if I remember that auntie I met at so and so’s wedding reception some X years ago. Tell me what dish I was in the middle of when she dropped by our table.
I associate people with food almost, if not stronger than I associate them with their names.
I only need to eat with you once to pick out a couple dozen details about how you eat, like how much you eat, if you drink water while you eat, if your palate swings acidic, if you’re left-handed, how much you chew, if you’re adventurous. If you tell me you like or dislike a certain food, you can bet I’ll remember it for a lifetime. I’m like Samantha in Her, I build a profile for you and update it each time I experience you – in a food-related setting.
Naturally, certain foods become so strongly associated with certain people in my life that whenever I make or come across those foods my mind immediately pushes their face to the forefront. This is mostly a wholesome experience, if we ignore the few foods I don’t make anymore because their associates have moved too far away and making that which reminds me of them is just a little too dampening on the soul. But like I said, this is mostly a giver of the warm and fuzzies, like it was with this carrot cake.
I met J ten years ago, when I was still a keen green teen. Before this blog came to be, actually. There was one time when I hosted a tea party, where I had made a spread of things not all that special in hindsight, and there was some carrot cake left over. It must’ve been a Saturday because J took some home and the following morning her mom came up to me and was telling me how much she loved the carrot cake. Over the next years, every other conversation with J would happen upon a mention or two of said carrot cake.
Fast forward to the present (a couple weeks prior to the writing of this), J and C came over for dinner. The first dinner I’ve ever cooked for them, the first of many. It consisted of a spread of tapas-ish plates, some of the dishes I’ll be documenting here in the next couple of weeks, and sure enough said carrot cake came up again. The funny thing is, though not nearly as magnificently elusive as Moby Dick, said cake would at least qualify as one that got away. To this day I cannot recall for the life of me the recipe of that OG.
But OG’s are great only because they set the foundation for the greatness to come. My understanding of how ingredients behave and interact with one another has improved. The way I can manipulate, balance, and develop flavours has improved. My understanding of what J likes has deepened. So I set out to make a Carrot Cake 3.0, which I’ve documented below because I definitely want to make this again, and again, until 4.0 comes.
And to J + C, thank you for all the things I can remember, and those I can’t all the same. For being there for the 1.0, and for being the kind of people who I know will be there for the 101.0.
There are five key technical updates that make this iteration a 3.0 not a 2.91. First, the sultana raisins were soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and drained prior to using. Second, the carrots were grated on the finer shredding holes of the box grater so it basically melts and becomes one with the cake body. Third, yuja tea preserves were used in place of pineapples (this is a page borrowed from the version I made on May 26, 2020 which you can see on IG). Fourth, although carrot cake is already moist as it is, I’m taking a page from my wedding cake experience and dousing it with simple syrup to really drive it home. And fifth, the cream cheese chantilly is a page from my cheat but low-key really stupid delicious tiramisu, just called something different here.
Carrot Cake 3.0
- 1 c sultana raisins
- 1 c boiling water
- 2 c light brown sugar
- 1 1/3 c grape seed oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 1/2 c AP flour
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tbsp sea salt
- 1 c chopped walnuts
- 450 g finely shredded carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
- 1/2 c yuja tea preserves
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack set on the bottom third of the oven. Line the bottom of four 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
- Place the raisins in a bowl and pour in enough hot water to cover. Allow to soak for 30 minutes before draining thoroughly and setting aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until pale. Gradually beat in the oil and yuja tea preserves until the mixture is thick, glossy, and pale.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.
- Beat in half of the flour to the egg mixture until somewhat incorporated but there are still lots of obvious streaky parts.
- Beat in the remaining flour, carrots, walnuts, and drained raisins just until thoroughly incorporated.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until deeply bronzed on the exterior and a toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs.
- Cool completely before covering with plastic wrap and chilling.
- 3/4 c sugar
- 3/4 c water
- In a saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once boiled, remove from the heat.
- No need to wait for the syrup to cool – spoon it over the chilled cakes (still in their pans) generously, cover, and let them soak in the fridge overnight.
Cream Cheese Chantilly
- 1 block Philadelphia cream cheese, room temp
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
- Beat the cream cheese with the sugar until fully softened and smooth.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the heavy cream. Beat until the mixture is smooth, light, and fluffy (like a heavy cream on steroids).
- Use immediately.
- To assemble, run a knife along the side of the pan to release the syrup-soaked cakes. Plop a big dollop of the cream cheese chantilly on top of the cake and gradually push it out using the back of a spoon in circular motions, finishing with a single continuous swoop. Garnish with brittle, slowly toasted walnuts crushed between your fingers.
- This cake should be served straight from the fridge. This amplifies the texture of the syrup and surreal texture of the chantilly, and since there is no butter in this cake, there is no good reason for it to be served at room temp.
To friendships better than gold.