recipe … for the carrot cake that brought international acclaim and lunchtime lines a block long to Paris’s tiny Rose Bakery.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to finishing up my latest bistro post … I found myself up to my eyeballs in: six 12-ounce cans of tomato paste, gutted to turn into cake pans, a pound of carrots at the ready, some fuzzy little chick decorations I had found at Michael’s, and a world-famous carrot cake recipe I’ve been dying to replicate.
Here are the genuine Rose originals, in all their glory … individual little cylindrical towers of reputation-making carrotiness, topped with caps of tangy cream cheese frosting. Here you see them waiting to be snapped up from the Rose counter by Parisians displaying anything but the typical French sang-froid (The carrot cakes are known to frequently sell out before the end of lunch, which, I gather, sets those French teeth on edge!).
Rose bakery is known for the healthy quality of the foods they serve, and that includes their desserts, which greatly reduce the amount of sugar used, and employ whole grains and other nutritional boosters as well. Since I am on a similar quest for my family, I have been eager to make some recipes from Rose Bakery’s wonderful cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, starting with these carrot cakes.
In the book Rose writes that, in her pursuit of ever-healthier desserts she has not only reduced the sugar content in her carrot cake, but says, “I also substitute plain (all-purpose) flour with wholemeal (wholewheat) flour, or add sesame and wheatgerm to make them more nourishing.” I did neither of these this time around, but will in the future, as after tasting the cake it is clear that these substitutions/additions would not in any way diminish the wonderful flavor and texture of the final product.
I can assure you that these little cakes did not disappoint in any way. They were incredibly moist, and tasty, but the thing that really jumped out at me was how much I could taste the carrots and walnuts without all the usual sugar (not to mention the frequent addition of raisins, pineapple, and even coconut to the batter) to hide the flavor. It is still plenty sweet, but has the best taste and texture I have ever experienced in carrot cake. I found that I loved the cake part so much that I almost preferred it without the icing. The cake is also very easy to throw together, especially if you forego my obsession with making cakes exactly like Rose Bakery’s, right down to their darling little frosting caps. :}
Yes, yes, being the food nutcase that I am, I was not satisfied simply to make the carrot cake and be done with it. Oh, no, I had to make little towers too, true replicas of Rose’s invention. And so it was that I temporarily abandoned my latest bistro post in favor of learning how to make perfect little carrot cakes for my grandchildren’s Easter dinner.
After lots of hunting around, scouring the internet, and asking for help from my many food-loving friends, I finally decided to create my own molds. Rose uses (according to Dorie Greenspan, at least) timbale molds, but they were either too small or too expensive. After (over)analyzing the shape and size of the Rose cakes in online pictures, and doing the math to get the proportional aesthetics right (I did mention nutcase, right?), I finally decided to make cake pans from 12-ounce tomato paste cans. Of course, after emptying them, I was left having to make bags of tomato paste ice cubes for my freezer, so that ate up more time. But at least I now have enough tomato paste in my freezer to carry me to the grave and beyond. Here are my “cake pans”, topless, buttered and parchment papered, waiting to be filled.
Time to bake the cakes. Here is the recipe. You will love it. Try it even if you think you already have a favorite recipe; this one will surprise and delight you with is subtlety.
4 large eggs
1 generous cup caster sugar (see note below)
1 1/4 cups flavorless oil such as sunflower or canola
9 medium carrots, finely grated (for me this worked out to be a one-pound bag)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, then measured
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 rounded tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. Salt
1 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts
½ generous cup unsalted butter, softened
1 generous cup cream cheese
½ tsp. vanilla
½ to ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar, to taste (I found ½ cup to be perfect)
Preheat the oven to 350° F
Butter a 9” cake tin and line its base with parchment paper.
Beat the eggs and caster sugar until they are light and fluffy but not too white and meringue-like
Pour in the oil and beat for a few more minutes.
Fold in the carrots and then the flour with the cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Finally, fold in the walnuts.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool the cake in the tin before taking it out.
To make the icing, beat the butter with the cream cheese for a few minutes till the mixture is smooth.
Add the vanilla extract and the confectioner’s sugar.
When the cake is cold, ice the top with the icing – it can be a smooth or rough as you like.
Note: You can easily convert regular granulated sugar into caster sugar using a food processor. Since the recipe calls for such a small amount, I used my mini Cuisinart for the job. Just put the sugar in there and give it a nice long whir.
Icing the cakes so they held to the perfect tower shape of the cakes promised to pose a problem. Then I came up with what worked out to be a pretty good plan. I covered the backside of my 9″ square baking pan with aluminum foil, and smeared about a ½” block of frosting on it. Here’s what I did. Lousy picture, but you get the idea.
Then I popped it into the freezer to chill up. When it was firm enough, I took it out and stamped out my “caps” with one of the cans, smoothed up the edges, then covered them and put them in the fridge until I was ready to frost them.
Here they are, ready for the fridge.
Once I topped each cake with its cap, I used my smallest offset spatula to perfect their edges, and viola! Replete with their own wee peeps standing guard. I think the kids will love them.