All I wanted for my birthday this year was to make my own birthday cake. Well, maybe not all I wanted, but I definitely wasn’t up for delegating this responsibility to anyone else, much less to a shop. No, it was my birthday and for my birthday my friends and family indulged me fully in one of my ultimate favourite activities: playing host.
For days beforehand I made ruminated, organized, prepped, tasted, measured, iced and planned my birthday with military precision. I made to-do lists, each one beginning with ‘make today’s to-do list’ so that I felt like I was being productive right from the start!
Then, on my birthday night, I invited some of my favourite girls over and insisted they indulge themselves (and mostly me) in my kitschy arrangement of charity-shop plates and sweet bite-sized treats.
One of my personal favourites were these carrot cake bites. A super-sweet white chocolate buttercream frosting was cut by the surprise of spicy ginger and warm aroma of orange zest hidden in the cake. A tempered dark chocolate bottom gave just a hint of bitterness and, as it always does, made me feel incredibly grown-up for enjoying it. And it was my birthday: I was getting older.
These are added to a cake mix full of goodness!
Then, armed with a ruler and a knife, you can cut the cake up into tiny squares. Obviously you could bake in a square tin and then not have to discard the pieces with curved edges, but then you’d have no cake scraps to eat.
Full disclosure: You can probably tell this isn’t carrot cake, as it looks nothing like carrot cake. I also made Barefoot Contessa’s coconut cake and gave these squares a milk chocolate base, a la Bounty bars. I was silly and my hands were sticky and my camera was SO FAR AWAY on the table, so I didn’t take any photos of the cut carrot cake. Oops.
Then, when these have dried, you can whip up some icing. Ingredients!
Butter, white chocolate, vanilla and almond extracts, icing sugar, and a teensy bit of salt.
(Adapted into party food from Sweetapolita’s version)
5 cups grated carrots
½ cup (125g) finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 ½ cups (625g) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tablespoon (15ml) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon (5ml) salt
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground ginger
1 cup (250ml) butter, softened to room temperature
1 ½ cups (375g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
2/3 cup (150ml) whole milk
Dark chocolate base
150g good quality dark or unsweetened chocolate
White chocolate frosting
1 cup (250ml) butter, softened to room temperature
175g white chocolate
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
½ teaspoon (2.5ml) almond extract (optional)
Pinch of salt
3 cups (750ml) icing sugar, sifted
1. Preheat oven to 180°c (350°F) and grease two 9-inch round cake pans.
Note: My method of making these cakes was deliciously inefficient and resulted in a lot of curved sections of cake which I didn’t serve. If you want to be more economical with your cake, this resource should help.
2. Grate carrots and measure out five cups’ worth. Also chop ginger, grate orange zest, and weigh out the rest of your ingredients. It’s so much easier when you have everything to hand. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and ginger.
3. In another large bowl, cream butter until pale and fluffy with a handheld electric mixer. Or in the bowl of your stand mixer, of which I’m insanely jealous. Gradually add sugar and beat until well combined. Add eggs, then vanilla, and don’t panic if the mixture seems curdled and gross – it won’t be when we begin to add the flour!
4. So, on that note, add about one third of the flour, then half of the milk, then another third of the flour, and then the second half of the milk, and then the last of the flour. Stirring to incorporate between each addition. Then add the chopped ginger and carrots.
5. Divide batter between pans or into whichever vessel you’ve decided to bake with. Bake for around 30 minutes, until the centres seems set. Cool on a baking rack and remove from the pans after 15-20 minutes.
6. Once the cakes are fully at room temperature, we can add their chocolate bums. Chop dark chocolate and melt either in a heatproof glass dish over a saucepan of lightly simmering water, or else in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Tempered chocolate always remains very glossy and lacquered looking, and breaks in a pleasing snap, whereas melting chocolate without controlling the temperature means the cocoa butter can crystallise and make the chocolate appear dull and matte. To properly temper dark chocolate you need to get it to 30-31°C (86-88°F). But this is going on the base of the desserts, it’s not like anyone’s going to pay a great deal of attention. So I zapped mine and just made sure it was always at barely-melted stage, where some smaller chunks melt in the residual heat after removing from the microwave. Either dip the cubes into the melted chocolate or smear with a knife, and leave to dry on a rack.
7. When these have fully dried we can make the icing. Beat butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until it’s fluffy and light and creamy. Chop the white chocolate into bits and melt in the microwave on 30 second intervals, and gradually add the melted chocolate to the butter along with the vanilla and salt. Now add the icing sugar – gently! As it will go everywhere and give every surface a powdery coating. Put the icing sugar into a piping bag with a fairly wide star-shaped tip and swirl onto the cakes. Buttercream icing is very soft so these should be stored in the fridge until about an hour before serving.