I just found out that Payard (upper east side NYC), arguably the best bakery in the country, is closed. Apparently their rent skyrocketed, and they're now looking for a new location. I hope they find one soon, it really does seem like Payard is one of the few authentic French bakeries in the US. They are also a restaurant, not just a bakery, and although I wish they had more vegetarian options, their Parmesan souffle is amazing. Until they reopen, you can content yourself with one of Payard's books.
Today I'm sharing with you something that is decidedly not like anything you'd find at Payard - carrot cake. I do not like carrot cake. I think it's the nuts. I really don't think nuts belong in cakes, brownies, cookies, etc. For like 30 years I thought I didn't like nuts (except peanuts and pine nuts which aren't really nuts anyway, right?), but now I realize it's just the texture I don't like. And I'm even broadening my horizons in that respect. My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (I think I finally have it perfected) includes hazelnuts, but they're ground up so fine that you get all the taste and none of the texture. I adore French macarons made with ground almonds or hazelnuts. I'm fine with slivered almonds used as decorations, and lately I love hazelnuts in almost any form. I've also recently started using pistachios in salad, and tasted some wonderful pasta in a creamy nut sauce in Italy. But I don't think I'll ever like chunks of nuts in my cakes or brownies.
I think I might just like this cake if I omitted the pecan chunks in the batter - but I guess it wouldn't be a traditional carrot cake that way. And my carrot-cake-loving friends loved it as is.
Cake Recipe: (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil
Position oven racks to divide the oven into thirds. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 3 9" cake pans with baking spray (or butter and flour).
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In another bowl, stir together the carrots and nuts.
In another bowl, preferably with a stand mixer, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother.
Reduce speed to low, and add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined.
Gently stir in the carrots and nuts. Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back midway through baking. The cake is done when it just starts to come away from the sides of the pans, and a tester comes out clean. Cool on rack for about 5 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack and cool right side up completely. You can keep cake at room temperature, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap, for up to a day before frosting; or freeze for up to one month.
Be sure the cake is completely cool before frosting!
Recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
This recipe yields enough frosting to frost the outside of the cake as well as filling the cake.
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Beat the cream cheese on medium for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Be sure to use cream cheese at room temperature.
Add butter, and cream until smooth, another 1-2 minutes.
Add powdered sugar slowly at low speed, and beat until fully combined. Add vanilla extract.
Beat frosting on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Transfer to an airtight container, and chill until firm and spreadable.