full of parties

I just love dinner parties. But for the table setting, the napkin ironing, the course planning, the cooking, and the general pre-company BUSTLE, I would have a dinner party every night. (That sound you hear in the background is my parents and/or boyfriend keeling over.) I love the living room crowding, the catching up conversations and several kinds of wine and the excuse to bake a cake. But you saw that one coming, didn’t you? I suffer from only living with one other person most of the time. It is a great burden, knowing that a pie or batch of cupcakes will take a week to polish off. And who wants to eat key lime pie every night for a week? Well, if you’ve gotta do it, if you’ve gotta, you know, make the sacrifice, might I suggestinsist that you make this one, because it’s fabulous, but key lime pie is frankly a rather particular flavor and all other things being equal, I would much rather have a dinner party every night and send guests home with the dessert leftovers and make a fresh cake every afternoon. Only I would need to get more friends, to cycle through their refrigerators’ cake space. New Year’s resolution: make more friends to foist cake upon.

Parents and I had one dinner party on the 26th and another, larger one on the 27th. We served the chocolate yule log on the 26th and if it is not too terribly gauche, I will confide that the time in the fridge actually improved it. The mousse and cake got a little cozier, so the cake was moister and both were more chocolatey.

On the 27th, we played host to one of my favorite families for a belated-birthday-slash-Christmas party. I made a carrot cake. (Having already Xed Birthday Girl’s totally earnest suggestion, “What about carrot and zucchini cake!?!?” I hope this was good enough!) And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but: toot, toot. Sensational carrot cake. Tip of the hat to Dorie Greenspan, Paris-based chef who, for the past couple months, has played mentor to Emily Weinstein as she learns to bake and writes about it in the New York Times. You know, if I’d known I could land Dorie Greenspan as my fairy cakemother by not knowing how to make a muffin — muffins! You don’t know how to add wet to dry, stir gently, and pour into a tin, and you get a reward!? — well, let’s just say I would have seriously reconsidered sharing the best blueberry muffins on my second-ever blog post. I know you should never play stupid to catch a man, but I think I would do it for Dorie Greenspan. And look, I’ve gotten side tracked again!

So, for the second evening in a row, we got a second Christmas. I received an incredibly beautiful, antique-looking silver bracelet with inlaid cameos, but I think the best present was the look on little senior-in-college and birthday girl Alex‘s face when she opened her last present: a waffle iron. Between our friendship history and near-obsessive reverence for a certain breakfast recipe, let me assure you: it was a very good gift. She squealed and jumped around too much for a proper photo, but here she is just moments before, pouring over a cookbook. A cookbook! How well I’ve trained her!

She is such a cute patootie. Someone get her another waffle iron.

On to the dinner table, where we had onion soup and salmon cakes and five kinds of cheese that come with quite a story (tune in later!) and then, as is the tradition goes in these here parts, lit the birthday cake aflame. This is usually when my stomach starts coiling itself into knots, because it means that cutting into the cake — actually eating this thing you have baked — is mere moments away. And the thing about cakes, about all baking, truly, is this: You Never Know. There is no crying in baseball, and there is no cutting little corners off to make sure it’s not dry in baking. So you just give it your best shot, which in my case involves erring on the side of underbaking (ambient heat keeps cooking the thing after it’s out of the oven), and pray.

In this case, the tester-inserting, icing-sampling, layer-chilling and ritual sacrifice worked. There’s a whole lotta carrots in here, but also walnuts for an interesting textural crunch, plump little golden raisins for softness and taste, a good deal of sweetened shredded coconut for added moistness. And the traditional cream cheese frosting lets a lemony kick in the pants. And it’s three layers! Who can say no to three layers?

At this juncture, I should probably point out that in my insufferably bossy life YOUTH, I never let Alex cut a cake. Because she always did some inane thing like slice it into quarters, then each quarter into thirds and come on, is that any way to cut a cake for nine people?! But this time, I held my tongue and was very mature about her origami methods.

Okay, she might have had to shriek, “I am 22, and I would just like for once in my life to cut my own birthday cake!” But then I was very supportive of her life choices.

(Seriously, it worked out great.)

Make this for your next dinner party. Have one tomorrow! The world needs more dinner parties, more lovely families like this one, and more homemade cakes never hurt anyone, either. It’s a vegetable cake; those calories burn themselves.

Dorie Greenspan’s Carrot Cake
(Via; a simply perfect recipe)

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4tsp salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots, about 9 carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (Baker’s Sweetened is what’s called for, but unsweetened also works; just note that unsweetened coconut is not as wet as sweetened, so you will not get that added moisture
  • 1/2 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canola or safflower oil
  • 4 large eggs

Directions

Look, ma, no butter!

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Butter and flour three 9-in round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bow, combine the carrots, nuts, coconuts, and raisins.

In a large bowl (I used my kitchenaid mixer with a paddle attachment, but an old fashioned bowl ‘n’ whisk work just fine, too), beat the sugar and oil together until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition until the mixture is creamy. Turn the mixer speed to low or switch your whisk for a rubber spatula and gently stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Just as gently, add the chunky ingredients. Evenly divide the batter between the three cake pans. (I weighed mine to get them as similar as possible.)

Put the cakes in the oven, one to each level. The cake needs to bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Set your timer for 20 minutes, and when it dings, switch the top pan and the bottom one. Then rotate each pan 180 degrees so what was facing the back of the oven now faces the door. This helps negate your oven’s inevitable hot spots. After another 15 minutes, you should start checking your cake for doneness, in case your oven runs hot as mine apparently does (done after 35 minutes total). Cakes are done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool on the counter for ten minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto a rack. When they’re completely cool, stick them in the fridge for a few minutes to firm them up before stacking.

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or 1/2 tsp lemon extract

Beat the butter and cream cheese together for several minutes until light and creamy. Tablespoon by tablespoon, add the confectioner’s sugar. (When you add the sugar slowly, you need less of it to reach the right level of thickness. Don’t ask me why. Just happens.) When the frosting is velvety smooth and fairly stiff, add the lemon.

To assemble the cake, put one layer, right-side up, on a cake pan or large plate. You can “glue” it to the center with a little dab of frosting on the bottom, if you want. Using a knife or off-set spatula, liberally spread about a third of the frosting across the top, working right to the very edge. Top with the second layer, right side up, and frost to the very edge again, using another third of the frosting. Top with the third layer, this time putting it upside down, so you have a flat top to the cake. Brush off any crumbs and swirl the rest of the frosting on top.

If you’re serving the cake the next day, you should refrigerate it overnight, given the cream cheese and butter content; if it’s for the day of, I think it’s perfectly fine left out on the counter for the afternoon. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy this ASAP!

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by allison on December 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

    THANK YOU Natalie! It was a wonderful and memorable meal. Alex has been positively territorial over the fridge lest anyone touch the remnants of her cake. She finished the final morsels last night. What a wonderful evening, thank you from all the guests!

    Reply

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