Like Cara, I’m not really good at surprises. Actually, I take that back. I’m good at surprises; I’m just not good at being surprised. Every year I hint to my friends that they should throw me a surprise party, but I’m still waiting for that moment of shock and awe that my friends were able to successfully keep something without me suspecting a thing.
That right there is the problem. I like to say that my inner journalist leads me to discover lots of things I shouldn’t, including uncovering secrets. Keeping secrets, however, is also one of my best skills, so when it came time for one of my best friend’s birthdays, I knew a surprise party was in order.
Planning a 19th birthday party for Lexi, a fellow SKC contributor, was relatively easy. Using Facebook to invite guests and scheming with her roommate to keep her occupied until I finished up my final class of the semester, the details were set…all except the birthday cake. I knew I wanted to bake something from scratch, but the only question was what. I knew she had eaten her share of cupcakes and brownies (yes, it is possible to OD on cupcakes), so the challenge was to whip up something unexpected yet also familiar. Who better to ask than her mother?
I sent an email off to Lexi’s mom asking her about this carrot cake recipe I had seen previously on Lexi’s blog. Graciously, Mrs. Quan sent me the original recipe for the cake that Lexi anxiously looked forward to every year for her birthday. While the recipe on the blog was tweaked to reduce the fat and sugar, I prepared the original, full-fat recipe, photocopied and emailed to me, baking splotches and all. Lexi’s mom put it best: “The naked truth is sometimes a really good dessert is just not perfectly healthy.”
What with all the oil, sugar, eggs and cream cheese frosting, the cake is certainly decadent, but it also incredibly moist and luscious. The pineapple and carrots make you think you are eating something healthy, and the inclusion of cinnamon emits a scent from the oven that transforms the kitchen into a crisp fall day retreat. The frosting is perhaps the best part, as the amaretto is KEY.
Tasting the amaretto in the creamy topping is just how Lexi must have felt walking through my apartment door. Like the smile that follows from a bite of cake and tasting the unexpected flavor in the waves of cream cheese and sugar, Lexi’s face lit up when she saw her closest friends waiting for her to blow out the candles spelling her name.
Carrot Cake with Amaretto Frosting
Courtesy of Judy Quan
Makes one 9×13-inch cake
The amaretto is essential to the frosting. While you could substitute almond or vanilla extract, the best part about this cake is the unexpected flavor in the fluffy cream cheese frosting.
For the Cake:
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups vegetable/canola oil
One 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple in its own juice (not syrup), drained
3 1/2 cups of carrots, shredded
For the Frosting:
1 stick of butter, softened
11 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoon Amaretto
1 1/2 -2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Grease 9×13 inch cake pan.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk until well-combined and no lumps remain.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and eggs. Fold in shredded carrots and crushed pineapple.
Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture.
Pour into prepared pan, and bake for 55 minutes. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Let cake cool completely before frosting.
Using a mixer (or a LOT of elbow grease), beat together butter, cream cheese, and amaretto. Stir in powdered sugar and continue beating until fluffy. Spread on the cake.