Surprise Carrot Cake!

Ok, so I've been making all these veiled references to cakes and cake decorating and other similar things.  I also played around with cake and frosting recipes for close to a month now.  And I've been dying to talk about them.

But it was a surprise.  I couldn't.

However, a week ago Saturday, that all changed.  The surprise (and a lot of work on PLS, ZNS and NES's parts!) came to fruition!

We celebrated GWS's birthday!  Granted, it was about 6 months early.  But those of us with winter birthdays deserve summer parties occasionally.  Especially when said party happens on a lake.

And he was totally surprised!  That's the best part!

Anyway, my part in this whole surprise was the cake.

And helping with some fun and beautiful salads.

I knew that GWS loves carrot cake, and I had been told that he specifically liked it WITH pineapple and nuts, but not raisins.

Now, one thing you must understand is that I also love carrot cake.  However, the recipe I grew up with  and ate at almost every birthday was a carrot cake without nuts or fruit.   In my personal opinion, this cake is the best (carrot) cake ever.  Not to fear, though, I was up to the challenge.

First, I didn't want to just do the standard throw-some-canned-pineapple-in-the-cake thing.

Second, I wanted to dress it up.

Solution:  Use crystallized pineapple instead of canned, and add in some crystallized ginger for a little kick.  Thanks to KEB and JB for being my flavor testers.

The original plan was to make both this new and different carrot cake and plain Jane carrot cake.  I'd frost the new one with pineapple cream cheese frosting and the plain Jane one with maple cream cheese frosting.

However, after a very sloppy and drippy looking first attempt (I didn't quite have time to decorate my practice cake), I decided it was time to head back to the tried and true cream cheese frosting recipe.

So, on Thursday afternoon, I started the baking.  I made the two ten-inch pineapple and ginger carrot cake layers.  I made 1 1/2 times the original recipe, just to make the layers look fairly even.  It worked pretty well.

Then I made two eight-inch layers of plain Jane carrot cake.  For some reason, they not only didn't fall, but they came out domed!  Dad (who is the most experienced carrot cake maker in the family) has tried everything to figure out what makes it fall, but it just never seems to make a difference.  We've each had one time that it randomly decided not to fall.  Honestly, I like it when it falls -- it's moister and leaves more space for frosting!

Then came Friday.  I made the frosting in the morning after my swim.

Once I got the big cake layers frosted, I put toothpicks into the center to hold up the top layers.  I'm not sure it was strictly necessary for my two tier cake, but I did it anyway.
I built the smaller cake on a 6 inch cake circle.  It made it much easier to remove the top tier for cutting.  Just don't try cutting through it.  Oops.

Then came the small tier!

And then a brief break for strawberry picking and thai food with TK!  Yum!

Then came the hard part: decorating.  The one part I hadn't gotten to test out.

I used gel food coloring (yellow, royal blue, and sky blue) to make really bright frostings.  My mistake was to use cream cheese frosting again.  I really should have used buttercream, since it would have stayed better.

I started out trying to make the spread dots I've seen on Pinterest recently.  It didn't work.  I didn't have the right tip and the frosting wasn't stiff enough.

So I made a checkerboard pattern.  Except said checkerboard looked like the side of a British police car.  Oops.

Thus, I made non-symmetric lines on the bottom layer to make it a little less . . . geometric.

Then came details.

Finally, letters for the top!  While I tell this part of the story, may I say that GWS, PLS and ZNS were coming to visit Friday evening, and I wasn't sure what time they were coming.  I kinda felt like I was racing against the clock.

The letters on the top turned into a little bit of an ordeal.  Especially with the time crunch.  I decided to try a frosting sugar paste for the top.  I've never used fondant, and I was a little intimidated by it.

The paste looked great, but was a little hard to cut.  It kept getting stuck in the letter cutters.

But I managed to get it done in time!  I was just finishing the dishes when the arrived, and apparently managed to make it look non-suspicious.

Meanwhile, the cake sat out with the washing machine so it was out of view.

Then, finally, it was party day!  I added a few washi tape banners.

Then 30 candles (that wouldn't light anyway because of the wind . . . oops) and it was ready!

Happy (early) birthday, GWS!

Everything Carrot Cake
adapted from the Flanders Baptist and Community Church Cookbook 

1 c. salad oil  (or substitute apple sauce)
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
3 c. grated carrots
1 c. chopped pecans
1/2-3/4 cup crystallized pineapple, chopped into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces
4 medium pieces of crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans, and line with parchment or waxed paper.  

Mix together the oil, sugar and eggs. 

Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well.  

Add the carrots, pecans, pineapple and ginger.  Mix until the "chunky ingredients" are distributed evenly through out the batter.   

Divide evenly between the two pans.  Bake for 40-45 minutes.   

(Multiply by 1 1/2 for two 10-inch layers.) 

Cream Cheese frosting
from the Flanders Baptist and Community Church Cookbook 

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box powdered sugar

Cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy.  Add in the sugar a little at a time and beat until well combined.

Makes enough to frost 1 two-layer cake.

I ended up using 3 recipes for the whole cake.  

Scupltable Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. light or heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar
food color gels

Beat the butter and cream together with a mixer until smooth.  Add one cup of confectioner's sugar at a time, until a dough consistency is reached.  Add the vanilla and continue to beat.

Turn the dough out onto a confectioner's sugar dusted counter.  Separate into separate balls of dough for each color. 

Add several drops of food color gel into each mound and knead until the color is distributed throughout the dough.  Continue until the desired color is reached.  

Add a bit more powdered sugar if the dough seems sticky.  Otherwise, mold it as desired.  

Now, I could give you the plain Jane carrot cake recipe too, but maybe that one's a family secret . . . One never knows!  


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