Greg loves carrot cake, and I mean, loves it. There’s a small bakery/restaurant on Lopez Island in the San Juan’s called Love Dog Cafe; we stumbled upon this quirky little eatery the first time when we took our one-week sailing course the summer before we got married. Their version of carrot cake is thick and layered, equal parts airy, evenly risen cake with a dense cream cheese frosting that’ll make your knees tremble and bring a tear to your eye. It’s divine, insanely fattening and a little slice of nirvana. It also isn’t made with any walnuts which is rare; Greg is incredibly allergic to walnuts so he usually can’t find carrot cake that is okay for him to eat. When we were on our honeymoon, we made a trip to Lopez Island for a piece of this cake. The following year, when we took Journey for her first foray into the San Juans, we made procuring a piece of carrot cake a memorable part of our first wedding anniversary. We planned our last sailing trip around making our annual pilgrimage to carrot cake heaven but the Poseidon God of the Seas and Journey did not cooperate and we missed out. We won’t be sailing this year or the next due to some extensive and costly repairs that need to made to Journey’s electrical and plumbing systems- we won’t make it back to Lopez Island and our beloved carrot cake until summer of 2016, at least, not under our own sail.
So, as a way to usher in the New Year and have a little taste of home, I decided to try my hand at making a carrot cake. Now, those of you that know me well realize that I am not much of a baker. I love to cook, but I am not particularly skilled at baking, I’d much rather stir and taste, adding a little of this and that until I get it just right. Cooking is so much more forgiving than baking. Most of my problems with baking is mostly due to the fact that I try to slim-down a recipe to make it healthier and less fattening; substitute this for that, cut the oil and use whole wheat instead of white flour. The results are rarely as good as the original (really, who am I kidding) but I keep trying. Greg is exceedingly tolerant and has tried many versions of healthy muffins and low-fat banana and apple breads that usually taste pretty good but lack the same fluffy texture of their full-fat friends. One of my dreams is to spend a year or two baking in a whole foods bakery/restaurant learning how to create balanced, healthy baked goods. We’ll see what the cake gods have in mind for my future.
This is a riff on Mom’s carrot cake recipe that we made together when Greg and I visited summer 2012. It’s a healthy, greatly slimmed down version of the decadence of Love Dog and it tastes great. I love it because for it’s moist interior and lower-fat cream cheese frosting and I can eat a piece (or three) minus some of the guilt that accompanies a typical over-indulgence. For Greg, it’s no Love Dog carrot cake but it was a great substitute. I’ve modified it somewhat out of necessity; we simply cannot find some of the same ingredients here in Jakarta, mainly spelt flour, liquid vanilla, apple sauce, nutmeg and cloves. I made this version using a toaster oven that is conveniently (not!) housed on top of our refrigerator as there’s no oven in our typical Asian apartment. I have to stand on a chair if I want to take a peek at what’s cooking inside and burnt fingers and wrists are the norm as I shuffle trays in and out. I mostly just use the oven to make a plateful of toast, but I did bake a gorgeous pan of stuffing for Christmas to go with our left over Turkey from Thanksgiving which, by the way, we had to order because you can’t find a bird in the grocery store and nothing much bigger than a large chicken would fit in the toaster oven anyway. But I digress.
The brown sugar was purchased during a trip to Singapore and is quite dark and wet with a heavy dose of molasses. The local Indonesian version of brown sugar is on the opposite end of the spectrum, very dry and more white sugar then anything else, definitely not suitable as a representative of brown sugar. There’s a noticeable taste difference between the Singaporean variety and C & H that I appreciate, but it can be tricky figuring out exactly how to compensate for the change in viscosity between the two. The maple syrup is the real stuff imported straight from Canada as is obvious by the price; we paid about $17 US for a small bottle but it’s worth the splurge. What is not worth the splurge you ask? Paying $32 for a wedge of goat cheese, I just can’t quite bring myself to pay that much. I love cheese, but that’s extortion! For the frosting, I’m using a local powdered sugar though the consistency is more of a gritty sand with a little butter and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
I’m under not illusions that it will be as good as Mom’s and it definitely won’t approach Love Dog’s carrot cake, but it definitely hit the sweet spot for us as we celebrated the New Year. Greg is my telltale sign if a recipe turns out and either it’s been way too long since he’s had a piece of carrot cake, or really any cake for that matter, or it turned out pretty good. I think pureeing fresh pineapple as a replacement for applesauce/canned pineapple mixture made all the difference.
Mom’s (kinda) Carrot Cake: Jakarta, Indonesia 1-1-2014
3 cups grated carrot
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup fresh pineapple-blitz in blender with little apple juice to get it going
1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 tbl. molasses
1 ¼ cups white flour
½ cup oat bran
¼ cup ground flax
1 tsp. powdered vanilla
3 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. soda
*Mix wet and dry ingredients separately; wet in a large bowl and dry in a smaller container. Combine dry with wet, stirring quickly to incorporate the two being careful not to over mix. Cook in a 350 degree oven about 35-40 minutes, 8X8 pan.
1 cup (or so) powdered sugar
5-6 Tbl. butter
sprinkle Vanilla powder
1/2 fresh-squeezed orange juice
*Mix butter and powdered sugar with a hand whisk (I don’t have a hand blender here) then add juice at end. Spread liberally across the cake and try not to eat more than two or three pieces a day…