Fall made its arrival last week in the Northern Hemisphere with shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures in most areas. In my corner of the world fall brings a magnificent display of yellow, orange and crimson colors and the crisp mountain air makes me crave for spices, hot cider and a warm blanket.
While this is the beautiful picturesque season for some of us, it is a very busy harvest season for the hardworking farmers who have had to fight the elements with sheer anxiety for the past several months. They will be collecting the crop that is the product of their sweat and tears. This harvest is their livelihood and it can mean a good winter ahead or a very lean one.
This is also the beginning of a hard season for those who lack proper shelter and a warm hearth to go home to. Here is to all the hard working farmers everywhere in the world, and here is to remember those less fortunate and wish this upcoming winter will not be a torturous one. Yes, there is a chill in the air and I am welcoming fall with this Carrot Cake, or Cake Havij (carrot in Farsi). My cake has a mildly sweet, delightfully tangy Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and it is baked with brown walnuts, sweet orange carrots, golden pineapples, sugar and spices and everything so fall. To make it even more festive and irresistible, I have garnished my Carrot Cake with crispy whole and crushed Caramelized Walnuts to give it just the right amount of crunch. You may find the recipe for the Caramelized Walnuts that are made with cinnamon and sugar here; serve the extra nuts in a bowl on the side. The Caramelized Walnuts may be prepared up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container. Regular toasted walnuts will also work fine as garnish.
This time of year there is a special celebration in Iran called Mehregan. This autumn festival gives thanks to the harvested crops and also celebrates love (Mehr) for each other. This celebration like most of the present day festivities in Persian culture has been observed since the Zoroastrian time. Please refer to this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehregan for an interesting read.
This is what I love about my Carrot Cake, the ingredients are fun and sort of unexpected, but nutritious enough that you won’t feel guilty about having it for breakfast the next day! One note about the carrots, they should be peeled and then grated fine with a small hole grater for the best texture.
The cake ingredients are mixed in the large bowl of a mixer, then the grated carrots and chopped walnuts are stirred in with a wooden spoon. The batter is poured as equally as possible in the prepared cake pans and baked according to the pan size. I have used two 8-inch round pans.
After you cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes, invert them on cooling racks, top side down, and cool them completely before frosting. This helps minimize the dome that might form on top of the cake, so you don’t have to slice it off to make it flat before frosting. This Carrot Cake is so moist that it does not even need frosting, but the frosting is too yummy to leave out!
Fit a small pastry bag with a star tip. Make the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting using the beater attachment of your mixer and fill the bag with some frosting for piping a circle around the border of the cake before filling it and also for decorating the assembled cake.
Place the first cake layer, bottom side up, on the cake stand or a plate. Pipe out a circle of frosting along the border of the cake. This is to establish a clean border for a prettier presentation. Use a spatula to pile half of the remaining frosting in the center of the cake.
Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly. Place the second cake layer, top side down, on the frosting. Frost the top of the cake with the rest of the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting. Decorate the cake with 8-12 piped rosettes and top each with Caramelized Walnuts and sprinkle some crushed Caramelized Walnuts on top. Pipe out more decorations around the bottom of the cake if you like.
Oh so good! Serve this cake with a hot cup of tea or coffee. It keeps well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days in an airtight container. Enjoy the leftovers for breakfast or send it as a treat in lunch boxes. This simply is a delightful cake to have around the house for many warm fall time gatherings.
The cake recipe was adapted from here, and the frosting was created after several trials by me.
Temperature: Preheated oven 350⁰ F, center rack
Bake Time: 40-45 minutes for two 8-inch pans and 30-35 minutes for two 9-inch pans
To prepare the pans: Grease the bottom and sides of the pans with butter-flavor Crisco shortening (I find this product to work best for the easy release of cakes) and lightly dust with flour
- FOR THE CAKE:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 (8 - ounce) can crushed pineapple with syrup
- 2 cups finely grated carrots (about 4 medium carrots, peeled)
- ¾ cup pea-sized chopped walnuts
- FOR THE MAPLE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
- Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 TBSP granulated sugar
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup plus 2 TBSP (about 3 ounces) maple syrup
- FOR GARNISH:
- 8-12 Caramelized Walnuts plus some for crushing over the top (may also substitute with plain walnut halves plus some chopped walnuts for the top)
- To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare the pans. Add all the cake ingredients, except for the grated carrots and chopped walnuts, into the large bowl of a stand mixer.
- With the whisk attachment and the mixer set on low speed mix the ingredients for 30 seconds to combine the wet and dry ingredients well.
- Increase the speed to medium and mix the ingredients for 3 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides once.
- Stir in the carrots and walnuts with a wooden spoon. Pour as evenly as you can into two prepared pans; I used two 8-inch round pans.
- Bake the cakes on the center rack of the preheated 350 F oven, 40-45 minutes for 8-inch round pans and 30-35 minutes for 9-inch round pans, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.
- Cool the cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes by inverting onto cooling rack, top sides down. This is to get rid of some of the dome that might form during baking. Cool completely before frosting (about 1 ½ hours).
- To make the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting: Use the beater attachment and a clean mixing bowl to beat the softened cream cheese and 4 TBSP sugar on medium speed until fluffy and smooth.
- With the mixer running add the vanilla extract and drizzle the maple syrup slowly. Beat to blend for another minute.
- To assemble the cake: Fit a pastry bag with a star tip and fill with about 1 cup of the frosting.
- Place one cake on a cake stand or plate with bottom side up. Pipe the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting around the border of the cake, then use a spatula to add half of the remaining frosting in the center of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.
- Place the second cake with the top side up on the frosting.
- Frost the top with the remaining frosting and pipe out 8-12 rosettes and top them with Caramelized Walnuts.
- Crush extra Caramelized Walnuts to sprinkle on top.
- Pipe more decorations around the bottom of the cake.
- Serve with a glass of tea or a cup of coffee.