The main impetus for making this cake was based on a recently acquired ability that I've happily added to my baking repertoire. And that would be making my own nut pastes. Nut pastes can be expensive and aside from almond paste--which seems to be more readily available--hard to find.
Unless you order them online of course. But I don't always feel like waiting or paying for that stuff. So, I found a great step by step recipe/guide to making a pistachio paste and it's very easy. And I figured that I could adapt it to use with other nuts as well. With that, I decided I wanted to make a pecan paste.
But then I was wondering what the heck I was going to do with it. Honestly, I'm not sure what to do with nut pastes except eat them all by themselves--they're pretty darn good on their own. Nevertheless, I was thinking that maybe they'd make a good flavoring agent in a frosting for a cake. So, I had a possible pecan butter cream or whipped cream frosting on deck but no cake yet. And I guess I could have made any type of cake but carrot cake--with it's spice-heavy make-up seemed like a good match.
Plus, sometimes people put nuts into their carrot cakes right? But instead of incorporating the nut element into the cake, I decided to do it with the frosting. Ingenious. I know. Probably never been done before.
And actually--admittedly--I'm not a huge proponent of cream cheese frostings--which is commonly used for carrot cakes. In fact, aside from a cheese cake--which is supposed to be cream cheesy--I could live without the stuff (I know--perhaps I speak baking blasphemy). I don't like it in frosting or mousses--I feel like it's used a bit too liberally.
People want something that has some body to it so they turn to cream cheese--and it's a turn-off for me. So my pecan cream frosting seemed way better. I thought about developing my own carrot cake recipe but then I realized that I don't exactly know what I want that recipe to be like. I love carrot cake but I'm just not sure I've experienced enough carrot cake to accurately decide what I do and do not like with it. So with that, I decided on a recipe from my Vintage Cakes cookbook.
This recipe was slightly different than some of the recipes I've seen in that it uses part all-purpose flour and part whole wheat pastry flour--maybe to give it a nuttier flavor? I'm not sure it came through in the finished product but it certainly didn't hinder any of the cake's other flavors--which were quite lovely.
Also, there's a note in the recipe with suggestions of what to add to your carrot cake--with the intent to "make it your own". Ingredients like currants, raisins, coconut and pineapple were mentioned. In an effort to find my own carrot cake recipe, I took up this suggestion and added some chopped-up pineapple to the batter.
I thought it was a nice addition but as odd as it may seem, I didn't like the way it looked in the cake--like the orange carrot color and the yellow pineapple. It seemed very un-carrot cake like. Again, I know it seems weird. But I also didn't think that it really added anything more to the cake. In other words, as far as flavor goes, I could take it or leave. So, when I finally do develop my own carrot cake recipe, I'll probably be leaving the pineapple out.
Recipe adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson
1c (5oz) all-purpose flour
1c (4 3/4oz) whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated nutmeg)
1 1/2c (10 1/2oz) granulated sugar
1/2c (3 3/4oz) packed brown sugar (I used light brown but you could used dark too)
3/4c vegetable oil
4 large eggs at room temp.
1/2c buttermilk at room temp.
1 lb peeled and coarsely grated carrots (about 3 cups)
1c chopped pineapple (chopped to about 1/4 inch cubes)
First, grease the sides and the bottom of two round 9 inch cake pans. Then, line the bottoms of each pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium sized bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together and then whisk to fully combine them. Set them aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and oil. Mix for about 3 minutes on medium speed--scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple times to make sure it all gets fully combined. Next, add the eggs one at a time--adding the next egg right after the previous one becomes fully incorporated into the batter. After all of the eggs have been incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and mix the batter for 3 minutes. It will increase in volume and lighten in color during this time. Now, turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating between them and the buttermilk--first add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, then 1/2 of the buttermilk just until combined, 1/3 dry, rest of buttermilk and finally the remaining of the dry ingredients being careful to mix each addition until just combined. Finally, turn off the mixer and using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the carrots and pineapple just until evenly incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 baking pans. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean and the top of each cake springs back when lightly touched by your finger. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for about 30 minutes in the pans before removing them from the pans. Cool completely before assembly and frosting.
Pecan cream frosting recipe
3c of cold heavy whipping cream
1/2c of granulated sugar
1c pecan paste at room temp.
Before you start, place the bowl of a stand mixer and the whisk attachment in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. After the bowl and whisk are cold, pour all of the cream in the bowl and whisk on medium speed. When the cream has thickened up a bit slowly pour the sugar into the bowl while the mixer is running. Whisk until stiff peaks have formed. Turn the mixer off and switch to the paddle attachment. Add in the pecan paste and mix on low speed until it has been fully incorporated. Use the frosting immediately or refrigerate it--covered--until ready for use.
For assembly, spread a small amount of frosting on your preferred cake platter. Set 1 layer on top of the frosted cake platter and then spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the bottom layer. Top that with the second layer and then frost as desired with the remaining frosting. You may not need to use all of it--I had maybe a 1/2c to 1 cup left over. Slice and enjoy.