Carrot Cake for Interviews

Carrot Cake

While the Pie and I were back in Ottawa, I took advantage of our time there to finish off a few more interviews for my work with the local hockey team.  For my very final interview, the person I was interviewing wasn’t a huge sweet fan, so I decided to go with a nice, fresh carrot cake that I pulled off the Canadian Living website.  Plus it was easy peasy and I didn’t have a lot of free time.

Carrot Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F and then butter and flour a 13 x 9″ metal cake pan (or, as I did in this case, two 9″ square disposable aluminum pans).

Carrot Cake

In a large bowl, whisk together the following:

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

I didn’t take a picture of it because it was boring, so you can have a picture of my dog instead.
Gren Learns to Swim

In another bowl, beat together the following until smooth:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla
Carrot Cake

Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and mix until just moistened.

Carrot Cake

Stir in 2 cups grated carrots, 1 cup drained crushed canned pineapple (basically one 340mL can), and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.

Carrot Cake

Spread into your prepared pan(s) and bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Carrot Cake

Set the cakes on a rack to cool completely.

Carrot Cake

For the glorious cream cheese icing, beat together the following:
1 8oz (250g) package plain cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar

Carrot Cake

I needed a little extra icing and I wanted it to be a bit creamier, so I added in a further 1 cup icing sugar and 1/2 cup whipping cream.

Carrot Cake

So very smooth.

Carrot Cake

Spread the icing over your cooled cake.  Spread it with love.  You can tell that I love it.

Carrot Cake

Either inside the pan or without.

Carrot Cake

And then eat it all.  Because the one I made is totally gone now.

Carrot Cake

Espresso Cookies

Miss Awesome and P-with-an-E served these to us with tea after one of those long Sunday lunches that you don’t think about leaving until it’s nearly dark and you have to figure out how you’re going to eat dinner.

Yes, I know, we’ve done the whole espresso deal with our espresso brownies, but who says you can’t make a cookie out of everything?  I had to modify the recipe a bit as it involved using a pre-mixed chocolate chip cookie dough as a base, but I think the result is quite good.  And I will pass on Miss Awesome’s warning: DO NOT EAT AT BEDTIME!

Preheat your oven to 375°F and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together in a medium-sized bowl:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1 tablespoon ground coffee

What I like about mixing dark powders with light powders is that I can easily see how well I’ve mixed the coffee in, so the logic is that if the coffee is well blended then so is the stuff I can’t see, like the baking soda.  Of course, if you shoot it in macro, you can see EVERYTHING.

In a large bowl, cream together

1/2 cup butter, softened (That divot is because I stuck my finger in it to check if it was soft.  It was.)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Crack in and blend well

1 large egg

Stir into that

1/4 cup Kahlua

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and blend well.

Add in

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1 cup chocolate chips

And because we need a chocolate chip extreme closeup:

Use a tablespoon to plop your dough onto the baking sheet.  Space them out as best you can because they will spread quite a bit.

Bake the cookies for 9-12 minutes and leave them on the pan for another five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.Then you can eat them.  Or just look at them.  Or whatever.

Spy Tarts

Secret AGENT Tarts, Secret AGENT Tarts, he’s givin’ you a number, and takin’ AWAY your name …

Baking is much more exciting if your recipes come from a spy, like this one did.

I have a friend who works for CSIS, which is the Canadian equivalent of the CIA (likewise, our RCMP is the FBI).  And like all good spies, he is multi-talented, and thus has a very good recipe for butter pecan tarts. Or butter tarts.  Or raisin tarts.  Or whatever you call them.  I call them SPY TARTS.  I had to call him at work to get this recipe.  Espionage was involved.

(I also applied to work at CSIS a few years ago, and after a very entertaining 3-hour interview, both CSIS and I decided we wouldn’t be a good fit, though I’m sure they kept that file on me somewhere.  I must be too awesome to be a spy.)

So here is your top-secret recipe.  It’s top secret because it’s super easy.

At some point I will expand my repertoire to include pastry, but at the moment you will just have to be satisfied with pre-made Tenderflake tartlet shells.  This recipe makes 12 3″ tarts.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Gather together the following:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup raisins
Divide the raisins evenly among the 12 pre-made shells and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.
Fill each shell 3/4 full.
If you have mixture left over do not be tempted to overfill your cups, as they will bubble and get everywhere.
Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  Of course if you underbake then they will stay runny. 
Remove from oven.  They should be all foamy and bubbling and the crust should be a nice brown.  Place a pecan half on top of each tart and allow to cool and solidify.  The reason I put the pecans on after they are cooked is I find that the pecans tend to burn if you do it before cooking.
EAT!

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.

German Chocolate Cake

For my dad’s birthday back in November, he requested chocolate, and we settled on German chocolate cake for the big celebration.  German chocolate cake is not German, despite the name.  Emerging out of the heart of America in the 1950s, the recipe was actually named after Samuel German, founder of the Bakers Chocolate company.  And of course I have borrowed the recipe from my favourite American in Paris, David Lebovitz.  This cake has a few more extra steps than you’re probably used to (unless you do stuff like this all the time, in which case I bow down to you), so be prepared to devote quite a bit of time to it.  Hopefully yours will turn out a bit better than mine did.

The Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  I didn’t have my handy-dandy kitchen compass (it’s still in Newfoundland) so I had to wing it.

In a double boiler or in your microwave, melt together 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, with 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, also chopped, and 6 tablespoons water.  Set that aside and let it cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar until fluffy, about five minutes.

Separate 4 eggs into two small bowls (one for the whites, one for the yolks, natch).  Beat your melted chocolate into your butter, and add your 4 egg yolks, one at a time.

In a measuring cup, sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Mix in half the dry ingredients into the creamed butter.

Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

***TIPS AND TRICKS INTERRUPTION***

If you don’t have buttermilk you can make an easy substitution here: plop a tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice (I used lemon here) into a measuring cup.

Top it up with milk to equal 1 cup.

Allow it to sit for about five minutes to curdle and you’re all set.

***END INTERRUPTION ***

Add in the rest of the dry ingredients and mix.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. 

Beat in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and keep going until you get stiff peaks.

Fold in your egg white mixture until there’s no trace of it visible.

Divide your batter into the two prepared pans and bake for about 45 minutes, until your toothpick test comes out clean.

Place the pans on racks to cool completely.

While your cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the coconut pecan custard filling, the rum syrup, and the chocolate icing.  Mmm!

The Filling

If the oven is free, or if you had the foresight to do this ahead of time, spread 1 cup finely chopped pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast, turning halfway through, for 10 minutes in your oven at about 400°F.  Do the same with 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut.  Allow them to cool.

In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream), 1 cup granulated sugar, and 3 large egg yolks.

Cut 3 oz room temperature butter (that’s 6 tablespoons) into small pieces and place them in a bowl with the cooled coconut and pecans.  Okay, so my pieces aren’t that small.  Sue me.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the custard thickens and coats the back of your spoon.

Pour the hot custard immediately into the coconut and pecan mixture and stir until the butter is melted.  Cool to room temperature.

The Syrup

In a small saucepan heat together 1 cup water and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is clear.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in 2 tablespoons dark rum.  I of course used Screech.

The Icing

Chop up 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and plop it in a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and 3 tablespoons butter. [Ali’s note: I found that using corn syrup in this particular ganache made my icing runny and hard to apply.  I would probably not use it next time.]

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) until it just begins to boil.  Pour that sucker over the chocolate and let it stand for a minute.

Stir until totally smooth and let sit until it’s room temperature.

Cake Construction

Ease your cooled cakes out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife) cut both cake layers in half horizontally. 

I also cut off the tops of my cakes to make them more level.  Lots of bubbles in this here cake.

Set the first cake layer on a cake plate.  Brush well with your rum syrup.  Don’t be shy — there’s plenty.

Spread 3/4 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges.

Plop another cake layer on top, and then repeat the syrup and filling process, even on the top.

Use your chocolate icing all up the sides of the cake.  This will seal in all the moisture.  I tried to do the decorative piping of icing around the edges of the top, but as I said, my icing was too runny, so I ended up just dribbling it everywhere.  Make sure you use all of it, no matter what happens to its consistency.

I chilled the cake to set the icing.  If your icing is normal, then you won’t need to worry.

Serve and enjoy!

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans


The Pie doesn’t particularly like Brussels sprouts, but the rest of us adore them.  To find a compromise this past Thanksgiving I pulled inspiration from a number of different recipes, and also from a salad I’d eaten at The Black Tomato two nights before, and came up with something that we all loved.

I’m not going to give you measurements for this recipe, because to be honest I didn’t measure anything, just kind of threw it in when the inspiration struck me.  Besides, everyone has their own preferences as to amounts and proportions in a salad.  Just estimate and you’ll be fine.  This version served ten people with tons of leftovers.

First, you cut up your Brussels sprouts.  We tried them first with a mandolin, but then found it was easier just to slice them thinly with a stupid sharp knife.  Cut off the tough stem part at the bottom and discard any bruised or torn outer leaves, then carefully shave those suckers down.We ended up with a medium-sized bowl full of bits of mini-cabbage.Because this was sort of a do-at-the-last-second kind of salad, and because Thanksgiving at the last second gets a little hectic as things come out of the oven and the turkey needs to be carved, I wanted to set up a mise en place for this so everything would be ready to go when I needed it.  Accordingly, I prepared the rest of my ingredients ahead of time.

Three finely chopped green onions.

Two finely sliced shallots.

Two handfuls dried, sweetened cranberries.

A handful each finely chopped radicchio and Boston lettuce.

Goat cheese, or chèvre.

Pecans, ground in my food processor.

Pecan pieces, for garnish.

Mix together the goat cheese, cranberries, and ground pecans.

Set that aside for now.

In a large frying pan or skillet melt about a third of a cup of butter at medium heat.  Toss in your green onions and shallots and sauté for a few minutes until softened.

Chuck in your massive amounts of Brussels sprouts and stir them around until they’re thoroughly coated in butter and start to wilt.

Add in the raddichio and the Boston lettuce and stir to mix.  Drizzle gently with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a healthy dash of real maple syrup.  Toss to coat and remove from heat.

Add in your goat cheese mixture and toss it well.

Sprinkle with pecan pieces and serve warm.