Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

First Birthday Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

When my son turned one year old last week, I wanted to make a delicious-but-somewhat-healthy treat for him and our guests, both little and big.  Nothing too grown-up and chocolate-y, but nothing plain and boring either!  This carrot cake fits the bill perfectly, it’s moist and rich-tasting, but it has 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables.  Fiber city!    I wanted to make a bumble bee-themed cake, because every day I take him to a garden near our house to see the butterflies, flowers, and “bizzzy bizzy bees,” so I tinted the frosting yellow and piped little blue dotted bee trails all over it.  My lovely and talented friend Sarah, author of “Organic and Chic: Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweets That Taste as Good as They Look,” made me the sweetest little bumble bees out of gumpaste, with parchment paper wings. 


This recipe will make either 24 cupcakes (see Cherry Orange Carrot Cupcakes, an earlier variation) or 3 9-inchx1-inch cake layers. If you make the cupcakes, you will only need 1/2 recipe of frosting.

Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple sauce
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325°. Lightly grease 3 9″ cake pans. Cut a circle of waxed paper to line the bottom of each one, then lightly grease the paper. Combine sugar, vegetable oil, and apple sauce in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift dry ingredients into the wet and stir to combine. Stir in carrots, pecans, and raisins. Divide batter between 3 cake pans. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean and the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes I add lemon or orange zest or chopped candied ginger for a more interesting flavor, but for a first birthday I thought the classic combination was just fine.

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
4-6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 tsp vanilla extract

With the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, combine butter and cream cheese. Gradually add powdered sugar to taste — I like it less sweet, but sugar makes the frosting easier to work with, so use your best judgment. Add vanilla and combine thoroughly. Color frosting as you like. If you want to make more than one color, don’t forget to reserve frosting for your second color before you start tinting.

To assemble the cake, choose the plate or cake stand you will be serving the cake on. Place three small pieces of waxed paper overlaping around the edges like a camp fire, so that when you put the first cake layer down, there is a layer of waxed paper between the bottom of the cake and the plate or stand going all the way around. This will protect the plate from frosting messes.

Carefully place the bottom layer down in the middle of the cake plate or stand over the waxed paper. Frost the top of the layer, then place the second layer down. Repeat with the third layer. Frost the sides first, then frost the top generously, gently spreading excess frosting down the sides to blend with the frosting there. Decorate as desired — if you need inspiration, Sarah’s book is full of great ideas.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Shortbread Tart

Sunday, June 14th, 2009


tart1Sometime during the ’80s, my mother made a lot of fruit tarts like this — I seem to remember they always had kiwi slices on them.  Her versions were also glazed with melted currant or apple jelly, so they were a little more polished than this version, which is nice too, or you can stick with the naked fruit, as I have.  The taste combination of nutty crust, creamy filling, and fresh fruit is perfectly delicious and summery, and it’s easy enough to make without dragging out the food processor or the KitchenAid (welcome to my new TV show: “Cooking Very Quietly While the Baby Sleeps.”)  You can make this with a combination of fruit, whatever is fresh, but it is especially delicious with sweet, slightly soft spring strawberries.  I also like it with blueberries or peaches.  Last night I tried it with Clotilde Dusoulier’s pâte à sablé tart recipe from the Chocolate and Zucchini Cookbook, which she advises that you may mix with your fingers, forever winning my heart.  I cooked it about 5 minutes longer than she calls for, so it would brown really well and have a nice toasty flavor.  Despite the unorthodox method, the crust is really delicious, nutty, crunchy, sweet, and sturdy — it might be my new favorite.  I can’t wait to try it with something chocolate-y and salty. 


1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

7 tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes

1-2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter and work together with a fork or the tips of your fingers until there are no butter blobs larger than peas.  Sprinkle with 1 tbsp milk and stir.  It will still look like a big bowl of crumbs but it should clump together well if you squeeze it in your hand — if not, add the 2nd tbsp of milk. 

Pour into a 10 inch tart pan, spread evenly over the bottom, and press down and into the sides of the pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until it’s slightly browned and smells nutty and toasty.   Allow to cool completely.


1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 – 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (sweeten to taste)

1 tbsp honey (optional)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

Beat the cream cheese well with a wooden spoon (or mix with the paddle attachment in the KitchenAid).  Add remaining ingredients and combine.  For variations, try orange zest and juice instead, or try adding 1/2 tsp vanilla.


1-2 pints fresh strawberries or other perfectly ripe summer berries or stone fruit

To assemble the tart, spread the cream cheese filling evenly in the tart shell.  Arrange berries or fruit on top. 

Serves 6-8.

Cherry Orange Carrot Cupcakes

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

These sweet cupcakes are fabulously moist and yummy, with dried cherries stepping in for the more conventional raisin, and orange-flavored cream cheese icing to top them off.
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup applesauce
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3 cups peeled carrots, grated (this winds up being almost exactly a small bag of “baby” carrots, which I just dump into the food processor with the shred blade)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries or more as you like
2 cups powdered sugar
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
zest of 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla
For Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350. Set paper cupcake liners in 2 muffin pans to make room for 24 cupcakes (my muffin pans have 12 spots each). In an electric stand mixer, combine sugar, oil, and applesauce. Add eggs one at a time. Then add dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add carrots, nuts, and cherries, and mix again. Fill each cupcake liner with about 1/2 cup of batter.
Place on middle rack of oven and bake until set, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow cupcakes to cool.
For Frosting:
Combine all ingredients in electric stand mixer and blend for several minutes until all lumps of powdered sugar disappear.
You can frost the cupcakes by dunking them upside down into the frosting, twisting, and flicking a cute little peak over on top when you pull them out.
I like to put a dried cherry or a sliver of crystallized ginger on top.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Strawberry shortcakes are a quintessential early summer dessert. When my mother took my brother and I strawberry picking as kids, this was a much-anticipated and ill-deserved reward, since most of the strawberries we picked seemed to end up in our mouths or pelted at one another, rather than in the waxed-cardboard crates we were supposed to be filling. Those strawberries sang with sweetness and tangy flavor, and the sun heated them to a perfect temperature to melt in our mouths. Later that evening, quick batches of biscuit and whipped cream would make perfect companions to our pickings. My mother used to make one large biscuit and present the shortcake like a regular cake. I prefer to bake individual wedges, sprinkled with turbinado sugar for sparkle. Shortcakes will keep overnight in an airtight container. There’s no hiding lousy fruit here. It’s all about the berries. Make sure you get the freshest, farmiest, most juicy and deserving berries you can find, and serve them at room temperature.

For Strawberries:
4 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced. Reserve 6 of the smallest, prettiest strawberries for a garnish. If some have long stems, even better.
4 tbsp maple syrup
For Shortcake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
For Cream:
1 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 425.
Combine sliced berries and maple syrup, and allow to sit at least ½ hour to meld flavors.
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Add butter and blend with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in zest. In a small bowl, mix egg, milk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture until a dough forms. Turn out onto a hard surface and knead for a minute or two until dough is smooth. Form into a 6-inch disk, and cut into 6 wedges. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Using a standing or handheld mixer, or a whisk and some elbow grease, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla, and whip until hard peaks form.
To assemble shortcakes, split each one in half with a knife, place the bottom half on a dessert plate, and spoon most of the strawberry mixture on top. Top strawberries with most of the whipped cream, and cover with the top halves of the shortcakes. Spoon remaining berries around the sides and top each shortcake with a small spoonful of whipped cream and one of the reserved whole berries.
Serves 6.