Makin’ Whoopie

On occasion, and contrary to what I said the other day about moderation, I like to use a stupendous amount of butter. Yeah, that’s right. Stupendous.

Like 4 sticks in 1 recipe. Sure, that’s breakfast for Paula Deen, but over here those four sticks usually last a month or more.

It’s all a ploy to make new friends – that’s all. You won’t catch me making these sorta treats just for the two of us (okay, maybe, but not on the regular), but by golly I’ll fatten up new-found friends any day of the week. They rarely complain. And! I still get to eat some too, so I’m happy (but not “fat and happy” as the saying goes).

And so, these sorta treats come along to days at the bay when we’re shucking oysters and drinking Vino Verde, or Moscofilero, or Blue Moons with orange juice drizzled in (yeah, it sounded strange to me too – but it’s tasty).

They go nicely with other things too – like milk, or water, or coffee, or just plain ol’ saliva! And when I eat them, I get a slight twinge of nostalgia; I think of those oatmeal cream pies (with carrots!) from gramma’s house – soft, oaty, creamy, and yeah – buttery, for sure.

And like I said before – these carrot cake whoopie pies are good for making new friends too. I even traded one in for a barbeque sauce-laden rib that Chris was swooning over. Spreading the love is what these things are all about – yourself, friends, or strangers – pick one, or pick ’em all.

Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies
adapted from Tasting Table, who adapted from Claire Twestern of Talula’s Garden; makes 18-24

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes active time, plus 6 hours inactive time dedicated to letting the dough chill

printable version

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 c light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
¾ t vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
½ T crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 c old-fashioned oats
1½ c of peeled and grated carrots (from about 2 to 3 medium carrots)
1 c raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes and drained

Cream Cheese Icing
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¼ c powdered sugar
2 T honey
12 oz cream cheese, softened

Make the cookies: In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter with the brown sugar and granulated sugar until lightened, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the eggs one at a time, beating the yolk of the first egg until it’s incorporated before adding the second egg. Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet, then gently stir in the oats, carrots and raisins. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Scoop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan for a couple of minutes, then carefully move cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Make the icing: In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in the honey and cream cheese until incorporated. Spoon the frosting into a piping bag (or fashion one out of a plastic bag and cut a hole in the corner) and pipe the frosting onto half of the cookies; place the other cookies on top to create sandwiches.

I Miss My Ex…

… boyfriend’s gramma’s red velvet cake. I truly do.

Why is it that almost every gramma is notorious for producing only the absolute best cake that you ever put into your mouth? My own gramma (not the s’mores one, the other one) used to make those pound cakes that put all the other pound cakes to shame. She barely measured the ingredients, as she’d made that same cake practically every Sunday for at least the first 20 years of my life. And even though she now can’t remember what she ate for breakfast, if she ate breakfast, or even who I am on most occasions, I swear to you – if she were strong enough to stand and mix it – she could probably whip up one of them right now, at 94.5 years of age, and the taste of it would have you all begging for mercy. She can even play piano by ear, never having taken a single class, and any tune you played to her she’d gracefully glide her thin, frail fingers across those dusty ivory keys as if she were Beethoven himself.

My ex-boyfriend’s gramma? She was one helluva woman too; still is, probably. She loved me to pieces, and I loved her right back. She loved me so much that she made me a red velvet cake for every birthday, practically 5 years straight. I’d never even tasted a red velvet cake before hers, and was a bit confused when she first made it because it was deep burgundy-red and frosted (with cheese. cheese!) rather than yellow with a golden crunchy crust and the faint scent of lemon. But either way, I was truly in love; I looked forward to that cake each and every year. If truth be told, the hardest part about moving on was leaving that damned cake behind. Hell, the only hard part, really :).

My dear mommy, she’s tried. If, by try, you mean picking up store-bought blood-red red velvet cake from Harris Teeter. I know, right?! But she’s not a baker, or any type of cook, and I did give an ‘A’ for effort because if nothing else, she remembered.

The problem is, is that I’ve remembered as well. There are no cakes like ‘ex-bf’s gramma’s’ cake’ and when she made them, I never thought about the fact that one day she wouldn’t. Although I should’ve, looking back. I should’ve stood in that hot, tiny kitchen and watched her every move, scribbling down the recipe while flour flew around like snow, clinging to every surface, each one slathered in red dye as if the CSI’s should be there instead of my eager hands.

But I didn’t. And so, instead, I’ve gone 10 years without that moist, barely chocolatey, buttery, tangy cake coated with sugary, cream cheese frosting and I’ve finally decided that enough is enough. In an effort to find the next best thing, I finally made my own.

And let me just add here, that I didn’t simply hop outta bed one morning (although, let’s be honest, I never “hop” out of bed, rather I roll slowly until I am forced to put my feet on the ground…) and decide to whip this thing up. I stumbled upon it over on the Pithy and Cleaver blog, became inspired, and traced the steps back to the original recipe – because I am weird like that and wanted to investigate it just as I have investigated every other red velvet recipe that’s crossed my path. The difference is that this recipe showed promise; this recipe was not, like all of those before, tossed aside like yesterday’s Red Eye crossword, crosswords with one or two empty clues that leave me pondering for hours on how to make things fit, crosswords I eventually give up on.

And so I took this promising recipe, I read it, I took a deep breath, I ‘mise-en-placed’, and I held out hope that all this thought and anticipation would result in something halfway resembling that taste I’ve longed for each and every birthday for the past 10 years.

Let’s just say – 3/4 of the way, at this point, is good enough for me!

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook via The New York Times, Smitten Kitchen, & Pithy and Cleaver.

if you are anywhere near as in love as i am with red velvet, you must try it. well, even if you aren’t or even if you’ve never even had it, you should try it. enough said.

printable version

2 t unsalted butter
3½ c cake flour, King Arthur brand
½ c unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1½ t kosher salt
2 c canola oil
2¼ c granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 container red gel coloring (1/2 oz) dissolved in 6 T water (or use ~3 oz liquid)
1½ t vanilla
1¼ c buttermilk
2 t baking soda
2½ t white vinegar
cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 2 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter among pans (if you have a kitchen scale the easiest way to do this is to weigh them and make them close to the same), place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, ~45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

Take one layer and place on plating dish. If you have a serrated knife, shave off some of the top to level it out as much as possible. Coat with frosting (to avoid smearing the red crumb from the shaving, do one thin layer of frosting and let it sit in the fridge for a few minutes to harden then add the rest) and add the second layer to finish frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

printable version (frosting only)

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package Neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese), room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract

Cream butter and cheese together in mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; turn mixer on low and begin combining ingredients (to avoid getting powdered sugar all over your pretty face) and once slightly incorporated, turn to medium to combine fully. If you want sweeter frosting, add sugar by the 1/2 c.

note: if your aspirations are even loftier than mine, this cake, if done in two pans, is perfect thickness to cut into four layers. If you do more layers though, I’d 1.5 the recipe (or even double) so you don’t run out of frosting.