The world works in mysterious ways. Lately I have been having trouble sitting down to write blog posts. I have great ideas while driving, working out or doing just about anything else. When I sit down to write, all I can seem to do is get the recipe done. My usual witty personality and endlessly long story telling ability seems to escape me when faced with putting it on paper for all the world to see. I have long suffered from wanting everything to be perfect, from not wanting people to see my flaws. This is something I have been working on for the past year and continue to work on every day. I know that no one is perfect. I love and except so many amazing, imperfectly perfect, people around me yet, I have trouble excepting it within myself. Wanting everything to be perfect is a pretty surefire way to kill the creative process and certainly not a healthy way to live.
As I sat down at my computer Monday morning to type up my carrot cake recipe for the blog I was really not looking forward to choosing the “perfect” story to tell. I had decided that carrot cake would be the first blog post that I would promote and use to launch my website (more on that later). No pressure LOL.
My phone pinged. I am pretty easily distracted so I try not to look at my phone when I sit down to write but I gave in and checked the message. My immediate reaction was WTF! The message was from one of my favorite employees ever (and favorite people in general) who I haven’t seen in over a year, Mike Nygard. Mike was texting, out of the blue, to ask if he could pay me to make him a carrot cake just because he missed it and hadn’t had it in so long. I took this as a clear sign that carrot cake should be my first official post and that Mike should be a part of it.
I sent Mike a message back and told him that I would gladly bake a carrot cake under the condition that he come over and bake with me, this way we could talk and catch up while baking delicious cake. We decided on Wednesday and our baking date was set.
Let me tell you about Mike. Mike is one of the most thoughtful, generous, hardworking people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is handsome, funny, politically incorrect, loyal, brave, creative and just a total sweetheart of a person. Like most of my staff, he is young enough to be my son. I first met Mike five years ago when he applied to work at the bakery counter in my restaurant, Sweet Kitchen & Bar. His only previous restaurant experience was as a manager in a Wendy’s and he was a trained hairdresser but chose not to work in that field.
Pretty soon after Mike started working for me he took on the majority of the the responsibilities for the front end of the bakery part of my business. He answered emails, took custom orders, made sure the counter always looked great, ordered supplies and took great care of our guests. As holiday season approached we were short staffed so I had him try his hand at making fondant decorations for cupcakes and cakes. Making decorations was something that could be done while standing at the front counter during slow times. Mike was a natural so my head pastry chef Shayla and I taught him how to decorate cakes. There wasn’t really much teaching needed, again, he was a natural. This trend continued with every job I taught him in the kitchen including working the busy restaurant line. I have had many talented employees who were crossed trained in multiple jobs but Mike was on another level. In all my years in business, Mike was the one employee who could work every station in the kitchen and in the front of the house with total proficiency. The only position he was never trained on and never worked was bartender but I imagine he would have picked that up too.What makes this even more amazing is that Mike has diabetes and suffers from anxiety. Somehow, he never let this get in the way of doing his job even under the high pressure of working the line.
I often think of Mike and use him as an example when reminding myself or others to focus on the task at hand. When he was working, Mike, was always completely focused on what he was doing, no matter what chaos was going on in his life outside of work – and he had is share. There is nothing to be gained from stressing about everything going on around us in the world or in our own lives, stress and worry doesn’t solve anything. If we can focus on our task at hand, the moment we are in, it actually provides reprieve from our problems and worries. This is what I love about cooking and why it has always been my happy place.
Yesterday, Mike and I spent the afternoon baking, frosting and catching up. So much has changed in both of our lives over the past year and a half but in that moment baking and talking about life it was as if nothing had changed at all. We were both reminded that what really matters is the friends and family around us, that we love and we are loved. As long as we have people around us who love and care about us everything else will work itself out, we will be ok. And, carrot cake makes everything better!
I actually have to give credit to another former Sweet employee, Miranda White, for reminding me of the obvious. Carrot cake should be the first recipe that I write about. Honestly, carrot cake wasn’t even a thought until I posted a question on Facebook asking what recipes people would like to see. Miranda answered it asking for carrot cake, duh, only the most popular cake I made and sold during my 15 years in business. More often than not the answers are right in front of us, we just don’t always see them without a little help from our friends.
Carrot Cake - The Best Ever
The secret to this carrot cake is what I like to call "a happy accident". One day, while recipe testing at home for my first bakery, the shredding attachment on my food processor broke. I was already in the middle of making carrot cake so I just threw the carrots in the food processor with the regular blade. The pulverized, finely ground carrots resulted in the moistest, most beautifully textured carrot cake I had ever had and a new recipe was born.
The frosting for this cake is reminiscent of cheesecake, slightly sweet and made with more cream cheese than butter. It is important to use a high quality vanilla extract, I prefer one that contains the seeds as well such as Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla bean paste. This cake was always the most popular item sold by the slice in my bakery cases and sold out every weekend no matter how much we made. I think the flavor and texture of this cake is even better after it is refrigerated over night.
- 2 cups all purpose Flour
- 2 tsp baking Soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup canola oil
- 4 eggs
- 8 oz carrots, peeled
- 1 ½ cup walnuts chopped
- 16 ounces cream cheese room temp.
- 10 oz unsalted butter 2 1/2 sticks, room temp.
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
For the cake
Preheat oven to 350
Spray and lightly flour two 9 inch cake pans and place a parchment or wax paper cake circle in the bottom of each pan
Mix all of the dry ingredients in large bowl until incorporated and set aside
Grind peeled and cleaned carrots in a food processor until they are finely found and uniform. If there are a few large stray pieces just remove them. No one wants a hunk of carrot in their cake
Mix eggs, ground carrots and oil until just combined
Add the wet ingredients and the walnuts to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined
Divide into prepared pans and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
Remove cakes from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes in the pans.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake and invert onto parchment or wax paper to cool
For the frosting
Combine the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric hand mixer) and beat until creamy, well-combined, and lump-free.
Add vanilla extract and salt, mix well to combine.
With mixer on low, gradually add powdered sugar until completely combined.
Use to frost completely cooled cake or cupcakes.