So Boston/Cambridge/Watertown/Surrounding areas are on lockdown. I'm sure you know that.
I was woken up shortly after 6am this morning with simultaneous texts from my roommate, who was stuck at Logan Airport, and from the Cambridge Police. The police text said:
"This is the city of Cambridge. Do [sic] to the police investigation in Water Town [sic] and the surrounding area, MBTA."
TOTALLY unhelpful, but by then I was wide awake, so I turned on my computer to learn more. Good lord, things are CRAZY in this city right now. From my kitchen window I saw MBTA buses full of police being transported while I was eating breakfast. Otherwise there's been very little vehicular traffic and few people out along the river, which is usually packed with walkers, runners, and bikers. With the exception of occasional sirens, my neighborhood is very quiet, much like the whole city. After what seemed like a lot of activity this morning, mostly from various media outlets catching up on the night's activity, there's been little fresh news since late morning. It's kind of crazy to think that a city can literally shut down, and people more or less respect the command to stay inside, but so far it's working.
One friend wrote on Facebook that it feels like "a scary, weird snow day in spring." Which is true. Can't go outside, no where to go, and nothing to do. So clearly, that called for snow day amusement tactics, namely baking.
Although not totally seasonal, carrot cake had been on my brain lately, so that happened. My go-to carrot cake recipe is from Cooks Illustrated. I've made it many times--for cupcake bars at weddings last fall, and once for a birthday cake for a carrot-cake loving 5 year old. The cake features lots of carrots and a nicely balanced mix of spices (which I bump up a bit) that can be jazzed up with nuts (toasted pecans or walnuts), and/or raisins. The recipe is quite easy with a food processor, (but can be made with a stand or hand mixer as well). Though the recipe is designed to be a sheet cake, it also works well as a layer cake or cupcakes.
Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Adapted from Cooksillustrated.com)
Makes: 9 x 13-inch cake
OR 2 9-inch round cakes (to make a layer cake)
OR 32 regular cupcakes
2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces/350 grams) All Purpose Flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 pound medium carrots (6 to 7 carrots), peeled, ends trimmed
1 ½ cups granulated sugar (10 ½ ounces/300 grams)
½ cup packed light brown sugar (3 ½ ounces/50 grams)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable, safflower, or canola oil
1 ½ cups chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional but recommended)
1 cup of raisins (optional)
Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tablespoons unsalted butter softened, but still cool
1 Tablespoon sour cream (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (or more) orange zest (optional)
1 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar (4 ½ ounces)
For the cake:1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your pan of choice. Either spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan or two 9-inch round pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan(s) with parchment and spray the parchment. If you're making cupcakes, line cupcake tins with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.
3a. (Food processor method) In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out the food processor work bowl put in the metal blade. Process both sugars and the eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the shredded carrots, and the nuts and/or raisins, if using. Fold in the dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.
3b. (Mixer method) Shred carrots using large holes of box grater; transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or in large bowl and using hand-held mixer), beat the sugars and eggs on medium-high until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to medium; with mixer running, add oil in slow, steady stream, being careful to pour oil against inside of bowl (if oil begins to splatter, reduce speed to low until oil is incorporated, then resume adding oil). Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 seconds to 1 minute longer. Stir in carrots (and nuts and/or raisins), then the dry ingredients by hand until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain
4. Pour into the prepared pan(s). If using two pans, divide the batter evenly between them. If you're making cupcakes, fill the liners about half an inch from the top. Bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, for a large cake, about 20 minutes for cupcakes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. (I apologize--I can't remember offhand how long the 9-inch rounds take. About 25 minutes I'd guess? I'll update this post next time I bake this cake in rounds.)
5. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.
For the frosting:
1. When the cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla in clean food processor work bowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
1a. (Mixer method) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla at medium high speed until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix (slowly until it's incorporated) until very fluffy, about 1 minute.
2. Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Frost accordingly:
If you made one big cake, use an offset spatula or large knife and spread frosting evenly over surface of cake.
If you've made two round cakes, place one right side up on a serving platter. If the cake is domed in the middle, level it out. Hold the flat side of a long serrated knife parallel to the counter. Using slow sawing motions, level out the cake by cutting off the domed part in the center of the cake. Eat or discard the dome. Spread about a third of the frosting over the top of the cake. Top with the second cake and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.
If you're making cupcakes, frost using a small offset spatula, if you have one, or a butter knife. Or, if you have a pastry bag, fit it with a wide round tip, and pipe frosting.
Leftovers can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 days.
Enjoy, any time of year! (Potential terrorist attack not necessary for enjoyment.)