There are three restaurants in the suburban Detroit area that have Carrot cake on their menus: A.J. Alexander's, Ocean Prime and Mitchel's. The best Carrot cake by far is from Alexander's, which I shared with Honey last Saturday at the gathering of the Clan and have been thinking about ever since.
Alexander's single layer carrot cake excels. It's more moist than the others and has a white drizzle topping--in which I suspect there's some schnapps, the same schnapps that's in the batter. The other carrot cakes are layer cakes (7) with a butter cream type frosting in between each one making the cakes way too sweet. The cakes are drier so I suppose the chefs thought add more icing, which does make the cakes prettier, but still doesn't win the blue ribbon.
What struck me as weird about my musing is why on a laundry Monday was I sitting on the couch doodling carrot cakes while my warm up stuff and Honey's socks were being tossed around the dryer? I guessed I had a real carrot cake painting germinating in my brain. I kept imagining as I drew streaks of burnished orange and white, blue violet shadows and a touch of green on the candy carrot garnish. I kept thinking I should get off my duff and get the markers and some real paper instead of using the back of my suduko puzzle. But everything was too far away.I was nursing a cold I probably picked up off the door handle in the ladies room and more work than emptying the dryer was not going to happen. I wanted to shake the sore throat, runny eyes and cough before Christmas.
To make myself feel better about being such a bum, I decided rather than just doodling from memory,I should go buy a piece of carrot cake from Alexander's and paint it from life. When the painting was signed, I'd dump it in the garbage disposal. A thousand more calories around my waist was out of the question with swim suit weather being just weeks away. But while visions of sugar plums dance in (some) kids' heads, my head certainly danced with thoughts of carrot cake yesterday--enough to find...
AN A.J. ALEXANDER'S CARROT CAKE-LIKE RECIPE: which doesn't seem to have any schnapps in it.--And I found a photo of a carrot cake that looks somewhat like Alexanders--but Alexander's doesn't have the carrot garnish and their topping really is more like the whiskey sauce from a Grand Marnier souffle. (FYI, a little coal in your stocking before you try it out, a 3 ounce slice of generic carrot cake has 473 calories). The piece at Alexander's serves four and there's nothing generic about it.
A J ALEXANDER-LIKE CARROT CAKE
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground crystallized ginger (or 1 teaspoon regular ground ginger)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped finely
1 cup shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices – cooked
8 oz. can crushed pineapple in natural juice, well drained
2 teaspoons vanilla
INGREDIENTS FOR THE FROSTING:
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioner`s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cream of coconut (or 1/4 cup whole milk, which is easier to find)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a 13×9 inch pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper and lay it along the bottom of the baking dish and spray it with cooking spray.
Place the carrots in a microwave safe dish, cover with water and cook on high for 8 to 10 minutes until soft. Drain and transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree; set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
In a separate bowl. Whisk the eggs and then beat in the sugar and oil. Stir the dry mixture into sugar and egg mixture. Combine thoroughly using a large wooden spoon. Next, fold in the pureed carrots, vanilla, pineapple, coconut, and chopped pecans. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 1 hour until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the cake`s edges to loosen its sides. Invert onto a serving platter so that the cake is top-side up. Allow to cool completely before icing.
TO PREPARE THE ICING:
Use a stand or hand mixer to beat the cream cheese with the butter. Gradually add the confectioner`s sugar, beating until smooth. Add coconut milk or plain milk and the vanilla, incorporating thoroughly. (Initially, the icing will be a bit runny. That`s okay. Just pop it in the fridge for about a half hour until firm enough to spread. Don`t leave it in too much longer than suggested though or it will get too firm and you`ll have to wait for it to warm up a bit counter-top.)
Frost the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with whole pecan pieces and a sprinkling of coconut.
Store in the refrigerator up to two days before serving and then allow it to come back to room temp 1 hour or so before serving.