labor of love

My boyfriend Scott loves to eat and abides by the manly mantra that “quantity trumps quality” when it comes to food. Over the past year and a half, I haven’t failed to capitalize on his insatiable appetite as the perfect repository for my compulsive baking habits. 98% of the time I show up at his doorstep it is with a loaf of banana bread, a pan of brownies, or a freshly baked pie in hand. And while I know he enjoys every last crumb, he insists on rubbing in the fact that in his freshman year of college he lost “the Joanna 15.” Too bad summer has come around again…

That being said, Wednesday was Scott’s birthday. Last year I tried my hand at carrot cake (his all-time favorite), and given its success, I knew I would be making it again this year. I also decided I would take him on a surprise birthday picnic, full of homemade goodies stuffed into a red checker-lined basket. I spent the bulk of Tuesday mixing and frosting and slicing and packaging in preparation for the day ahead.

In the end, the weather was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the birthday boy was quite surprised.

The setting: Alice Wainwright Park—a tucked away spot surrounded by gorgeous mansions and incredible views of Biscayne Bay

For lunch: salmon sandwiches with homemade bbq sauce & pesto potato salad

For dessert: watermelon and carrot cake cupcakes

As if we weren’t full enough already, when we got back to his house, his friends came over and we cut into his carrot birthday cake. I was lucky to get a picture before any major demolition occurred.

We reached the conclusion that picnics shouldn’t just be reserved for birthdays (although giant carrot cakes should). That little wicker basket will definitely be getting a lot of use this summer.

Carrot Cake (from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
(10 to 12 portions)

Butter, for greasing the pan
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1⁄2 cups corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped
1-1/2 cups shredded coconut
1-1/3 cups puréed cooked carrots
3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch springform pans.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until the edges have pulled away from the sides and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 minutes.

4. Cool on a cake rack for 3 hours. Fill and frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.

2. Slowly sift in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. The mixture should be free of lumps.

3. Stir in the vanilla, and lemon juice if desired.

Frosting for a 2-layer cake

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