Good as Hell: a carrot cake

When it comes to carrot cake, I really love making them with a TON of grated carrots in them. While the concept of putting a root vegetable into a cake sounds a bit weird, that’s what the sugar and spices are for. It hides any savory notes of the vegetable and results in a cake that is aromatic from the spices but moist from the fibers in the vegetable of your choice. A common misconception with making carrot cake batter is that it is basically vanilla cake batter with a handful of grated carrots in it. That to me is not carrot cake. That is just vanilla cake with a handful of grated carrots. For me, carrot cake is decadent, dense, super moist, and almost fudgy in texture, but still yielding a crumb when you cut or bite into it. It is jam-packed with a lot of shredded carrots, making it so that the flavor of carrot is unavoidable – I always use as much carrot as I do flour in the making of my carrot cake batter.

What makes this particular recipe different from the last carrot cake I had done is the flavors and layers, as well as the inspiration. I named the cake after Lizzo’s song of the same name. For me, Good as Hell is just one of those songs that you can’t help but break into a dorky smile when listening to. It’s a feel-good song that exudes positivity. So I wanted to go back to basics a little with this carrot cake and use flavors that I feel make people smile. I went with a brown butter-cream cheese frosting, which is deliciousness embodied into thousands of calories. For my second filling, I went with a whipped ricotta cheesecake, just so that I have another homage to the cream cheese frosting you get with carrot cake, and it’s a nod to cannoli, one of my favorite treats eating back when I went to college in Boston. I wanted my crunchy component to be light, bright, and almost resembling nuggets of gold(ironically, they came out looking like chicken nuggets), so I went with a bee pollen-walnut crunch. For the soaking liquid, we have a spiced milk, just so that the cake stays moist, and so that the spices can seep into the cake as well, making it certain that you won’t miss the spices. Lastly, to garnish, I went with dehydrated carrot petals, just because I love doing dehydrated root vegetables as garnishes.

Makes 1 6-inch layer cake, about 8 servings
For the cake batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown butter
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup crushed walnuts
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Toss your carrots with salt, spices, sugars, brown butter, vanilla, and oil, and let that mixture sit for 5 minutes. Sift your flour together with the baking soda. Combine all three ingredients together. Line a quarter sheet tray with parchment and oil. Pour the batter onto the tray and spread evenly. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 minutes. Allow the cake to cool at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before removing from the sheet tray. Cut out 2 perfect 6-inch circles and cut out a third circle using the scraps of the cake. Reserve any scraps for the assembly process.

For the crunch:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup crushed walnuts
1/4 cup bee pollen
3 tablespoons brown butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon frangelico
2 tablespoons water

Mix together ingredients to form a crumb. Spread on a lined sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Allow the crumble to cool down before breaking into smaller, thumbnail-sized pieces. Allow those to cool completely before using in the assembly.

For the cream cheese frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter – browned
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon bee pollen
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt water, sugar, bee pollen, and salt in a pot and bring to a simmer. In a separate bowl, whip the cream cheese first until creamed and and then slowly whip in the brown butter. Stream in the bee pollen syrup next, and the finish with the vanilla. Transfer to a piping bag lined with a star tip. Keep refrigerated for optimal results.

For the ricotta cheesecake:
1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese, strained
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin powder + 2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt sugar, salt, water, and gelatin and bring to a simmer. Pour into the ricotta cheese mixture and whip in the vanilla. Pour onto a sheet tray and allow to cool down and firm up in the freezer. You ideally want the mixture to be creamy, but not fully set. Should it be set, then transfer to a stand mixer and whip with a paddle attachment or smear it with a rubber spatula until soft again.

For the spiced milk soak:
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toast off your spices in a nonstick pot first. Deglaze with the milk and stir with a rubber spatula. Take off heat and stir in your vanilla extract. Allow the soak to cool down to room temperature before using.

For the hydrated carrot petals:
1 carrot, peeled and sliced on the thinnest setting on a mandolin
brown butter

Toss the carrot slices in the brown butter, salt, and cinnamon. Spread on a lined sheet tray and bake at 225 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Cool before using to garnish.

To assemble:
Special equipment:
Acetate sheets
6 inch ring mold

Place a 6-inch ring mold onto a lined sheet tray. Line with your acetate. Start with one of the two perfect or full rounds of the cake first. If there are any gaps between the cake and the ring mold, press in any cake scraps to fill those holes – this will prevent the fillings from leaking out of the bottom. Pour 1/3 of your soaking liquid onto the cake, then spread about 1/4 of your cream cheese frosting on top. Place a handful of the crunch down then pour on 1/2 of your ricotta cheesecake mixture. Place in the scrappy layer of cake, using more scraps and pieces to fill any gaps. Add in another 1/3 of the soak onto that layer, then repeat the other steps. With your last layer, place it down, and then soak. Add on the 3rd 4th of your buttercream and use an offset spatula or a butter knife to spread this as evenly as possible. Transfer the last of your buttercream to a piping bag and pipe on the frosting. Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours to allow your fillings to set. Remove the cake from the freezer, and remove the ring mold and acetate, before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with your crunch and carrot petals.

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