I’m not quite sure how to explain how this happened.
I am, however, relatively sure my new nickname should be Miniature Indecisive Genius Cakes. (Just humour me, pls.)
We’ve discussed my issues with indecision, so when I was asked to pick-a-cake-any-cake for a recent meeting of the Clandestine Cake Club, I wrote down “Carrot cake or cheesecake TBD” as my offering. Because that’s as helpful as my brain was going to get.
The tentative whisper of ‘both’ entered my head as I was deliberating between cream cheese in the cake or the frosting, briefly musing on tackling a black bottom cake (never say never – my crazy would absolutely go there). I was still hung up on the idea of carrot cake though, and so I began to build an idea:
In the end, the pumpkin ended up in the cheesecake, the whisky ended up in the frosting and the maple took a back seat (you’ll see), but the basic idea was there and I was pretty sure I knew how I would make it happen, but the proof would be very much in the baking.
First, the cheesecake layer. I only added a small amount of pumpkin puree because a) I was worried about making it too liquid and b) pumpkin puree is kind of gross. I mean, come on. I also loaded in the wintery spices to a) build a bridge between the cheesecake and carrot cake layers and b) see comment about pumpkin. For real.
Mix: done. The rest of its journey would be a visit to the oven, to turn into cake, then to the freezer, to await its fate as the Middle Bit in my strange creation.
The idea was to plunk the frozen cheesecakes between two layers of carrot cake batter, so that when the batter was baking, the cheesecake would thaw rather than bake more and be ruined (I had considered dolloping cheesecake mix between the batter layers but the two beasts are different enough that I worried that their baking times wouldn’t sync well – also I liked the idea of clean, distinct layers).
The method of my madness:
Part of me was worried that baking and freezing the cheesecake in cupcake liners would make the discs too small to fit tidily in the centre of the eventual carrot cake liners, but then the rest of me asked that part how it proposed we get the cheesecake out of the tin after a night in the freezer without having some sort of disaster, possibly requiring sharp objects. That settled that.
Into the oven.
Out of the oven! So far, so good. Carrot cake time…
My usual carrot cake recipe makes quite a liquid batter, and the result is incredibly tender – so not quite the thing to support a fairly dense layer of baked cream cheese. I ended up adapting the carrot cake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery, knowing the end result is moist but sturdy and undeniably tasty.
It starts out wetter than wet, as cakes that use oil as their fat are wont to be, but once the dry ingredients were incorporated, the batter thickened to what I’d call ‘ribbon consistency’. See what I mean?
Before adding in the fruit/veg/nuts I gave the chopped pineapple and grated carrot a good squeeze in a few layers of paper towel to soak up some of their excess liquid. I wasn’t about to ruin this nice, thick batter with a bunch of watery produce.
I present you with a photo of the finished cake mix in the full knowledge that carrot cake batter always looks a bit like… Okay, we all know what it looks like (sick) – but we all know it tastes great, so there.
So now to put these things together. I put a teaspoon (ish) of batter in each case, then plunked in a frozen disc of cheesecake (which accidentally on purpose fit perfectly – high five!) then covered that with another layer of batter.
Please note that I was basically winging this entire thing – confidently winging it, but still. Building layered cupcakes with all of one’s fingers and toes crossed is a serious skill – and don’t even ask me how holding a camera comes into it.
There’s a lot of raising agent in this batter recipe, but that’s really to balance out all the heavy wet ingredients like the brown sugar and carrots. As you can see, I filled the cases almost to the brim and there wasn’t a ‘muffin top’ in sight when my creations [thunder clap, lightning flash, maniacal laughter] emerged from the oven.
See? Gorgeous. Now, I wasn’t going to check whether my layer-of-cheesecake concept worked out until after I’d decorated at least one cake, so I could see if the flavours worked (super-sweet cream cheese frosting and slightly more savoury spiced pumpkin cheesecake, even if separated by a layer of soft, nutty carrot cake could be too much, could clash badly… could spring to life and attack the cat… etc.). Where was I? Oh, decorating cupcakes.
And so to the frosting. I have a love/hate relationship with frosting: I lovelovelove the frostings I make, but hatehatehate icing sugar’s proclivity for distributing half of itself around the kitchen and all over me (down the bra has happened and I don’t want to talk about it).
The thing behind the whisky in the above photo is a bowl of cornflour – pro tip alert – which I had on hand because this recipe has gone runny on me before. It might be an over-beating thing, but even if I was careful to ease up on the mixer action, I was going to add a glug of liquid to the party, so runniness was a distinct possibility. Having a bit of cornflour ready was more practical than crossing fingers and toes again.
[breath held, eyes averted, mixer down…]
[pant pant pant] There. Frosting. Now all I had to do was move out of the flat so I wouldn’t have to clean up.
I mixed on the slowest speed and chased the healthy splash of booze with a liberal sprinkle of cornflour, and am beyond pleased to report that I ended up with thick, gorgeous (distinctly squiffy) frosting. And a mess. But also frosting yay.
Nearly there, folks…
Frosting in the fridge, topping time. As veteran b&a-ers may recall, I like to top my carrot cakes with nuts and seeds, and this time I thought I’d turn up the toasty, to cash in on the deep nuttiness potential in the pumpkin and sunflower seeds – not to mention the beauty of toasted black and white sesame seeds. Gimme.
While the initial plan was to use the maple syrup as a drizzle over the frosted cakes, just as I was about to toast the walnuts, I had an idea…
Before putting the nuts in the oven I drizzled a bit of syrup over each one. How it worked out: the tops got beautifully toasted and the bottoms got a shiny, sweet maple glaze. Not what I was expecting, but am I complaining? Oh hell no.
As a final touch, rather than simply sprinkle the topped cupcakes with a dusting of cinnamon (the original plan was clearly just a rough guideline at this point) I decided to toss the toasted seeds in a few pinches of cinnamon before scattering atop the frosted cakes.
Frosted? Yup. Topped? Uh huh. Filled with a perfect layer of spiced cheesecake?
Um, I’ll just get a knife…
BOOYAH! Move over Stephen Hawking, I got this. (Physics and cosmology, baking & alchemy: they’re basically the same thing.)
Not only has this resounding success restored my much-depleted faith in cakes with layers, but I’m particularly pleased with the combination of flavours.
The carrot cake component is moist and surprisingly light, and packed with little bursts of flavour from the fruit and nuts scattered throughout. The cheesecake’s spices, as I’d hoped, marry nicely with the carrot cake, and its more subtle, earthy sweetness is a great foil for the massive dose of tooth-tingling sugar from the frosting. The tangy creaminess sets off the whole production quite nicely. I’m glad I added the seed and nut topping; it provides bite, hits of savouriness and, again, lovely bursts of toasty crunch to cut through the tart-saccharine frosting (which has a lovely, boozy-warm finish… this is a revelation, folks).
For anyone who’s a bit down on cupcakes (GET OUT – um, I mean, whatever…) this really is the ideal form for these; I was just about able to finish one, so it’s a perfect serving size.
Besides, how good did these guys look (in my crappy Instagram photo, sorry, sorry) when they were all dressed up and ready to go?
You’ll have plenty of mix left over from each part of these beauties (note: I don’t know if you’d have enough of each to make a complete second batch) and I dealt with this surplus situation by making more things.
I decided to make a batch of mini bites from the remaining cheesecake mixture, and wanted to give them a base of some sort to add texture and elevate them from leftovers into tasty treats in their own right. I was thinking a crushed biscuit base.
Did I have any biscuits?
Oh, you ask the silliest questions. I mean, obviously…
However! What I did have was a bowl of spare blitzed walnuts. Good enough for me, said my inner alchemist. So I added a bit of butter, a dash of cinnamon and a squeeze of maple syrup…
And I totally ended up with beautiful little treacle-kissed nut bases for the creamy filling.
I may have gone a bit cross-eyed building these tiny cheesecakes, but they were truly inspired – if a bit messy. Fun fact: grinding dried vanilla over lumpy cheesecake does not disguise the lumpiness at all.
Again, all apologies for the appalling Instagram shot, but you get the idea:
With the remaining batter and frosting, I made a batch of good old-fashioned carrot cake cupcakes to distribute at work. ‘Waste not’, right?
Full disclosure, I still had an absurd amount of boozy frosting left over. It’s in the fridge. I visit it with a spoon occasionally, so it doesn’t get lonely.
If you want to name your band Lonely Frosting, go for it.
Oh! Sorry, I nearly forgot, would you like the recipes I used for this production? –> Have some recipes. <– Yep, the improvised nut crust is in there too. Because I can’t kiss your face right now and I can tell that’s what you want.
I probably won’t hit you with any more treats until after [insert winter holiday of choice here], so have a happy one of those. I’ll see if I can come up with something to goad you into making for what ever you’re doing in the last hours of 2015. Keep in touch.
I need another spoonful of frosting. Talk amongst yourselves…