“My idea of a perfect day is frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park (followed by a Lactaid). My idea of a perfect night is a good play and dinner at Orso (but no garlic or I won’t be able to sleep). The other day I found a bakery that bakes my favorite childhood cake, and it was everything I remembered; it made my week” ~ Nora Ephron | I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections
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Most parents panic when their phone rings at 10 pm. Mine know it’s their nocturnal daughter wanting to chat. Never once have they said “We sure wish you’d call at a more reasonable hour” I love them extra for that
This week I was curious about the carrot cake my mom made for decades. “Did you mix the coconut into the frosting? Or simply sprinkle it on top?” It didn’t take long before we were venturing deep into family rituals
Take, for example, my grandfather’s recipe collection. After he passed, the recipes my dad searched for were those powerful enough to transport him back to childhood. He and his dad grating potatoes for hours through the smallest holes in the grater. His mom manning the griddle
I flip over to Instagram and know the potato pancakes he loved as a kid wouldn’t be trending. Nor would the boozy mustard we hoped to replicate
Something about that seemed terribly nice
A few days later, I ask my son what are the meals he remembers from growing up? Were they some I always hoped the kids would remember?
Weekend pancakes made the list
Standing on chairs, the kids were tall enough to peer into the pan and watch as the batter hit the bubbling butter. One helped measure the flour, helping himself to whatever bits of batter he could scoop, lick or steal as I mixed. The other tenderly arranged berries into patterns as the pancakes as they rose. Sometimes hitting the mark, most times hitting the floor
The pancakes were pretty ok. We loved them beyond reason
I think family traditions are like that. They don’t have to be special to feel special
My grandfather kept his collection of handwritten recipes and clippings in a big folder, and a shoebox of sorts. I have to wonder what he’d think of this space. My own personal shoebox. A place where I store all of my favorite odds and ends. The vintage pyrex and old dishes. The smudged and splattered recipe card with the rips, tears. The dog-eared cookbooks.
An official repository for many of the things I love and am grateful for
Every week I come here, to this humble white space and blinking cursor to leave behind something I want to remember. A recipe, a story, maybe a photo or two. It’s fun to look back, pulling out memories one by one. Nibbling at the crumbs while making grocery lists and dinner plans
At the same time, just as my parents have the culinary treasures my grandfather left behind, I hope to do the same for my kids as well. I’d love for them to one day read through the stories and know a little bit more about who I was. The things I thought about, the life I led, how much they were loved, and some of our family’s history
Such is the case with this carrot cake. It’s been part of our family’s tradition for as long as I can remember
And now it’s been deposited
Carrot cake, I’ve discovered is a dessert that for many people (myself included) brings back the best memories of growing up. I can’t count how many birthdays or special occasions have been celebrated with the back-of-the-bag recipe my mom saved in the 80s
Since being diagnosed with Celiac a few months ago, I’ve tried in vain to transform it into a healthier version of itself. Finally accepting that it’s futile, but I can still remember just how good it tastes.
Friends, this cake is incredibly moist, light and forgiving whether you make it with or without nuts and raisins or extra spices. The pineapple is undetectable. While it doesn’t call for raisins, I like to add them from time to time. The cream cheese frosting is fluffy, sweet, and as close to utopia as icing can get.
It’s the carrot cake that people fight for the last piece, leaving all others behind. The carrot cake to end all carrot cakes. The piece de resistance of carrot cakes. Traditionally inspired, yet somehow unbeatable.
ps: Bon Appetit has some really great advice for avoiding common carrot cake mistakes
pps: More fun recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturdays
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~ Recipe from Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut bag, 1985
The Carrot Cake Family Traditions Are Made Of
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup oil (neutral-tasting, such as sunflower or grapeseed)
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs (large or XL)
- 1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple in juice
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 1 ⅓ cups coconut flakes, toasted
- ½ cup chopped nuts (we always use walnuts)
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup coconut flakes, toasted
- 3 oz cream cheese
- ¼ cup butter
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp milk
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350° F and grease a 9 x 13" pan.
- Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
- Thoroughly beat the oil, sugar, and eggs.
- Add the flour mixture; beat until smooth
- Add the pineapple, carrots, coconut, and nuts.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool on rack
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Lightly toast the coconut and allow to cool
- Cream the butter and cream cheese
- Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and half of the toasted coconut
Finish and Serve
- After the cake has cooled, frost with the cream cheese frosting
- Top with the rest of the coconut