For reasons having to do with the fact that I had no idea how much work it would be and that I would have had no idea what else to get my friend Julie for her 40th birthday, I baked 100 cupcakes last week for Julie's milestone party. Yes, you read that right: cupcakes. In my own defense, the idea started as a cake but evolved into cupcakes as the guest list grew like kudzu in Georgia (which means relentlessly). Thankfully I had the privilege of baking these cupcakes in the expansive Scuola kitchen at Mozza, which basically looks like the marble-topped kitchen of a really rich person who insisted on the best of everything—only this kitchen actually gets used. I made two types of cupcakes: a very basic chocolate cake with boiled sugar white icing that was the closest thing I could get to a Ding Dong, which I adore, without the spiral design on top (I'm not that good with a pastry bag). And carrot cake because that's what the birthday girl wanted, and what bday girl wants, bday girl gets. I used the carrot cake recipe from Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book. Since I was using Nancy Silverton's kitchen, and since NS insisted her carrot cake was the best ever, I did it, turning away from my mother's carrot cake, out of respect. It turned out to be a good decision. Countless people told me it was the best carrot cake they've ever eaten. (Lady knows what she's talking about.) As for me, I have to say that I softened a bit toward cupcakes after this experience. What I liked best about them for this occasion is that they are compact and neat. Portioned. Can you imagine what a giant cake would have looked like after 100 underfed individuals within shouting distance to an open bar had their way with it? So, my friends, here's to cupcakes! Here's to Nancy's recipe! And here's to Julie! Would you believe me if I told you life was better on the other side?
And now, from the grease-stained pages of my copy of NSSB....
Nancy's Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
(I scrapped the raisins and added more walnuts, so technically, according to recipe copyright laws, I am copying nothing. Still, to give credit where due...)
1 1/2 cups pastry flour (sub all-purpose flour)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil
2 1/2 cups peeled grated carrots
1 cup walnuts, broken up with your fingers and lightly toasted (about 10 minutes at 325ºF.)
1/4 cup canned pineapple, well drained
For the Frosting
14 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (don't tell Nancy, but I didn't include this and my frosting turned out just great)
Prepare your cupcake tins and preheat your oven to 335ºF. (We prefer small cupcakes--not miniature, just not the vulgar, gargantuan cupcakes, the American desire for which is the real cause of obesity....)
Too make the cupcakes, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves together into a large bowl.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the brown sugar and eggs on medium-high speed until they are light in color, about 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and ginger and mix just to combine.
Add the dry ingredients and oil to the bowl with the sugar, alternately, in three batches, mixing on low just to combine. Add the carrots, pineapple, and walnuts and fold them in gently with a rubber spatula.
Pour the cake batter into your prepared cupcake tins and place them in the oven to bake until they're done--they will spring back quickly when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean, 12 to 15 minutes.
To make the frosting, dump the cream cheese, butter, and sugar into the bowl of a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment and whip them together on high speed until the frosting is light, fluffy, and free of lumps, about 10 minutes.
Ice the cupcakes in whatever way you like. I left a ring of un-iced cake around the edge of mine (a N.S. thing) and then dipped them head first in a bowl of sweetened coconut flakes, which looked pretty, tasted good, and most importantly, hid just how bad I am with a pastry bag...