Baking For Others: Late-Night Birthday Cake

EVENT: Alex’s Birthday
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
TIME: 2:30am, January 17th
MENU: 7-inch, Dairy-Free Carrot Cake

I may be a decent baker, but I’m not so good with surprises. So when, for Alex’s birthday, I determined I’d make him a cake, I didn’t have the wherewithal to kick him out of my studio apartment while I did so. He claims to have guessed at the nature of my concoction long before the scent of the cake wafted out of my kitchen to the desk where I’d exiled him, eight feet away. It was the sound of me grating a vegetable drawer’s worth of carrots, apparently, that tipped him off. Anyway, before we went out for the evening I made the cake as fast as I could. By the time we left, I had the cake nearly cooled, frosted (well, the frosting melted into the layers a tad), and hiding in plain sight on a cake plate on my table.

Alex, who made the stomach-related decision, several years ago, to consume no dairy whatsoever, thought (and I quote) that he would never eat things like creamy icing ever again. Having vowed, somewhere in the fall of 2007, that I’d be a vegan for life, I had an idea of what it was like to stand in his shoes. I got both the sadness and the conviction of this vow. And a year of dairy-, meat-, and egg-free life back then led me to the knowledge now that carrot cake is a resilient, long-suffering hero of a confection. You can cut out its eggs, its butter, its cream cheese, and somehow the cake tastes delicious. I’m not exaggerating. This faith-like belief in carrot cakes long ago chose the flavor of Alex’s birthday cake for me.

Later, after we’d gotten back from celebrating my friend JoJo’s birthday, it was 2 or 3 hours into Alex’s actual birthday. Persisting in my delusion that the cake would be a complete surprise, I disappeared into the kitchen to decorate it with candles. I forced Alexto listen to three rounds of off-key “Happy Birthday To You” while I lit them, then I finally cut him a slice to eat and to share with me. Surprise or not, late-night cake ingestion seemed an excellent tradition, akin to opening one gift on Christmas Eve. I can’t think of a better midnight snack.
Or breakfast. It should be duly noted that carrot cake is one of the best breakfasts around.

From my kitchen, where the cake tastes best after midnight, to yours,


Update, 2/8/10: I’m submitting this cake to a Valentine’s blog contest called “Food Is Love” sponsored by bloggers Jennifer at Savor The Thyme and Kelsey at The Naptime Chef. Their idea was to find out how cooks show their love through food. I thought this cake was a good candidate because I modified the recipe to be dairy free for Alex. See his verdict on the cake in the comments below.


Carrot Cake

makes a 2-layer, 9-inch cake

I made the batter by proportion, and it’s actually a bit too much for a 7-inch cake. I used 1/3 of it for each layer then made mini muffins out of the rest. However, it’s just the right about for two 9-inch layers, which is a more standard size cake pan anyway.

Last but not least, you can substitute standard cream cheese and softened butter for the tofu cream cheese and margarine/shortening.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups finely grated carrots (about 6-7 medium carrot)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease the cake pans, and, if you like, cut out a circle of parchment with which to line the bottom. Grease the parchment too.

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl). In another, larger bowl, stir together the sugar and oil until the sugar is saturated by the oil. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. When the flour’s almost stirred in, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts, still being careful not to overmix. Divide batter equally among cake pans.

Bake the layers for 40-50 minutes, or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for a few minutes, then turn them out onto a rack or a plate to cool. Cool completely before icing.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz tofu cream cheese
12 oz margarine or shortening
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Beat all the ingredients in a food processor until very smooth. You may need to chill it in the fridge for a few minutes so that it’s thick and easy to spread.

Trim the layers as necessary if they’re really puffed up in the center. Then spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the first layer. Top with the second and carefully cover the top and sides with icing. Keep in the fridge–it’ll stay good for a week.

the cake minus a slice: an accidental Pac Man!
Posted in: Baking For Others
  • Liz

    Looks delicious! thanks for offering something for all those folks following a special diet!

  • Kelsey B.

    LOVE the pac-man and the dairy-free version. I bet these would be great cupcakes, too!

  • Kate

    Considering I know your singing voice, I can only imagine how good this must have been in order to drown out the singing!!

  • Chef Aimee

    I love that you added maple to the frosting! Carrot cake is a cake I will choose over most others…I love that this is dairy free because tofu cream cheese to me is better and a tad sweeter than regular. MMM!

  • Sara Bennett

    Since I bake for a vegan in my household, I was disappointed when I saw there were eggs. I've been using flax as a substitute for eggs recently and it's worked in pretty much everything, so I'll have to try that here, too.

    The frosting looks delicious.

  • shayma

    girls, i think any cake is great for brekkers. youre always baking and cooking for people- lucky, lucky friends. v delicious. x shayma

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Sara–Carrot cake is incredibly flexible. You could definitely use flax, or, truthfully, you could just omit the eggs altogether. Other subs include 1/4-1/3 cup orange juice or applesauce, or just some extra grated carrots.

  • Alex

    Hahaha a great recount of the evening. In all honesty, that cake is the best dessert you've made that I've had the pleasure of eating. The icing was so creamy, I couldn't believe it was non-dairy. You're the best!

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  • kat

    this is AMAZING. i add red food coloring to make it pink”ish” and my lactose-free bf and I make it every valentines day (:

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