Brownie Carrot Layer Cake...It's Alive!

After more than a year, I am proud to present to you all a project that I have been relentlessly and passionately working on.

And by working on, what I mean is thinking about...a lot.

But the point is, I finally did it.

One day, I saw a picture. I grew overwhelmed by the recipe that followed said picture. I searched for other recipes instead. I was unsuccessful.

And finally, I did it myself...nearly two years later (heyyy I needed a muse sometimes, ok?)


Do I really have to tell you that the lovechild between my grandmother's carrot cake recipe and a dense chocolatey brownie was over-the-top-amazing?

Because I'll do it. I'll tell you.

It was AMAZING. Over-the-top amazing, that is.

It's hard to explain something like this, because the idea is almost too simple: Step 1: take two delicious things, Step 2: Combine them, Step 3: Eat and try not to faint.

But I'll try to explain anyway.

First off, when you make any recipe that originates with a grandmother, you can bet that it has stuck around for a reason. And when you come from a family of food-lovers like mine, it's a good reason. Grandma Pat's 14-Carat Cake (puns! we love puns!) is a light, fluffy, and richly-layered affair that we hope for come every holiday in my family.

Obviously, it would be the recipe to follow for my Brownie Carrot Layer Cake.

It took a bit more thought in choosing my brownie recipe. I almost went for a rendition of my beet and bulgur brownies, and while I'll be sure to do that in the future, I didn't want this to be a cake geared to healthiness, at least not this time. And it definitely isn't. Definitely.

The brownie would have to be dense, but not so dense that it contrasted too heavily with the relatively light carrot cake. It would have to be chocolately (using dark chocolate, of course), but not so rich that it overtook the subtler flavors of carrot. Let's face it: it would just have to be really, really good.

I ended up modifying the recipe for David Lebovitz' "Absolute Best Brownies" by making them more chocolately (obviously) and a bit more cakey.

Guys, I hate to toot my own horn, but this cake has crossed into the realm of absurdity. I don't even know what's real anymore. It's a good cake.

I was nervous that the carrot and chocolate would somehow clash, but the food gods had something else in mind. The layers instead come together for the perfect balance of sweet and lusciously rich, heavy and light, creamy and toothsome.

My grandmother's recipe calls for a buttercream frosting, but since we're working with some potentially heavy flavors and textures here, I opted for something a bit lighter: another hybrid, in fact, of heavy cream and cream cheese, with slightly less sugar than normal.  Anything heavier added to this cake, and I think I would have turned into Paula Deen.

As for the actual recipe, the process may seem long, but it's pretty painless once you get working. You can prepare the carrot cake while the brownie cake is baking so total prep time is pretty consolidated. The brownie also needs longer to cool.

Be warned, this isn't a cake for one to two invite some friends and family over and get bakin'.

Brownie Carrot Layer Cake

Step One: Barely-Cakey Dark Chocolate Brownies
  • 6 tbs (85 g) butter, cut into pieces
  • 8 ounces high-quality dark chocolate (60% or more), chopped
  • 2 heaping teaspoons cocoa powder(preferably dutch-processed)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 pasture raised eggs 
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I buy it in bulk—save plastic & money!)

  • Directions
    Preheat oven to 350 .

    Combine flour, cinnamon, and baking powder

    Melt the butter, then add chopped chocolate and cocoa powder, whisk until just melted, then remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla. Vigorously whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add flour slowly, and then stir for one full minute until not grainy.

    Butter and lightly flour only one 7x3-inch round baking pan (it's especially important that you use a reliable springform or this method to enable you to remove the brownies without crumbling).

    Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in comes out clean. Do not over bake.

    Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack...seriously. If you don't let it cool, there is a chance you won't be able to remove it all in one piece, which would not bode well for our layer cake.

    Step Two: Grandma Kimberley's 14-Carat Cake
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or nut/seed/coconut oil 
  • 4 pasture raised eggs

  • 2 cups finely grated carrots
  • 1 cup (8oz) crushed pineapple without juice
  • 1/2 cup toasted and chopped walnuts 
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • *I made enough carrot cake for two pans because I wanted an extra plain loaf on-hand (and/or a back-up in case you do things like accidentally cook the first round on low broil the entire time...)

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

    In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then stir in salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

    In a separate bowl, beat sugar, oil, and eggs until well-combined.

    Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until just combined. Add the carrots, pineapple, nuts, and coconut, stir until just combined.

    Butter and lightly flour two 7x3-inch round baking pans (ideally using a reliable springform or this method.)

    Bake for 35 - 40 min, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the pan and fully cool before moving on.

    Cool a few minutes in pans.  Turn out on wire racks to cool thoroughly.

    Step Three: OK, if you've prevented yourself from eating the respective cakes up until this point, well done! Stay strong. If they're completely cooled down, we can move on.

    Now we have to cut the cakes in half length-wise. Take the [completely cooled] brownie-cake-thing and one of your mini carrot cakes and run a thin wire, fishing line, or floss through the middle of the cake ("latitudinally").

    Step Four: Now that we have our layers layered, let's make the frosting.

    Step 3: Cream Cheese and Whipped Cream Frosting....mmmm...creamy..
  • 6-8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 3/4th cup + 3 tbs confectioners sugar (I used regular fine sugar and it was fine)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • Directions
    Using an electric mixer, whip 3 tbs confectioners sugar and heavy cream until stiff peaks form, about 3-5 minutes (meaning that if you slowly pull the whisk out, a peak will follow and hold its shape). Set aside in the refrigerator.

    Whip cream cheese, 3/4th cup sugar, and vanilla extract until light and airy, about 2-4 minutes.

    Gently fold in the whipped heavy cream.

    Wipe that brow, we're almost there.

    Step Five: Layer and ice!

    Starting with a brownie layer as the base (since it's the heavier layer), ice the cake with icing between each layer and all around. I won't go into detail here because this post is already full of details, but I will direct you to this webpage for in-depth instructions on how to ice a cake.

    Step Six: That's it! You're done! Stick a fork in it and go to town! Just kidding! Stick a fork in it and stay home! Eat!

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    Memories of Ephesus and Arrivals to Greece

    Merry Christmas!

    This year ol' S. Claus gave me a wonderful, four-week-long present: pet/housesitting for an amazingly lovely British couple in their remote house in Greece AND having my parents come visit for Christmas week.
    Our Grecian "sockings"
    So yes, I'm in Greece now (surprise!).

    We have the honor of caring for the sweetest Jack Russel (who knew they could get to this level of sweetness?) and the most soulful rescue-hound mix you'll ever lay eyes on. There are olive trees packing us in from every corner, and from the half-wrap-around porch you can gaze out at the expanse of ocean while  having lunch and playing backgammon.
    Foxy the Jack
    There is a fireplace, there is consistent hot water (glory, glory!), and there is a kitchen with all the appliances I could dream of.
    The view of town (yup, that's it) from the porch
    Am I dreaming?

    But let's backtrack a little and I'll finish the story of Turkey (the country, that is...).

    Setting: a couple weeks ago...

    ...As we left the ancient city of Ephesus in south Turkey (see pictures below), we began the three-hour bus ride to our next destination. We happened to have wifi on the bus (oh, technology!), so I checked my e-mail and noticed I had a "flight alert reminder" from Travelocity.

    I then realized that I had made a terrible mistake.

    I had thought that our flight to Greece was in five days. It was the next morning. We were at least 11 hours away from the Istanbul airport, and we were on a moving bus headed still farther away.

    There is a tenable explanation as to how this date had gotten so dreadfully confused, but that's neither here nor there. The point was, we had to change direction, fast.

    We hopped off the bus at the nearest city and caught the next one to Istanbul.

    Luckily, as we waited in Aydin for the bus, there was a farmers' market right around the corner, so we stocked up on olives, fruit, salami, and cheese and were set (er, as set as we were gonna be).
    We spent 13 hours on a bus that day.

    Whirlwind: we arrived back to Istanbul, made our way back to our Ismael's apartment to collect and pack the rest of our belongings (it bears mentioning that Ismael wasn't around to receive us, but he had left a key for us when we told him our predicament. Oh, the trust and kindness of new friends!), slept for two hours, then caught a bus to the airport at 5:30 the next morning.

    And there our Turkey chapter ended (a bit too soon?)...

    Before we move on, check out our amazing visit to Ephesus (remember you can click on the photos to enlarge them).
    efes ephesus
    Curetes Street
    Above are images of The Library of Celcus, a Roman mausoleum and library built in 2nd century AD, and its surroundings
    turkey amphitheater
     A view of the Great Theater, created sometime around 40 AD, where it is rumored that Paul the Apostle preached the gospel for over three years. It can seat over 25,000 people.
    roman cat
    ephesus cat
    Did you think you could get through this without seeing any cat photos?
    The Temple of Hadrian, John admiring the amphitheater, and...more....ruins.
    nike greek goddess
    ephesus bath house
    Considering how many museums I've paid to see sculptures like these, it was pretty incredible to see them in their "natural habitat." Top sculpture is of the Greek Goddess Nike, followed by the statue of Schlastica in the bath house, and finally a view of one of the streets...Don't you think that marble would have gotten pretty slippery when wet?
    Ephesus tombs chillin' on the lawn
    roman bathrooms
    At above left you can see the bathrooms, where people sat closely next to each other while taking care of business. The toilet seats were positioned over constantly-running water and rumor has it that a band would play nearby to drown out noise...what noise?
    A view of the Temple of Serapis within the Commercial Agora (trade center) of Ephesus

    As far as getting there, if you're looking for the cheapest way to get to Ephesus from Kusadasi, find the minibus station (a 10-15 minute walk from the main street by the ocean) where you can find buses leaving every 15 minutes or so for only five lira  (about $2.5) per person. If you're willing to just ask people for a little help, this route is very painless and saves you lots of money. This is in the face of taxis that try to charge you $20-40! The minibus drops you off about 1km from the entrance, and it’s a lovely walk. Ignore the taxi drivers that might be trying to lure you in with warnings that to see Ephesus on foot is a long trek—it’s not. The entrance fee is 25 lira and clearly worth it--where else can you get such a pronounced rendering of ancient Greek and Roman life?

    Just try to avoid the genuine fake watches…
    When you’re finished, head back to the other side of the road from where you were dropped off (yup, just kind of...stand on the side of the road...)and wait for a bus back, then go back to town and eat a kebab.
    We were sitting outside and I get cold easily, I admit it. There were plenty of pickled hot peppers to warm me up, though, and the foamy yogurt drink, ayran, (top left) may not have made me warm, but it did make me happy.

    So, there's our Turkey wrap-up...or dare I say...Turkey wrap? It's a food blog, right? (Imaketerriblejokes)

    For my part, I think it's time to get the coffee on and go enjoy some Christmas pancakes!

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    Happy Holidays!

    Christmas Pancakes...with Spinach Trees!

    I'm going to ask you to suspend your disbelief.

    There is spinach in these Holiday Pancakes. Real, raw, beautiful spinach.

    But as far as you're concerned, there are actual miniature Christmas trees in these pancakes.

    The pancakes are having their own Christmas party. you know what we do when we don't get invited to pancake parties? We eat the partiers.

    There is no spinach taste. There is only holiday cheer and a bit of healthy.

    Even the spinach texture gets lost.

    So, ask not if you will be able to handle something as strange-sounding as spinach in your pancakes. You will. Rather, ask how you will get your children/suspicious boyfriend/picky husband/fussy mother to believe you.

    You can think while you cook, just hurry up—Christmas is coming!

    Healthy Holiday Pancakes . . . with Spinach!

    Dry Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup white unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or any flour, really)
  • 1 1/2 cup oats, ground to "flour" in food processor* or oat flour
  • 1 tbs sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon—save plastic, buy it in bulk!
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2-4 large spinach leaves

  • Wet Ingredients
  • 2 cups milk 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or tart plain yogurt
  • 2 pasture-raised eggs
  • 2 1/2 tbs EVOO, nut oil, or vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs honey, coconut nectar, or date syrup
  • 1/2 tsp Peppermint Extract (or 3-6 drops peppermint oil)**
  • *If you don't have oats or just don't feel like using them (but they're so healthy!), substitute with flour, but start off with 1 1/2 cups of milk instead of two and add more as necessary to reach desired batter consistency.
    **Peppermint in pancakes may sound strange, but it really helps to give these a Christmas-y thang. If your're still nervous, wait and add a couple drops to the last of the batch (reduce amount proportionately).
    Whisk dry ingredients (minus the spinach) together in one bowl, whisk wet in a different bowl. The honey will be annoying, but don't fret. It'll all work out in the end.

    Make a well in the dry mixture and slowly pour in the wet while whisking to combine. Don't overmix. It's fine if there are still small clumps.

    Let sit for 10 minutes

    Meanwhile, cut your Christmas trees! Using a sharp knife, trace the outline of a tree as though you're popping the shape out of a mold, or take the more meticulous route of cutting strips of spinach and piecing the tree's outline together (you might want to have tweezers handy to help you get the pieces into place).

    When ready, preheat a nonstick pan to medium heat. Add just enough butter or oil to form a minuscule layer on the pan. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter onto the pan and after about 30 seconds, begin to assemble your tree atop the batter, pressing in softly.

    You think I don't have time to make Christmas tree stencils out of spinach leaves? Oh, I have time. 

    Once the exposed side starts showing an air bubble or two (2-5 minutes, depending on heat), the pancake should be ready to flip. Go for it if it's starting to get golden on the bottom. Be gentle—don't mess up that hard-earned tree shape.

    Cook the other side for 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown.

    Repeat the process with the remaining batter, garnish with something red if you're feeling up to it (apples, pomegranate seeds, craisins...whatever.) and maybe some powdered sugar (Like snow! Next level, here we come!)

    If you want to ignore the salivating elves surrounding you and serve the pancakes at the same time, preheat the oven to 200 F and keep them in there until you're finished.

    The ornaments are not a garnish. Do not eat the ornaments.

    You're not allowed to use fake "maple syrup" here since it's usually just high fructose corn syrup or bad sugar. If you don't want to support real farmers and a beautiful age-old tradition with real maple syrup, go for honey, coconut nectar, date syrup, or brown rice syrup.

    One more thing: If you want to get real crazy, use cookie cutters on the cooked pancakes and go Christmas C-razyyy (examples in the top pic). Santa won't know what hit him.

    Plates gone wild!! There is Christmas sentiment everywhere!! that the Star of David up there trying to get in on the action?? Yeahhh religious harmony!

    For more sometimes healthy, sometimes strange ideas, sign up to receive Chowgypsy updates in your inbox.

    Happy Holidays!!



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