On Tuesday, I shared a recipe for a made from scratch carrot cake. Today, I want to talk about assembling, frosting and decorating the cake.
After all the chopping, grating, sifting, measuring and mixing I do to make this cake, you'd think I'd make the frosting too, but I don't. I think store bought frosting is just as good as what I make. If you agree, you'll need two (14 ounce) containers of cream cheese frosting. If you prefer homemade, you'll need to make enough to fill and frost a three layer cake.
Let me preface this by saying I am not a cake decorator. The tips I'm sharing may not be the way professionals decorate a cake, but this is what I've found works for me. If you've got tried and true techniques for assembling and decorating a cake, by all means continue doing it the way that works for you.
Cake decorators apply a thin layer of frosting called a crumb coat. When this dries, it seals in the loose crumbs and keeps them out of the final layer of frosting, which makes the cake prettier. Maybe it works for a cake decorator, but not for me. Through trial and error, I found a way to achieve the same result, but I use a different method.
When the cakes are completely cool, I put them -- wire rack and all -- in the freezer for 30 minutes. This isn't long enough to freeze them, but long enough to keep most of the crumbs in place.
While the cakes are in the freezer, you can line the edges of a cake plate with strips of wax paper. This keeps the cake plate clean. I've tried this before and nearly tore up the cake trying to remove the wax paper. I find it easier to wipe off the plate when I'm done decorating the cake.
When I wrote about making the cake, I said the walnuts sprinkled in the cake pan before the batter was added would play a role in assembling the cake. The walnuts make it easy to explain whether the cake layer goes upside down or right side up!
Gently remove a cake layer from the wire rack and place it on the cake plate with the walnut side up.
If the cake isn't level, use a serrated knife to slice a thin piece off the bottom. Cover the top with the desired amount of frosting.
The easiest way to do this is with an offset spatula. An offset spatula has a bend in the blade which makes it ideal for spreading frosting.
If you notice any crumbs on the spatula, wipe the spatula off before adding any more frosting. This keeps the remaining frosting free of crumbs.
Place the middle layer with the walnut side down, the opposite of the bottom layer.
Because you'll be frosting the side of the cake that rested on the wire rack, there may be some crumbs. Since this layer is in the middle, crumbs won't be noticeable, as long as you make sure to wipe off the spatula before adding more frosting. Cover the top with the same amount of frosting as you used on the bottom layer.
Place the top layer with the walnut side up, the opposite of the middle layer. Placing the cake layer this way makes a level surface for the top of the cake.
This time, generously cover the top and sides with the frosting. The cake needs to sit overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Cover it with a cake dome or store it in a plastic cake keeper so it doesn't dry out.
The cake can be served as is or you can garnish it. The easiest way to garnish it is with chopped walnuts. The walnuts can be sprinkled on top of the cake and pressed into the frosting all around the sides of the cake. My husband isn't a fan of walnuts so I decorate the cake with marzipan carrots.
Marzipan is a sweet, pliable paste made of ground almonds, sugar and, sometimes, egg whites. It can be found in the baking aisle at most grocery stores. Marzipan is easy to color and mold into a variety of shapes.
To make carrots, tint some of the marzipan orange. You can use liquid food coloring or, what I like to use, gel icing color. Gel icing color is a concentrated paste sold in small jars in a variety of colors. It produces richer, more vibrant colors and, because it's concentrated, a little dab will do! If you've never worked with gel icing color, the most important thing to remember is to use a toothpick to remove it from the jar. If you need to add more color, use a clean toothpick and repeat the process. This keeps the gel from getting contaminated. Knead the color into the marzipan adding more, if necessary, until you reach the desired shade.
Pinch off a piece of marzipan and roll it into a small ball. Roll the ball between your palms, elongating it into the shape of a carrot.
To give the carrots a realistic look, use the dull edge of a table knife and press two or three horizontal lines into the carrots, making sure not to cut all the way through.
To make the green tops, color some of the marzipan green. Press the marzipan through a small sieve using the back of a spoon. This produces thread like strands which, like the lines on the carrot, make it look realistic.
Use a knife to remove the strands and place them on the top of the carrot.
To save time, you can make the carrots a couple of days ahead of time and store them in an airtight container so they don't dry out. I put them on top of the cake the day I serve it. If you put them around the top of the cake, you can sprinkle the center with chopped walnuts.
This cake takes time to make, but it's worth the effort. You may not want to make it very often, but save it for special occasions like Easter. Maybe it will become a cherished Easter tradition at your house just like the bunny cake is at mine!