Look at this unforgivably bijou cake.
Punish it. Hurt it. Eat it. Like my mother here:
She’s a great lady and following in her example is recommended.
I made this as a celebration cake. If you’ve never made such a small cake before, you might wonder how on earth this would serve more than a single person, but when it’s all layered and iced it makes more sense: it stands as tall as it possibly can and gives you what you love. Besides, when you’ve just had a feast which started off like this:
(THIS WAS NOT EVEN A THIRD OF IT ALL. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE THAI.)
… you probably won’t want more than a few bites of cake afterwards. If it’s a small gathering and you (for whatever reason) don’t want miles of leftover cake but the occasion still calls for something with tiers that’s impressive and sliceable, this 4 inch layer cake is what you want.
My mother requested a carrot cake, which was easy enough. This one, a scaled down version of Felicity Cloakes’ perfect carrot cake, is moist with the slightly coarse and dense crumb you expect of a carrot cake, but not so heavy that it’s challenging to eat. There’s just a little brown sugar in the cake and icing so it’s got a complex yet gentle sweetness (what you’d want in a cake or a lover), and I added a good bit of citrus tang to the cream cheese frosting to contrast against the toasty brown butter and spices in the cake.
Naked cakes are easy to assemble. The carrot cake turns out firm, especially if you chill it, so it slices neatly and doesn’t threaten to sag or collapse. Easy to transport, too, just well wrapped in foil.
The usual way to decorate a naked cake is to pile things on the top layer, usually seasonal berries and flowers–they’re light, dry, and pretty. Most seasonal fruit where I am just wasn’t suited, being too soggy or huge. Chopped pecans and whole pomegranate seeds were my choice, the latter living up to the fact that it’s also the word for ruby in Thai. They made the top prettily jeweled, but not overwrought.
Scaled down from Felicity Cloakes’ recipe.
Makes a 10 cm/4 inch wide cake, about 7.6 cm/3 inches high when iced, just enough for 4 – 6 small yet rich servings. Cake can be baked & cooled at least 1 day in advance.
for the cake batter:
75g wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
Pinch of salt
75g butter, melted (and browned, if you like; let cool til barely warm)
50g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
50g coarsely grated carrot (from about 1 small-medium carrot)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 orange, finely grated
50g sultanas or raisins, roughly chopped if very plump
50g toasted pecans, chopped fairly small, plus extra to decorate
for the cream cheese frosting:
if you like very thin icing, halve these amounts–enough to keep the layers together and add a bit of extra fragrance and moisture, enhancing the cake. Use more if you want to really taste the icing itself. I used most of the icing from this recipe to ice the cake pictured.
200g cream cheese, still cold
2 – 3 tbsp light brown soft sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract, or seeds scraped from 1/8 vanilla bean
Zest 1/2 orange, finely grated, plus a squirt of juice
Zest 1/2 lemon, finely grated, plus squirt of juice (vary the citrus how you like)
pick a few of these to decorate, depending on the season:
icing sugar to dust, nuts, pomegranate seeds, berries, figs, small stone fruit, edible flowers, candied fruit/petals, caramel popcorn, etc.
for the cake:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/160 fan. Grease and line two 10 cm/4 inch sandwich tins.
Mix together the flour, spices, and bicarbonate soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, whisk together the melted (hopefully browned) butter, brown sugar, and egg together until lighter in colour and texture–it should be able to hold trails on the surface. Fold the flour mixture into the egg til barely combined. Add the grated carrot, vanilla extract, orange zest, sultanas/raisins, and chopped toasted pecans and continue to fold til you get a thick, cohesive batter.
Divide between the tins (mixture should fill each of them half to two-thirds full), gently smooth top, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. When ready they should be well browned and springy on top, just pulling away from the sides. A toothpick should come out free of raw batter but may be damp because this is a moist cake.
Cool in tins for about 30 minutes, then unmould onto a rack and cool completely before frosting. Don’t be alarmed if the cake has slumped in the middle–they’re still perfectly usable. You can carefully wrap and chill them at this point.
for the frosting:
In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and citrus zest til smooth and combined. Mix in citrus juice to taste a little at a time, probably no more than a teaspoon or two–you want the icing to be quite thick, so don’t thin it too much. Beat in extra sugar to taste. I like it with a distinct tang, softened by the cream and sugar. Chill until needed.
Split each cake into 2 even layers; for me, this is easiest with a serrated knife. Spread each layer right to the edges with 1 – 2 tablespoons of frosting, stacking and icing as you go along. You may wish to dust each layer with icing sugar, too. Finish with a layer of frosting and pile decorations on top.