EyeSwoon

Every season offers exciting promise of change but there really is something about spring that makes me feel alive and anew. There is literally a newfound brightness to our lives as the days grow longer. With this shift, we find ourselves exploring the outdoors more. We see the abundance of veggies and greens at the markets and pastel blooms, so dainty and delicate, that make their way through the earth. I always love that Easter acts as the definitive marker of this swoony season.

As a child, the night before Easter my mom and I would ALWAYS make a bunny mold cake. I recall getting so excited about decorating the cake with candies — black licorice for the bunny whiskers and a red sugar-coated dot for the nose. It was our sweet tradition. I was the girliest of girls growing up. Yup, I was indeed the little girl who loved to play the little lady on Easter Sunday. There was the bonnet, the crisp white pair of gloves and a teeny rectangular wicker handbag that made me feel so grown up. I viewed Easter through rose-colored glasses, and besides, white and pink were my colors of choice. After the traditional Easter egg hunt I would stand in the garden at my parents’ home for the obligory family photos, posing with a big smile plastered across my face and loving every last minute of it. I can distinctly recall the newness of the season – cartwheeling and skipping about in the backyard, seeing the vibrant lavender and yellow crocuses push their way up through the dirt and hearing the bluebirds chirp overhead. My memories of this time are colored by a particularly girly, pastel palette.

Well, not much has changed since the days of yesteryear. I still love to play dress-up and I still always make a cake the night before Easter to bring to my cousin’s house. I do swoon for the nostalgia of tradition but for some odd reason, I never make the same desert twice for most major holidays. I suppose baking is still very much a creative outlet for me and part of the fun has always been the research — the hunt in finding the perfect recipe, taking bits and bobs from various recipes as inspiration to develop my own.

This year I was struck by a bunch of rainbow carrots showing off at the market with their Technicolor vibrancy and bushy, bright green tops. They were indeed calling to me. This sparked the idea for a carrot cake trifle, with layers of cake swirling with the subtle spiciness of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, all trapped between layers of creamy goodness. I am a stickler for a moist, airy cake — just not a fan of the dense variety. And while this one was mouthwatering on its own, I decided to drive home the ooze factor with a ginger-sherry syrup slathered on top. This is a great tip for any cake, as a matter of fact — a simple syrup, flavored or not, will always help it retain moisture. Finally, some mascarpone cheese whipped into the cream, together with a helping of candy-coated pecans, elevates the overall flavor profile to off-the-chains delish.

What I love most about this dessert is all the elements can be prepared in advance. Then to serve, you simply alternate layers of cream, pecans, and cake in a glass vessel or Mason jar.

Last but not least is the décor. I like to be holistic with my ingredients and crafty with my tablescape, so when a bushel of leftover carrot tops seemed destined for the dumpster, I opted to find a use for these clippings instead. It occurred to me that their greenery could be incorporated as a natural twine of sorts, to tie around the napkins. As for the florals on this springy tabletop, they are very much inspired by the hues of Easter memories from the tender age 10. So from then until now, it all comes full circle. And that’s what’s up, doc!

Tips

  • Waste Not, Want Not

     A little thoughtfulness with your décor goes a long way! Instead of throwing away all the bushy carrot-top greenery, I reimagined it as twine and tied a piece around each napkin as a fitting finishing touch.

  • The Moist-Maker

    Flavored or not, simple syrup helps your creation retain moisture. I opted for a ginger-sherry infusion to add an extra hint of spice, heightening the ginger flavor of the cake.

  • Flavor Factor

    Instead of sticking with classic whipped cream, I updated it with an unexpected tang of mascarpone. Not only does it taste amazing, it makes for a light, airy consistency I so love.

  • Top of Mind: Texture

    Texture plays an important role in your dishes. Adding pecans to the carrot cake trifle wasn’t just for flavor, it also added a crunchy element to the otherwise-creamy dessert.

  • Advance Notice

    No need for added stress! Give yourself plenty of buffer by creating each component beforehand and refrigerating it. Then when it comes time to serve, all that’s needed is layering the cake and cream in a vessel.

  • Pretty Petals

    For a loose, effortless-looking arrangement, use a variety of soft, pastel blooms. Cut them to varying heights, add a few twigs as an asymmetrical element and let it all live wildly in a coordinating vase.

Carrot Cake Trifle

Developed by Jenny Huang & Athena Calderone

  • Ingredients

    • Makes 8 12-ounce cups

      Carrot Cake:

      • unsalted butter, for greasing the pans
      • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
      • 1 teaspoon baking powder
      • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
      • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
      • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
      • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
      • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
      • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • ½ cup canola oil
      • ½ cup apple sauce
      • 1 pound carrots, trimmed, peeled, and coarsely grated (about 3 cups of lightly packed cups)

      Ginger Sherry Syrup

      • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
      • 1/4 cup water
      • 1/4 cup dry sherry
      • 1 inch nub ginger, microplaned

      Candied Pecans

      Mascarpone Cheese Frosting:

      • 14 ounces mascarpone cheese
      • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
      • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
      • Zest and juice 1 lemon
      • 2 cups whipping cream

       

  • The Prep

      1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
      2. Butter and flour a 9 by 13-inch baking pan.
      3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients by whisking together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon
      4. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, on low, first beat the brown sugar until it is all loosened up. Add the vanilla extract. Then gradually beat in the eggs one at a time, until smooth and incorporated. Scrape down the sides and add the oil in a slow steady stream. Finally mix in the apple sauce.
      5. Use a rubber spatula to fold the dry ingredients in three batches. Do not overmix. Fold in the carrots.
      6. Pour the batter into the baking pan, smooth out the top. Bake until the cake has risen and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 35-40 mins. Transfer to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.
      7. In the meantime, prepare the ginger sherry syrup, candied pecans, and mascarpone cheese frosting.
      8. For the ginger sherry syrup: Bring sugar, water, and sherry to a simmer in a saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Turn of the stove. Add the grated ginger. Let cool completely.
      9. For the candied pecans: Brown the butter over medium-high heat. Add pecans and toss to coat. Add sugar and salt, and stir until caramelized. Spread on wax paper and cool.
      10. For the mascarpone cheese frosting: Whisk together the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl just until blended. Beat whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into mascarpone mixture.
      11. Once the cake and syrup are cooled, use a cake tester to poke small holes all over the cake. Brush all over with the syrup.
      12. For assembly: In 8 12-oz glasses, add about 1 inch high of cake, then 2 tablespoons of frosting, and then 1 single layer of candied pecans. Repeat the first two layers. Top with additional chopped candied pecans. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours if not eating immediately.

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