Tag Archives: Carrot

Five-spice carrot bread

I know it’s cool to hate on pumpkin spice these days. Honestly, whatever. It’s a classic for a reason. I’m not mad at pumpkin spice. But if you are, I can suggest a spunkier substitute. Enter: Chinese five-spice.

I’ve fallen hard this year for Chinese five-spice in baked goods and holiday sweets. The exact ingredients vary, but most blends I’ve seen include cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, star anise, and either black pepper or Sichuan pepper. (Some versions include ginger instead of pepper, so look for those if pepper in your baked goods feels like a stretch.) It’s just close enough to the familiar American sweet-and-spicy thing to be comforting. But it’s also a little funky and unexpected, with a quiet kick of heat and licorice. In my experience, people won’t put their finger on the difference right away–they’ll assume it’s pumpkin spice with a mystery twist.

Lately our crisper drawer has been overrun with carrots–I keep forgetting we have them and buying more. So I’ve been making batches of carrot bread with a healthy dose of five-spice. This is a riff on my go-to zucchini bread recipe, and it works really nicely in a variety of guises–one big loaf, several mini-loaves, even muffins. Because carrots aren’t as watery as zucchini, I usually find myself adding a bit of milk or water to thin out the batter. Other than that, this is a pretty basic quickbread, but the five-spice makes it pop.

This bread is terrific baked just as-is, but for a special flourish, get yourself some raw sugar (also known as turbinado sugar, or demerara over in Europe) and sprinkle it over the top. I don’t know why, but it impresses people like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve had folks assume that this carrot bread came from a bakery, just because of the scattering of sugar crystals on top. It also adds a lovely crunch and a bit of extra sweetness. Highly recommend.

five-spice-carrot-bread

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Carrot miso soup with quick-pickled scallions

I love how I can know someone for years and years and years and still learn new things about them. For example.

My friend Marissa and I have known each other for the better part of a decade–almost our entire adult lives. She’s one of the first friends I made in college. We spent inordinate amounts of time together, in dorms and in common rooms, on grassy lawns and on airplanes, in classroom seats and in theater seats. I’ve shared a bed with her. She’s worn my clothes. I can tell you exactly how she’ll react to a piece of news, or who her celebrity crushes are, or what her sister’s ex-boyfriend’s name is. But not until she came to visit me from Florida last month did I learn how much she loves carrots.

It started when Audrey and I took her out for Thai food. We ordered some gorgeous elaborate stir-fry, speckled with vegetables, and the first thing Marissa did was to pick every single carrot off the serving dish and claim them for herself. She was genuinely more excited about those carrots than about anything else we’d done that day. “Omigosh, you guys, I LOVE carrots,” she gushed between mouthfuls. It took me aback. I could feel a small pang of offense–how hadn’t she told me this before? It seemed like such a fundamental character trait. Well, maybe not so fundamental. But certainly news to me.

So a couple days later, on a cold and blustery evening, when the train to my neighborhood got shut down and Marissa was stranded at a distant station wearing shorts and a thin sweater, shivering and sad by the time I picked her up, I knew I needed to make her something warm and carroty to bring her back to her sunny self. I’d had a carrot miso soup recipe bookmarked for months, and with a carrot-loving houseguest and a half-finished tub of miso in the fridge, I knew the time had come. This is a beautifully simple recipe, for a soup that’s smooth and lush and gloriously comforting. For me, it hit the same autumn spot as squash soup, with a similar pulpy orange sweetness; but it’s brighter and less sugary than squash, with a deep salty thrum from the miso.

The soup itself is clean, simple, and cheerfully sweet. I felt it needed a little bite and a touch of richness to even it out. So, going off of a parenthetical note on the original recipe, I quickly pickled some scallions in rice vinegar, then swirled them into the soup. A drizzle of dark fatty sesame oil, and we had a lovely windy-night meal.

And now I’m wondering what else she hasn’t told me…

carrot miso soup

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Carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting

I have found my perfect carrot cake.

Let me explain. Ever since I can remember, I’ve adored carrot cake. If someone were cruel enough to make me choose my favorite kind of cake, carrot cake would come out on top. The combination of cinnamon, carrot, and a rich moist crumb just does something to me. It’s homey, old-fashioned, a little retro, smelling of cool weekend afternoons in a warm kitchen with Mom and a mixing bowl. And, of course, there’s the frosting–cream cheese, always cream cheese, sweet and white and just gooey enough to be fun. A good carrot cake can get my juices going like almost nothing else.

But. As with so many other things I love, I’ve found myself getting picky over the years. There are a lot of mediocre carrot cakes out there. I don’t want a cake that tastes like a muffin, with big floppy crumbs and intermittent airy pockets. I don’t want health food carrot cake, heavy and dense and aggressive with the carrots. I don’t want raisins, or walnuts, or canned pineapple, or coconut flakes (coconut flakes? really?). And I definitely don’t want any of your “it’s just a delivery system for frosting” nonsense. If I wanted frosting, I’d eat frosting.

So what do I want? I want this cake, the one I made for my birthday last week. It’s fluffy and plush and almost melts away on the tongue. At the same time, it’s sturdy and spongy enough to stand up to the tip of a knife or the side of a fork. It’s beautifully fragrant, with cinnamon and orange and just the quietest, shyest whisper of olive oil. It’s that magic medium, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, with just enough brown sugar to make it unmistakably a dessert. It’s unbelievably moist, the kind of dewy moisture that only comes from brown sugar and olive oil working in tandem. And it’s first and foremost a carrot cake, with tiny orange strands threaded delicately through the brown batter.

Oh, and that frosting. That frosting. It’s a cream cheese frosting, all right–not even a slip of butter to fatten up the proceedings. Just cream cheese and powdered sugar, whipped until light and lush. I added a drizzle of dark maple syrup, too, for a boost of resiny sweetness. This is my favorite frosting I’ve ever made: just the right kind of sweet, thicker and tangier than its butter-based cousins, but no less creamy and wonderful when it’s clinging to a mass of cake.

carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting

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Passover 2011–the side dish

My father grew up in a kosher household in Brooklyn. When he was 16, he went to a Yankees game during Passover. Without thinking about it, he got a hot dog. You know, like you do. Then, halfway through the wiener, he realized his error. A hot dog! On a bun! During Passover!

He stopped and considered. The sun was shining. The Yanks were winning. God hadn’t sent down a thunderbolt and incinerated him right there in his bleacher seat. So he said what the hell, finished the hot dog, and never kept kosher again.

In this, as in so many other things, I am my father’s daughter. Judaism, for me, is rather like the Pirates’ Code. I’ve never kept kosher in my life, and certainly never for Passover. So it’s no surprise that I only thought I was being clever when I came up with a recipe using a non-wheat flour for my family’s early seder this weekend. But, as it turns out, I used chickpeas. And chickpeas are not kosher for Passover, at least if you’re Ashkenazi. Whoops.

But I still served my dish, and it was delicious. So…there.

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