About a month ago, I started watching The Great British Baking Show again. It has become the crown jewel at the end of a long day.
The contestants, many of whom have smooth, mellifluous British accents, couldn’t be more pleasant and encouraging to one another. And their unbridled passion for baking is infectious. I loved watching Val from season 7 do her aerobic two-step and sing to herself as she mixes cake batter.
The show seamlessly translates the soulfulness of baking and speaks to its unique transcendence. It’s the Why when we ask what drives people to pull out their Kitchen Aides and hand mixers when life gets difficult. Even the defeats are inspiring. On Season 6, Ian took criticism of his custards in stride. Riiiiiight, he said after being told they were essentially dreadful,tugging on the vowel like a violinist pulling a bow across her strings.
Successful improvisation requires a degree of expertise, and this is especially true in baking. What I love about cooking – its fluidity, flexibility, friendliness toward improvisation – is harder to pull off in baking. Often the baker can’t know if somethings amiss until the cake is baked or the custard sets, and by then it’s too late to do anything but start over. The fact that the contestants are all self-taught home bakers who’ve learned to preserve despite the inevitable set-backs embedded in the learning process inspires me to keep at it. If they can do it, there’s no reason I can’t.
Whenever I bake, something goes wrong – the cake is too dense, the short crust is too crumbly, the brioche is over-proofed – and I often don’t have the wherewithal nor the patience to divine why. As with anything, the more I practice, the better my results.
This cake is one of my recent baking endeavors. The cake recipe is from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. I subbed parsnips for the carrot to see how the flavor would change. I didn’t notice much of a difference minus the pure white color and a slightly drier cake texture on account of the parsnips being on the older, starchier side. Use fresh, young roots for this recipe to ensure the cake is moist. Next time, I’d add a tablespoon or two of fresh grated ginger to complement the maple syrup in the cream cheese frosting, which I got from Melissa Clark/NYT Cooking.
Parsnip Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 T butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 ½ C finely ground almonds, preferably blanched (you can use almond meal or almond flour if you don’t want to blend your own)
- Zest of 2 lemons
- ¾ C plus 2 T granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ C cake flour (use AP if you don’t have cake)
- 2 T baking powder
- ¼ t salt
- 4 large eggs, at room temp
- ¼ t almond extract
- 2 C parsnips, finely grated (roughly 2 large parsnips)
- 8 oz/225 g cream cheese, at room temp
- ½ C/115 g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 C/120 g confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 2 T maple syrup
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 2 T freshly grated ginger
- Pinch of kosher salt
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons butter and set aside.
Pulse the almonds, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons sugar in food processor. Butter 9-inch spring-form pan and dust the sides with some of the almond mixture (dust about halfway up the top as the cake will not rise all the way up the pan). Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
Using a stand mixer, beat the eggs and ¾ cup sugar on high until pale and foamy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add remaining almond mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Pour the cooled melted butter over the batter and quickly fold in, followed by the carrots.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with an off-set spatula, and set on middle rack of the oven. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake until cake pulls away from side of the pan and feels slightly springy to the touch, about 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely in pan before releasing.
To make the frosting: Cream the cream cheese in a stand mixer using a paddle attachment until soft and smooth. Add butter, confectioner’s sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, ginger, and salt and beat until well combined.
To assemble: Slice the cake in half using a serrated knife. Frost the center with a little less than half the frosting. Replace the top and frost the top with the rest of the frosting. I like to keep the sides of this cake naked. Frosting is easiest to work with right after it’s whipped. If you refrigerate it, you will have to re-whip it in the stand mixer to loosen the butter and cream cheese again.
This cake will keep nicely refrigerated and well covered in the spring-form pan for 3-4 days.