Cream Cheese

Yogurt Carrot Cake by Molly Brodak

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Welp, here we are. I was going to say something in this post about how excited I am to be on the Great American Baking Show, but, well. There's no point saying anything about it now, but that I feel sad about the whole thing. I think the situation speaks for itself and I just have to carry on with my life. So I carry me forward, forward into cake, as always.

And thank goodness it's carrot cake this time; there's something so homey and comforting about carrot cake--moist and fragrant, nicely balanced warming spices, such an excellent choice for a winter treat. Of course I had to rework the dusty old recipe into something super infallible--that's where the yogurt comes in.

face goes here

face goes here

Carrot cake is best when it's super rich and moist, and since it's going to have a lot of denseness already in it due to the carrots and nuts, there's no point in trying to make it light and fluffy--best to edge even further to the rich side of things, so yogurt is a perfect pairing here not only for the moisture it brings but the slight tanginess that compliments the earthy, mellow sweetness of carrots. I used my favorite Greek yogurt which I have on hand almost all the time, Fage, which is super rich and creamy and brings the perfect acidity to this cake to make it tender. A little bit of honey and a lot of brown sugar instead of white also help to keep the cake super moist.

Oh yes, I said carrots and toasted nuts--no raisins. I really debated on this, because I'm not against raisins per se, but I ultimately decided they just don't belong here. (One reason is that horrible moment when the raisins interact with the cream cheese frosting! My brain barfed just thinking about that.) They are a distraction. Save 'em for your crappy oatmeal raisin cookies.

You could use walnuts here but why would you do that to yourself

You could use walnuts here but why would you do that to yourself

So look, let's just let this be about carrots. Carrots are sweet and interestingly delicate and sufficient as cake inclusions, which is why I'm fully against sweeter show-stealers in carrot cake like pineapple and raisins and figs or whatever. Of course you can add these things to this recipe and it will be just fine, I mean, you don't have to listen to me. I'll just be here, silently judging your choices. Raw coconut gets the side eye. Chocolate chips get Beyond The Valley of the Side Eye.

I tried roasting carrots in various ways and adding them to the cake batter but these experiments resulted in a unpleasant Mush Packets instead of bits of flavor. The raw carrot gets a bit baked in the oven, just enough to release some flavor, so that's all the cooking it needs, I found.

I also tried two sizes of grated carrots--the regular (large) grated carrots and the finer grated carrots. As is almost always the rule in baking, the more time-consuming and annoying-to-make option is always the tastier option. The finer carrot shavings didn't sink to the bottom of the layers and gave the cakes a nicer, finer crumb with no disturbing long carrot strings to contend with. 

use the smaller grating holes and get ready to grate your life away

use the smaller grating holes and get ready to grate your life away

There's really nothing special about this cream cheese frosting recipe other than it is the BEST. I've tried all kinds of proportions of cream cheese to butter and have found the best is equal proportions. I've even tried making a Swiss meringue cream cheese butter cream but it was a disgusting nightmare I'd prefer to not talk about.

It's important to whip the butter and cream cheese together for a while to ensure there are no lumps of cream cheese, and I find the little lemon zest is really essential here too. Cream cheese buttercream is notoriously disobedient when it comes to holding a shape so it's best to just go rustic here with your icing technique if covering the whole cake in it.


2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 c. (2 8 oz packages) full-fat cream cheese, softened

zest of half of a lemon

4 c. (440 g.) powdered sugar, or to taste

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

Whip butter, cream cheese, and lemon zest on high speed with a hand mixer or stand mixer until smooth and well-combined, add powdered sugar gradually then the salt and vanilla extract. 

I opted to double this recipe and cover my cake in white chocolate ganache then use a barrel-wrap technique to cover it in fondant. I also wanted to use this stencil from Evil Cake Genius I've been saving for the holiday season.

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It's so lovely! I stenciled on royal icing then dabbed on some gold luster accents hither and thither. I know the sugar roses and gardenias on top are not exactly seasonal but I thought they added a lightness to the look of the cake and worked with the organic, natural pattern of the stencil.

Serve this bb at your next gathering and you'll quickly uncover any Raisin Enthusiasts among the ranks bewailing your grape-less carrot cake--calmly explain to them you have a ball pit full of the wrinkled goobs out back and then lock the door behind them.


2 1/2 c. (320 g.) all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

A pinch freshly ground pepper

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 c. canola or vegetable oil

1 tsp. sea or kosher salt

1 c. (175 g.) packed dark brown sugar 

1/4 c. (50 g.) granulated sugar

1/4 c. (105 g.) honey

1 c. (260 g.) full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. finely grated carrots (about 4 large)

1 c. toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two eight or nine inch round pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. 

Mix together all the dry ingredients--flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices--with a whisk until combined and set aside. Mix together carrots and pecans in a separate bowl.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the eggs, oil, salt and sugars on high speed for about four minutes until lightened, making sure no lumps of brown sugar remain. Add honey, yogurt, vanilla extract and beat two additional minutes until smooth. Mix in the dry mixture on low in two batches until just combined, then fold in the carrots and nuts. Divide among pans and bake for 25-35 minutes or until centers are set. Cool, fill, and frost. 

no wrinkled goobs here

no wrinkled goobs here

Strawberry Cheesecake Cookies by Molly Brodak

In late February, summer could not feel farther away. One requires summer's official flavor at times like these: strawberry. The subdued pink tone of these cookies belie a truly intense and completely natural strawberry flavor. Soft and tender with the slight crunch of strawberry seeds, these cookies also retain their shape when baked which makes them pretty much the holy grail of roll out cookies.

The magic ingredient here is freeze-dried strawberry powder, which can be purchased or made, and of course making it is cheaper. I found the best deal to be a few bags of these sliced freeze-dried strawberries at my corner CVS, although any brand will work. 

I made these cookies not overly sweet because I knew I'd be icing them with royal icing, although they are lovely without icing for those who prefer a dreamy, soft cookie that won't break your sweet tooth.

Just whizz the freeze-dried strawberries up in your food processor to a fine powder (I use this fantastic Kitchen Aid mini grinder that I also grind spices in or make caster sugar with). Because they are so tender, these would make great candidates for sandwich cookies...with dark chocolate ganache?! YES go and do this.

I hate making two different weights of royal icing (border and flood) so I just make a medium weight and somehow manage to carry on

I hate making two different weights of royal icing (border and flood) so I just make a medium weight and somehow manage to carry on

Many good roll out cookie recipes call for a smidge of cream cheese to keep them tender but I really wanted them to taste like cream cheese, so I kept adding more and more cream cheese until they were perfectly balanced. There is no softer, creamier roll out cookie on the planet.

Side note: someone recently asked me why the salt in all of my cookie and cake recipes is always added to the butter/fat instead of being added to the flour mixture as is routine. What happens to the salt when you whisk it together with the flour and leavener? It sorts itself out to the bottom of your bowl, where it stays. Salt is heavy. It is not a powder. Salt is a liquid. Always add salt to your liquids, not your drys. Now let us never speak of this issue again.

I love an excuse to get out my collection of silicone leaf and flower molds for a little extra easy beauty. Just a quick squish of some white fondant into the mold and then a bit of edible copper-colored powder mixed into a paint with a few drops of vodka and you are good to go. I've tried every kind of metallic powder under the sun and nothing compares to the stuff from Evil Cake Genius. It's pricey but it lasts for ever, and the effect is worth every penny.

That rounded rectangle shape was cut out with the lid of a Hershey's cocoa canister

That rounded rectangle shape was cut out with the lid of a Hershey's cocoa canister

These cookies will change your life. Well, maybe at least just get you through the winter.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cookies

8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1/2 c. butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 c. (150 g.) sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 yolk, room temperature

1/3 c. freeze-dried strawberry powder (about 2 c. of sliced freeze-dried strawberries will grind down to about 1/3 c.)

1 tsp. vanilla

3 c. (375 g.) flour, plus more for rolling

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter, sugar, cream cheese and salt in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with your hand mixer. Be sure no lumps of cream cheese remain. Add the yolk and mix for another minute, then the strawberry powder and vanilla until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in two batches and mix until just barely incorporated. Remove dough ball from bowl and knead a few times in your hands to make sure the flour is fully incorporated. Divide into two balls. Roll out each ball onto a floured surface into a 1/4" rectangle that will fit your cookie sheets. Layer each dough sheet with plastic wrap and place on cookie sheet, then place cookie sheet into freezer. Use a sheet of wax paper between sheets to prevent them from sticking together.

Chill for at least an hour, but can be left in the freezer for up to 3 months in sheets. When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 365 degrees F. Remove sheets from freezer, cut shapes directly from frozen dough sheets, and bake frozen shapes immediately on cold or room temperature cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. If shapes become soft as you work with them, be sure to refreeze before baking. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Cookies will not brown much due to the cream cheese, so just checking them by tapping their centers with your finger to make sure they are set up is the best way to test if they are done.

Allow to cool completely, then frost and gobble.

beauty make it rain

beauty make it rain