Last week I had the pleasure of spending some time in lovely Madison, Wisconsin. My dear cousin lives there with his wife and three darling children, and it has been 13 years since I last visited. It was due time, for sure. We spent a lot of time at the house, but we also had some chances to check out what Madison has to offer in terms of food experiences.
A couple of friends of mine also live there and gave me an extensive list of places to try. Sadly, I was only able to check out two of those places, but one of them, La Brioche, was such a home run that I had to try my hand at one of their signature pastries – the cheese Danish.
Their cheese Danish is very straightforward, but I wanted to try something different. I scoured the Internet to see what I could find that included blueberries (because I had a HUGE container of them). I found a few, and picked the best elements of each one.
I made my own puff pastry, but I am not going to include that recipe in this post. Instead, I’ll urge you to buy a puff pastry from the freezer section of your local grocery store. Why, you ask? Because this Danish is so good, but took waaaay too long to put together. If you’re hoping to make this for a brunch or even dessert, take it easy on yourself and just buy a package of puff pastry.
I’ve never worked in a proper office. I’ve never had to sit in a cubicle. I’ve never had a conversation by a water cooler. And in the many jobs I’ve held, only few were the kind that supported “food days.” These are the types of days (birthdays, themed soup days, staff meeting days, etc) where the staff lounge is filled to the brim with treats and snacks – sometimes, on occasion, entire meals.
My current job is one that asks for volunteers to bring food one day per month in celebration of staff birthdays for said month. Ironically, I chose the month of December to bring food – this happens to be my birth month. Essentially, I brought my own birthday cake today, and I’m fine with that.
As today drew nearer and nearer, I couldn’t help but recall the episode of Seinfeld (I know…big surprise, right?) in which Elaine’s office is inundated with cakes and treats for anything from Walter’s last day, to the other Walter’s birthday. She even receives a “get well” cake from her fellow employees because they heard she was out sick the day before. She eventually denounced her coworkers and subsequently suffered from sugar withdrawal right around the four o’clock hour.
ELAINE: What is this?
MALE WORKER: You were out sick yesterday, so we got you a get-well cake.
FEMALE WORKER: It’s carrot. It’s good for you.
WORKERS (singing): Get well get well soon, we wish you to get—
ELAINE: Stop it! That’s not even a song! I mean, now we’re celebrating a sick day?
MALE WORKER: I think it’s nice.
ELAINE: What? What is nice? Trying to fill the void in your life with flour and sugar and egg and vanilla? I mean, we are all unhappy. Do we have to be fat, too? Not you Becky, I know you have a slow metabolism. I don’t want one more piece of cake in my office!
In honor of that episode and of every office food day around the world, I baked a carrot cake last night.
My coworkers seemed to like it, by the way.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Maple Icing
Adapted from the incomparable David Lebovitz
Yield: One 8- or 9- inch double layer cake
For the cake:
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola because that is what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) melted brown butter *
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon (I like Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups loosely packed grated carrots
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
For the icing:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (use Grade B if you can)
*Brown butter: Cut butter up into even pieces and melt in heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium. Whisk frequently (butter might foam up, and that’s okay). Keep an eye on it and watch for small brown flecks to appear. Do not let it burn – it can happen quickly! As soon as it smells nutty and has little brown flecks, take it completely off the heat to stop the cooking process.
– Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour (or use Pam for Baking) two 8- or 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.
– For the cake layers: sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until they are pale and frothy. With the mixer running on medium speed, drizzle in the oil and melted brown butter, then the vanilla.
– Add the dry ingredients to the eggs and mix carefully until just combined. Try not to overdo it at this point.
– Fold in the carrots and pecans; the batter will be stiffer than you might be used to, but it’s supposed to be this way. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. I had to bake mine for almost 40 minutes, but my oven is close to kicking the proverbial bucket. Cool the cakes completely before icing.
– To make the icing: Beat the cream cheese and butter together until they are smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar (on low) and mix until silky. At this point, add the maple syrup and blend until fully combined. You might want to chill the icing for 20 minutes or so before you decide to ice the cake.