“Very early in my life it was too late.” - Marguerite Duras, an excerpt from ‘L’Amant.’
I don’t want to believe it’s the end of March. It’s like I close my eyes and lose a thousand years. Last night was December. The week before that was Spring. A flicker of an eyelash and I was sixteen. And nothing could hold me. I’m in a hurry to be who I was yesterday. And the girl that came before that, I want her back too. I lose myself to it all. Tonight I’ll fall asleep and awaken as eighty. And here, now, you, reading this, it’s already last night’s dream. Will you still love me? I hope. One can only hope for it.
If there’s anything this space is, it’s progression. Mine, yours, ours. I am not the same as I once was a year ago, a day ago, even a second ago. You can thank the passing of time for that. And within each breathing moment I lose myself to new desires. Loves, ardors, and embers. There’s no mistake in you reading this. This night that breathes life into these fingers that breathes life into these words that breathes life into this sentence which was once lodged deep within some sunken cavity, thank you, thank you for letting it out of me.
I promised a rendition of this carrot cake many, many months ago. And I’m making true to it. Caramel Mousseline Carrot Cake. It’s rich and sugared, slightly spiced, with burnt intensity. The cake is three layers of good, good carrot cake. A little less carrot-y than the usual classic, but all the more delicious. The cardamom shines. The brown sugared undertone is present. And the caramel crème mousseline buttercream? It’s a new favourite. I only want for mousseline-layered cakes now. The frosting is essentially two cups caramel crème patissiere to one-and-a-half cups of butter. I made the crème patissiere on heavy cream. There’s vanilla bean seeds and a hint of salt, too. You could salt a little heavier with something pink, grey, or smoked to make it a true salted caramel. That’s always a good time. Decadent is an understatement. And I refuse to hold back.
I recommend beginning the caramel crème patissiere the day before, so it has time to chill overnight in the refrigerator. When it comes time to finishing the cake, it’s easier for this stage to be knocked out beforehand so you can focus all your attention on the other processes. You could also bake the carrot cake layers the day before, too. Which would make for easier layering. Just let them cool completely before covering then set them aside until needed for assembly.
If your mousseline appears curdled at any point, it usually means the butter was too cool when it was added. So, let it sit at room temperature until it’s soft and malleable, but not so soft that it loses form completely. If you have a thermometer, ideally the internal temperature should sit around 18 C or 65 F.
I’ve left the nuts in this carrot cake as optional. Add them if you desire, or don’t. It’s completely your choice. You could use walnuts or pecans, for a classic-style carrot cake. I’ve also done it up with pistachios before too.
CARAMEL MOUSSELINE CARROT CAKE
For the crème mousseline:
175 grams granulated sugar
3 medium egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod
½ teaspoon salt
250 milliliters heavy cream
350 grams unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
75 milliliters heavy cream, at room temperature
First, make the crème patissiere. Place the sugar in a large size saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the sugar has evenly turned a deep amber color, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a handheld electric whisk, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch, vanilla bean seeds, and salt, until pale, thick, and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
Next, put 250 ml of the heavy cream into a medium sized saucepan set over medium-low heat. Let it come to a light simmer. Once the sugar has caramelized, pour it into the hot cream. Be careful, it will rise and sputter but will subside as soon as it acclimatizes. Whisk until incorporated. The mixture won’t incorporate at first, but as you continue to cook it, it’ll come together.
Ladle a little of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan with the caramel cream. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick and leaves a trail. Remove from the heat. Pour the crème patissiere into a medium sized mixing bowl and immediately cover it with a layer of plastic wrap. Set it in the refrigerator to chill completely, at least six hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to make the mousseline, place the chilled crème patissiere in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed, for a minute, then add in the soft butter, a tablespoon at a time, until all incorporated. Keep whisking until very smooth, velvety, and glossy, a few more minutes. If you’re mousseline appears curdled, keep whisking it and it will come nicely together. Pour in the remaining 75 ml of heavy cream and whisk until well combined and thick, two more minutes. Use immediately to frost the cake.
For the carrot cake:
320 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon salt
300 grams light brown sugar
100 grams granulated sugar
240 milliliters vegetable oil
4 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
360 grams carrots, thinly shredded
75 grams toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Lightly grease and line 3 x 18 cm cake pans with non-stick parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the light brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vegetable oil until combined, about a minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add in the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add the vanilla bean extract until incorporated. Set the mixer speed to medium-low and add in the dry flour ingredients, whisking until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Using a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the carrots and nuts (if using) until evenly incorporated throughout the batter. Divide the batter between the cake pans.
Bake for 27 to 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes, before carefully transferring them out and onto a wire rack to cool completely before levelling off any domed tops and frosting.
Place the first cake layer cut side facing up onto a serving plate or cake stand. Using an offset spatula, spread about 4 generous tablespoons of the mousseline over the top and sides of the cake. Add the second cake layer, cut side facing down. Again, generously spread over about 4 tablespoons of the mousseline. Gently press on the final cake layer, cut side facing down. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of the mousseline then set the cake in the refrigerator to chill the crumb coat until firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use a large offset spatula to thickly spread on a final layer of the mousseline. Place the cake back in the refrigerator to set for a further 30 minutes, before slicing and serving.