Monday, December 20, 2010

Carrot Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

You know how whenever you're having a really bad day, and you say to yourself, "it can't get any worse" and then ten minutes later it gets worse?

Yeahhhh... That was Sunday.

This weekend was my mother and I's birthday weekend. I get told a lot that my birthday kind of gets shafted, you know, with my mom's birthday the day before mine and Christmas 6 days away. You'd think it'd be like, "oh cool! I get double the presents!" but that's totally not the case.

It's more like... "oh, cool! my birthday present is my Christmas present too!"

*Awkward silence*



Totally not bitter or anything like that. Nope.

Kidding, in all honesty, I don't really mind. After I turned 15 I got really weird about birthdays. I just never liked them after that. Call me crazy, but a whole day devoted to me is not something I'm too into. And no, it's not because I'm Ms. Humble ;) It's because that every time my birthday rolls around, something happens that ends up ruining my whole day. Don't believe me? I can pretty much list every single birthday since I was 14 where somethings gone wrong. It's crazy.

My birthday is like an excuse for the universe to play russian roulette or rather, "let's-press-all-of-alex's-buttons" day. So I prefer to skip the whole birthday thing. It just makes it easier.

However, this year, I decided to bite the bullet and do something.

Instead of being a "party-pooper" on my own birthday, I went ahead and planned to do something I actually wanted to do. What better excuse? It's my birthday. You gotta do it, or else you'll end up on Santa's naughty list and get no presents.

At least that's what I tell my nieces and nephews.

What? It's the only perk of having a birthday close to Christmas. ;)

Anyway, I decided I wanted to bake my own cake (aka the only cake I'll eat besides rum cake), have all my family members over to play a board game, and just really spend time with my family. Something that I have been lacking horribly the past 5 months.

The day didn't start off bad... In fact, it was great. Filled with new york crumb cake and lots of (caffeinated) tea. It was wonderful. Church was awesome, and everyone sang me happy birthday, which caused me to sink into my chair, turn into a tomato and run to North Korea.

Then, all it took was a text message. Our vacuum had broken in the middle of my mother cleaning the house back at home. "Ok, figures," I think to myself, "at least that's all it was".

That should've been the first sign.

Next thing you know, I realize I have no ingredients for the cake I want to make. Ok, another bump in the road, not too bad... Go to the store, get the ingredients, and then see that I forgot the most crucial part of carrot cake.


So, there goes another trip to the store. I start to get jittery at this point, watching the clock all the while. I get home and try to get going as quickly as possible. I get all my ingredients ready, set everything up, butter my cake pans, preheat the oven....

And then the oven catches on fire.


Fiery flamey flames.

Next thing I know the whole house is filled with smoke and my neighbors are asking if I'm letting Bob Marley stay at my house. The smoke is so dense I can barely see the other side of the kitchen, and as the oven stays on it's not getting any better.

It's at this point that the universe wins and Alex goes into breakdown mode.

"I knew this was going to happen," I cried, shaking an invisible fist to the universe. "This always happens!"

Thankfully, my mom was there. And since she can magically make everything better, the day didn't end in disaster and fiery flames. She helped me calm down, clean up the oven, keep baking, and get everything done in time.

And you know what? Everything came out perfectly. The cake. The frosting. The party. The everything.

Overall, I did have a good birthday. And I had a freakin' delicious carrot cake to go with it. I honestly adore carrot cake. Probably the only cake I'll ever eat. And the brown sugar cream cheese frosting was such a complement to the cake... I loved it. The best part about this cake is that it has virtually no fat in it. I had even used 0 calorie granulated sugar and it was still amazing. I kept it moist with 0% greek yogurt and REAL brown sugar. The taste was tremendous and just lightly spiced. Over all the cake came out great. Although there is no coconut in this cake. I'm seriously against coconut in carrot cake... Sue me.

Carrot Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup greek yogurt (fat-free works fine)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar (zero calorie sugar substitutes work fine for this cake)
4 eggs (I used 1 cup egg substitute)
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained of most its juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used more than this cause I love walnuts in carrot cake)
1 cup golden raisins
3 cups grated carrots (I finely grate mine to a pulp)

8oz cream cheese, room temperature ( I used fat-free)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature (I used light)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
3 cups powdered sugar (add more as needed)


1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Grease 1 9x13 inch pan or 2 8x8 cake pans with butter and flour.

3. Mix together greek yogurt and sugars until fully combined. Mix in egg substitute until incorporated (if using real eggs, beat in one at a time), and then proceed to mix in the crushed pineapple and vanilla extract.

4. Gently fold in walnuts, raisins and carrots, being careful not to overmix.

5. Pour into prepared cake pans and bake at 350F for about 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean and the cake is a slightly dark golden brown.

6. While cake is cooling, make the frosting. Blend together the cream cheese, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon until smooth. Add in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until you've reached a stiff, smooth frosting. In other words, if you use a spatula to pick up the frosting from the bowl and the frosting is dripping off your spatula, you need more powdered sugar. Set the frosting aside or put in covered container in the fridge until cake is cooled and ready.

7. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to frost (this is also helpful for cooling the cake down quicker so the frosting does not melt). Once cake is cooled, frost with brown sugar cream cheese frosting any way you'd like.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hot Chocolate Bars

So I've decided that Mother Nature is having a temper tantrum this week.

I'm not sure what happened. Maybe she got up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe the sun burned her favorite pair of shoes (I mean, what women wouldn't get pissed over that?). Maybe she just likes picking on poor traveling families just trying to have a nice vacation at Disney World.

Or maybe God didn't want the north to have all the fun this winter.

I don't know. All I know is that I woke up Sunday morning and it was bright and sunny out and now it's 20 degrees outside.

In Florida.

Excuse me, but... WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

You know it's cold in Florida when shops close down early because no one is leaving their house. Seriously. Us Floridians aren't like other people. We don't go, "oh, it's cold out, better take out my warm clothes!". Uhm, no. Us Floridians don't have warm clothes. We have 500 tank tops and maybe one hoodie thats stuck in the back of our closet underneath our shorts.

If you have lived in Florida for over 6 years (or all of your life), you don't go outside during winter. You stay inside, eat a lot of comfort food, and don't get out of bed until the sun comes out and makes it all better.

In other words, native Floridians go into hibernation during the winter, leaving the poor traveling families who thought they were going somewhere warm for winter in the freezing cold.

At least there are no lines at Disney. Ha ha...ha...

I don't really like the winter. I used to be in love with it, but now it bugs me. I don't like being cold and numb. I do, however, like being snug. The best part about the winter is being able to cuddle under your blankets, and drink hot chocolate, with the heat blasting and fuzzy neon green socks on your feet...

Okay, maybe the fuzzy neon green socks are just me.

I do love drinking good hot chocolate during the winter though. And not the things that come out of the packet. I mean real melted chocolate in a cup with the fluffiest marshmallows you can imagine, and maybe some whipped cream on top. There is nothing better than curling up on the sofa and drinking real hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Except...maybe, baking hot chocolate BARS with marshmallows.

Yeah, now you're talking.

These bars awesome because of four reasons:

(1) They took less than 10 minutes of prep work.
(2) They have marshmallows on top.
(3) Chocolate.

I'm all about using one bowl. It calms my soul and helps me sleep at night.

While the bars have more of a brownie texture, you can definitely taste the hot chocolatey taste in them. If I could, I probably would've either added maybe some espresso to the mix or more powdered hot chocolate to give it an extra POW, but I think it did just fine as is. And the marshmallows? Awesome touch. These definitely need to be cooled completely before cutting, or else you'll have a marvelous gooey mess on your hands. Trust me, I know from experience.

But hey, if you like melted marshmallows and half-baked chocolate goo all over your fingers and counter-top, more power to you!

Just don't expect me to come over and clean your kitchen.

It's too cold for that sort of thing.

Hot Chocolate bars with Marshmallow Topping

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup dark chocolate (I used semi-sweet)
1/2 cup hot chocolate powder (I would up this to maybe 3/4 cup next time)
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups marshmallows


1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Line a 8x8 pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray or butter it.

2. Melt the 1/2 cup butter with the chocolate. Stir until smooth and glossy. Pour into a large mixing bowl. (I just melted the butter/chocolate together in the microwave in my mixing bowl)

3. Add in chocolate powder, egg, milk/cream, and sugar. Whisk until thoroughly combined.

4. Add flour and baking powder (you don't have to whisk together beforehand), mix until there are no signs of flour left.

5. Press into your prepared 8x8 pan.

6. Bake for 15 minutes. Top with marshmallows and then bake for an extra 2 minutes or until the top of the marshmallows are just slightly brown. For better presentation, use the back of a spoon to gently push the marshmallows down into the bars without smashing them completely.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Banana Nut Bread

I'm still not quite sure what part of me thought it was a good idea to get on an airplane during the Holidays and think that somehow nothing would go wrong.

I hate airplanes.

Wait, no, let me correct myself... I hate airports.

They are a pain. A big pain. Like... stepping on a bunch of lego's kind of pain. For one, all the food there is too expensive... even if it's just one little piece of fruit! I was in layover in Tennessee and you know how much it cost for one tiny palm sized apple!? $1.30! I could buy like... a whole POUND of apples for less than that. It was riiiiiiidiculous.

Not only that, but God forbid your flight delays. You know what there is to do at an airport if you're stuck there for an extra hour? nothing. You could walk around the whole airport... but then you start to feel really weird because you keep passing by the same stores and the people that work there start to give you funny looks like they've never seen someone stuck at an airport before.

Not to mention the fact that going through security takes five hours. Five hours of which you feel like you have to throw all your clothes off in lightspeed because somehow you ALWAYS end up in front of the one person who only takes like....a laptop and flip-flops.

All the while, you have to worry about being one of those selected people who get the majorly violating pat-down that will give you nightmares of security people touching you in weird places while you sleep. Keep your hands to yourself, please.

The worst part about it wasn't the security though. Or the one hour delay. Or the fact that we couldn't even leave the plane because for some reason the plane door wouldn't unlock, so we had to wait 15 minutes. It was the fact that before the flight I had meant to bring a slice of banana nut bread with me and I totally forgot.

I made banana nut bread before I left for what seems like the first time in ages. For years I've been searching for the banana nut bread that tastes most like the one my grandmother made, but I haven't been able to yet. I'm certain she made hers with walnuts, but for lack of time, I subbed out pecans. While the bread is still absolutely delicious, and probably one of the better recipes I've used, it still isn't my grandmothers bread. One day, I'll make it. But for now, this one will definitely do.

It uses up at least 5 BLACK bananas. Yes, BLACK bananas. Don't use them if their spotted. Wait until they are completely dark as night black. That's when the banana flavor is most prominent and sweet. And though you can use less than 5, I really recommend 5. It gives the bread a nice banana flavor that melds beautifully with the nuts, brown sugar, and dash of cinnamon. I also added a nice sugar crust to the top, which gives it a slight crunch when you eat it. It's perfect with peanut butter or nutella, or toasted with butter. And the slices are thick and well kept together enough that it can totally be made into french toast. So really, this banana bread is just all kinds of awesome.

Maybe if all the people work at the airport had this kind of bread for breakfast, they'd be less cranky. Including me.

Banana Nut Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 (packed) brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed black bananas (5 bananas)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 9x5-inch loaf pan.
2. In large bowl, combined the mashed bananas with the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in eggs, vanilla extract and cinnamon.
3. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture. Stir together.
4. Sift in the 2 cups of flour, and then mix until there is no signs of flour left. Do not overmix. It's dangerous for your banana breads soul.
5. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out the middle mostly clean. Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

I am not good at Christmas shopping.

Actually, that's a lie. I'm not bad at Christmas shopping at all.

I just have some issues when it comes to it.

For example, when I'm Christmas shopping, economic value goes straight out the window. It then becomes what I would like to call the "Aunt" value. In layman terms, what can I buy all my nieces and nephews that can trump the other 20 other uncles and aunts?

Suddenly, it's like I do not see price-tags on anything. Instead, I see a "lame" to "awesome" value of everything I contemplate buying my nieces and nephews. $2 dollar stuffed polar bear at walmart with a funky smell? Lame. Freakin' incredibly huge stuffed polar bear/pillow that smells like victory? Totally awesome.

Christmas. It's a time for giving, loving, family, being thankful... and competition.

Of course, this has put in motion some minor setbacks. Like...buying one niece #1 two things and niece #2 just one thing because I saw something niece #1 might like and therefore grabbed it and rang it up without thinking twice.

And then returning it once I realized I had already bought her a present. And then having a huge argument with myself on whether or not I should just buy everyone two things or just stick with one thing for all. Thus bringing me into a spinning mental state of what I should do ending in me being in the fetal position in the parking lot of Toys'R'Us.

Which isn't really an odd thing to witness this time of year.

Either way, Christmas shopping is both a blessing and a curse. Which is why after I come home from a nights worth of fighting with my brain about the whole Christmas present deal, I go into my kitchen and I bake something that fills the house with a very simple reminder. It's not about who gets the best gift, but about the fact that someone cared enough to get one for you.

I baked this the morning of one of those crazy Christmas shopping days, and honestly, just how beautiful it came out and how wonderful the apartment smelled afterward was enough to get me ready for the day.

It's a Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake. You may think that sounds odd, but pears are often quite complimentary for gingerbread. Right next to apple, it has a fruity sweetness that works in harmony with the spices inside the cake. It is an incredibly fragrant cake that has a glossy brown sugar shine on the top. The white chocolate drizzle is spiced with pumpkin spice, but if you don't have that on hand, a dash each of ground cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg/cloves will do the trick just fine. It really does complete the cake, I think. This is incredibly moist. I'm sure if this cake was an aunt, it'd probably win the "awesome" award right off the bat (unless, of course, its competition was a cheesecake). With just the right amount of spices, and caramlized pear slices on top... it makes a perfect brunch, breakfast, or light dessert. Plus, it makes your house smell like heaven. Who wouldn't want that?

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
(adapted from Gourmet)
2 ripe pears
1/4 cup of salted butter, melted
1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of molasses
1 cup of boiling water
1/2 cup of salted butter, softened
1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Peel and core pears and cut each into thin slices. Arrange pears in the bottom of an 8 inch springform pan. Drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.

2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar, and egg in a mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, then alternately mix in one third of the flour mixture and half of the molasses mixture at low speed until smooth, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Pour batter over topping, being careful not to disturb pears, and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

3. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge, then remove sides and invert a large plate with a lip over the bottom of the cake and, using pot holders to hold the pan and plate tightly together, invert cake onto plate. Replace any pears that stick to skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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