08 July 2007

Of Bunny-Topped Cakes and Birthdays

There are recipes that every family keeps close to their hearts. Sometimes they are the source of mystery and intrigue, the ingredients closely guarded, the procedure taking days. "I heard she stirs counterclockwise for hours without stopping," someone might whisper at the table. Then there are recipes that just slip themselves into your lives and acquire the comfort of a well- worn tee-shirt. They may not be complicated but the smell wafting from the kitchen is the smell of home. This is one of those recipes.

The year I was born, Gourmet Magazine published a feature for a children’s birthday party, which included little croque-monsieur sandwiches and a carrot cake topped with marzipan bunnies. My mother saved the article and for my birthday party she made the carrot cake, 3 layers sandwiched with apricot preserves and covered in cream cheese frosting. She even crafted little bunnies to sit on top of the cake with tufts of carrot tops for grass, and marzipan carrots to go around the sides. The cake was such a hit, she made it the next year, and the year after that, and after that...

For my entire life I have celebrated my birthday with the same exact cake. Ok, well, there was one year when I was about eight and insisted on an ice cream cake, but that was only a temporary moment of rebellion. I am, after-all, a creature of habit. When I went away to camp for the first time, my mother made sure a carrot cake was delivered to my dormitory. After scouring Beirut bakeries for days, I conceded carrot cake was unheard of in the Middle East and attempted to make my own in a very tiny kitchen with a broken oven. These days I make my own birthday cake and even though I am way too old for a cake decorated with small animals, I still make them if I have the time, resulting in many late nights sculpting marzipan and some funny reactions from friends. However, if you make fun of my cake, you may not get any, and then you will be very sorry.

The folded, stained issue of Gourmet is a testament to the strength of the recipe (it's also a prized possession, since Gourmet's online archives don't go back that far). Despite my fiddling with the measurements, I still make it generally as written, at this point I know it by heart. Everyone has their own idea of what carrot cake should be, but for me, this is it. Chock full of carrots (a full 4 cups), absolutely no pineapple or raisins. The cream cheese frosting recipe always makes too much but I make the whole amount everytime, and steal spoonfulls from the fridge all week. Hey, it’s my birthday after all. This year, here I am once again, grating carrots, stirring batter, the smell of warm cinnamon reminding me of the inevitable passing of years. So here’s to twenty-ahem years and counting, may there be many more bunny-topped cakes to come.

Carrot Cake for Birthdays
I've had this exact cake for my birthday for almost every year of my entire life, if that isn't tried and true than I don't know what is. My mom always used carrots with their tops still on because she said they were fresher and the carrot tops could be used as garnish, but I'll admit I just use regular carrots as long as they are fresh. And yes, I still sculpt the marzipan bunnies, too. Adapted from Gourmet.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar (I prefer brown, but white sugar is fine)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
4 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup walnuts, optional (I never include them, but if you want to...)
to assemble:
1/2 cup apricot jam
cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
marzipan and food coloring for bunnies, if desired

1. For the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 3 eight-inch round pans with wax paper, grease and flour the pans.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy, then add the oil in a stream, beating to combine. Gradually stir in the flour mixture just to combine. Fold in the carrots.
3. Divide the batter between the 3 prepared pans, bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.
4. To assemble: Peel the wax paper away from the bottom of the cake layers. Place 1 cake layer on a platter and spread with half the apricot jam. Top with a second layer, and spread that with the remaining jam. Top with the final cake layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with cream cheese frosting. If desired, sculpt bunnies and carrots out of marzipan. Arrange bunnies around top of cake, with carrot tops as grass, and place carrots around side of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Some of the best stuff on earth. Using cold cream cheese and softened butter prevents any lumps.

1 lb cream cheese, cold
1 stick (8 tbl) butter, softened
4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla

1. With an eletric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth and combined. Add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating only until sugar is incorporated (do not overbeat). Store in the refrigerator.

*Alterations: Over the years I fiddled with this recipe many times and if you're watching your calories I have found it is plenty moist with only 3/4 cup oil and with the sugar reduced by 1/4 cup; also whole wheat pastry flour does very well.


High Power Rocketry said...

: )

Harlie said...

oh how i love the little bunny rabbit!

Todd said...

That looks great. I looove carrot cake.

A New World said...

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Anonymous said...

I think I'm gaining weight just by looking at your site!

Home Is Where The Heart Is said...

First of all, congrats on being selected as a Blog of Note!

Carrot cake is my all-time favorite type of cake...I just LOVE it! Your recipe sounds wonderful...I look forward to trying it!

Ana said...

mmmmm...mmmmm... :D

Anonymous said...

Omg. That's so yummy

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog! I gave some of the recipes to my mom to make them...

I would be happy exchanging links with you. My blog is at lifeomaniac.blogspot.com

What say?

Mike Kelley said...

i love carrot cake with a big glass of milk!

Anonymous said...

looks beautiful

Cheryl said...

I love the cake and I love the history it has in your family. The little bunny is just too adorable too. When I have to make a carrot cake in the future, I am going to try this one.

Hilda said...

the bunny is really cute, and the cake looks absolutely delicious. There are a bunch of carrot cake recipes floating around the web at this very moment and they're all more tempting one than the next, but yours is a real winner...

Miss T said...

There's no such thing as being too old for marzipan bunnies! Beautiful cake, I must try it.

Deborah said...

Carrot cake is one of my favorites!!!

Rickey said...

Jebus I think you just gave Rickey a freaking heart attack.


VA Boutique said...

MMmmmmmm yummy!
I've just found your blog today and I love all the recipes!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful cake and a wonderful tradition.
Happy birthday to you!

Alisa said...


Christy said...

I love cream cheese frosting! Makes my tummy smile.

In our house growing up it was never a birthday without a Safeway cakes, that has tonnes of flowers on it! I have already indoctrinated my in-laws into this belief too :)

Unknown said...

Yum...bad timing though, just got everyone ready for the gym. Should I try this first, then head to the gym, or give myself a reason to go there first.

Nora B. said...

I discovered your blog on the list if "Blogs of Note" and I'm gald I did. This is a lovely post. And thanks for the recipe. I love carrot cake and I lost my fav, recipe when I moved houses/country.

Happy Birthday!

ej said...

What a great blog! I love it! i really enjoy cooking and you have such a tasty writing style and great pics, well done!
PS: gotta try make that cake now! :)

Tee/Tracy said...

This is my first visit to this blog and I really like it.

I love carrot cake. That looks so tasty - and the bunny is precious! I enjoyed reading about your memories, too :) What a good Mommy you have. My Mom does sweet stuff like that, too.

bea n. random said...

mmm, this sounds delicious! I believe it absolutely should be made with the bunnies!!!

you have a wonderful blog. I will surely return as I've marked it on my Favorites.


Big Chip Dale said...

I'm a bit confused too. I've gone through your ingredients but there doesn't appear to be a single a bit of rabbit in this cake.

the b.glam baby gals said...

I know I'm not the only one to say this, but that bunny is too cute!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Beautiful post, Mercedes -
and the rabbits are adorable!

jmday said...

I just wanted you to know, that I had the same birthday cake every year growing up. A spice cake made from two bundt pieces and then stacked and frosted to look like a jack-o-lantern. Yep, I'm a Halloween baby.

Anonymous said...

These are wonderful! Great job and wonderful directions.


The Sports Satirist said...

Everytime I look at your blog, I get hungry. :-)

Mercedes said...

Well, I had no idea I got a 'Blogger of Note' recognition, but it certainly explains the increased traffic here. I want to welcome all the new readers and I hope you'll stick around and keep reading and commenting (with relevant comments hopefully).

I'm so glad to hear other people also love carrot cake, and they also have great birthday traditions. Tee, you're right, I've got a great mom, and b.glam, I've certainly had a lot of practice making marzipan bunnies!

Anonymous said...

evreything looks awsome

~Pastor D said...

Wow. I feel absolutely honored that you'd share such a delightful memory and and even more delectable carrot cake AND cream cheese frosting. Thank you. The photographs look good enough to eat. I recipe book where the pictures finally equal the quality of the food.


Elle said...

Great cake. Happy Birthday! May there be many more carrot cakes and bunnies in your future.

mariep said...

Everything looks delish!!

Bonnie said...

I'm smitten, have you ever heard of "veggie tales"? May I quote "The bunny, the bunny, oh I love the bunny, I don't love my...." Well, it's actually the story of Rack, Shack and Benny or Shadrach, Michak (?) and Abednigo (spelling not included) from the bible told by talking vegetables. ANYHOW, I'm smitten! Your entire blog is fantastic! Your pictures and recipies are phenomenal! I will be following! Thank you!!!

Unknown said...

I love carrot cake and yours looks delicous. I'm going to try the recipe this weekend.:-)Thanks for posting it.

zidnee 'ilmaa said...

Looks simple & delicious too!

emilyvux said...

New discoverer of your blog, and must say I love it! I am currently in Paris, so loved your previous entry on ice cream in the summer. I'll be sure to try your recipes when I get home!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Mercedes!!
You see how us food bloggers are? You give us a new carrot cake recipe, and all we can talk about is the bunnies.

Wonderful story as well.

Mercedes said...

Thank you Elle, you are so sweet.

Bonnie- i've heard of veggie tales but never seen them, sounds very cute, so glad you're enjoying the site!

Karen- I really hope you like the cake, let me know how it turns out!

Emily- welcome, glad you liked the ice cream post, i've got to get some more ice cream recipes up here soon!

Anon- very funny, i guess bunnies are eye-catching!

M. G. Frederic said...

wow, i'm just lovin' it all. I'm not quite the baker yet... but your recipes have inspired me... plus the fact that most of the recipes you have showned so for have such little amounts of ingredients, it's just so amazing how somethings so simple can be the greatest in the world... keep bloggin' :)

J P said...

I don't know how to cook but if I did I would make that cake
Great blog

Frasier said...

I feel like kicking the person who does the Blogs of Note !! Its because of them I found this blog and its because of the delicious stuff on your blog that I will be breaking my diet !!
This looks so yummy!!
Seriously though,great blog!

M said...

Hi Mercedes,
I thought I'd let you know I finished making the cake...IT'S INCREDIBLE. Exactly as delicious as you made it sound, my husband wants this as his birthday cake now! I had more fun than I could have imagined playing with the marzipan too. Long live bunnies and your blog.
Ps I blogged about you and this cake! Thanks again!

Caitlin said...

I have also recently found your blog and I love it. :)

I want to make this recipe for my son's birthday in 2 weeks but he has requested cupcakes this year. I was wondering if you had tips for converting the recipe? Perhaps 375 in the oven and less time in there?

I am excited to try this. Thanks for sharing. :) Your whole blog is so inspirational.

Mercedes said...

Hi Caitlin-
welcome and thank you for the compliments.

For cupcakes, you should leave the oven temperature at 350F and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Hope that helps, and happy birthday to your little one!

Caitlin said...

Thank you! I'll let you know how it goes!

Anonymous said...

My mom made this for my sister's 23rd birthday- complete with marzipan bunnies and veggies and we decorated the sides with carrot tops for grass. I swore I'd hate it because I think carrot cake is gross, but now I forget why. It was absolutely amazing. Thanks for the great recipes!

Mercedes said...

Sally- I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I love hearing that people enjoy my recipes, but it means so much more when people discover a food/dish they thought they didn't like or hadn't tried before. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and happy birthday to your sister!

Mackenzie McCreary said...


Caitlin said...

So I made this recipe, as cupcakes, and oh, they turned out great! I made a few subsitutions to accomodate my gluten-, corn-, and refined-sugar-intolerant son, and they were great! Everyone was very impressed. I blogged it here: http://smithfamilytimes.blogspot.com/2007/07/gluten-free-corn-free-carrot-cupcakes.html

Thank you again!

Carly said...

I have made your carrot cake twice now, and it's delicious! I did make some changes though. I always use butter instead of oil for some reason, and I added nuts (pecans and walnuts) and golden raisins, and instead of apricot jam I used the icing between the layers. I also have made your pecan pie and your whole wheat cardamom cookies, and everything has been delicious. I can't wait to try making the Guinness spice cake :) seems like it will be great for fall

Veggie by choice! said...

Hi Mercedes,

Do you have a picture of the fully decorated cake from the Gourmet magazine or the ones your family made? I have been looking for years for the original recipe with the picture first published of it in Gourmet magazine. You refer to the year you were born, what year was that and perhaps I can search the archives for that year to find the original recipe and picture. I am so happy to at least have the recipe, thanks so much for sharing!

ekhtsasy said...

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معالجة ارتفاع فاتورة المياه

lisabu said...

Mercedes, I have been looking for this recipe for so long! I made this for my daughter's second birthday, and now her daughter is 2 and I want to make it again. Do you have the directions for the marzipan bunnies? I can't remember how to get that color...if you could send me a picture of the recipe with the bunny instructions I would be forever grateful! Thanks, lisa lisabuchwalter@gmail.com

Unknown said...

I want to find the original recipe. I have many back issues. What year was it published$