Alexander Turns Five!: Riva's Carrot Cake

I like to think of myself as the exclusive caterer for my young friend Alexander, who just turned five.  I've had the privilege of making baked goods for Alexander's birthday every year. Last year, when he turned four, he was finally old enough to make a specific birthday baked goods request. This year, not only did he decide what I would bake, but he also was able to take on some of the decorating duties.

With regard to birthday cake, Alexander requested a carrot cake after learning that it is his Great-Uncle Mike's favorite cake. (I should mention that Alexander's taste preferences are somewhat unusual for a five-year old.  He doesn't like chocolate, and he doesn't particularly care for frosting, either. At another child's birthday party last month, I saw every other kid in attendance sporting blue lips, tongues, and teeth after eating the Spiderman-themed birthday cake with dark blue frosting. Alexander decided to skip the cake entirely and was completely content to snack on some fresh fruit instead.) I decided to try a recipe from the Los Angeles Times Culinary SOS column, Riva's Carrot Cake.

You make the cake batter in a stand mixer, by whipping together eggs and sugar until they are thick and light, adding in oil and beating until light and fluffy, and then mixing the egg-sugar-oil mixture into the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and more sugar), and folding in grated carrots and currants.  The cream cheese frosting is made from cold butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. I was a little skeptical about using cold butter (instead of room-temperature butter) to make the frosting, but it came out completely smooth, with a wonderfully thick, creamy texture. The recipe also produces a lot of frosting, so the entire cake was covered with a very generous amount.

Cake decorating is not my strong suit, so I limited decorations to some piped borders and festive candles.  The cake itself was dense, very moist and very carrot-y.  I liked the fact that the recipe called for currants; I preferred them over the usual raisins, since I find the chewiness of larger raisins to be a bit distracting in a carrot cake.  I did find the cake a little sweet, and the frosting a lot sweet -- and the huge quantity of frosting only magnified the sweetness level.  My favorite cream cheese frosting recipe (which I use on carrot cake, carrot whoopie pies, and red velvet cake and cupcakes) calls for 1/3 cup butter, 6 oz. cream cheese, and 1 cup powdered sugar.  I use a triple batch to frost a two-layer, 9-inch cake, so that would mean a total of 1 cup butter, 18 oz. cream cheese, and 3 cups powdered sugar.  The frosting recipe for Riva's carrot cake calls for 1 cup butter, 1 lb. cream cheese, and five cups of powdered sugar.  Thus, Riva's frosting recipe is almost the same as the one I normally use, with the glaring distinction that it contains two additional cups of powdered sugar. I thought the sweetness was a bit much, but I was flattered when Alexander told me that he liked the cake (and he ate not only the cake, but also the frosting, too!). I would absolutely make this cake again, but I would definitely reduce the sugar in the frosting to three cups.

Since the single 8-inch carrot cake was not going to be large enough to serve everyone at the birthday party (and because I sort of suspected that carrot cake might not be so popular with the rest of the pre-K crowd), I asked Alexander to pick out a variety of cupcakes, and he chose red velvet. I made two batches of my standard red velvet cake recipe from Cakeman Raven, which yielded 40 cupcakes.  Of course, for the cream cheese frosting, I used my normal recipe from the recipe for pumpkin-raisin bars (I needed four batches of the frosting to cover all of the cupcakes).  I baked the cupcakes and then invited Alexander over to help with the frosting and decorating. We mixed the frosting, and Alexander picked out the colors for each batch. As you can see in the picture below, he went with neon yellow-green, lavender, light blue, and mint green. I pulled out all of my sprinkles and decors and let Alexander have free reign to use anything he liked -- so the cupcakes were topped with all sorts of different colored sugars and decorations.

Not surprisingly, the technicolor frosting and sprinkles were a hit with the kids (and even the parents!) at Alexander's birthday party.  I can't wait to see what baking ideas Alexander comes up with next year!

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Louise said…
Alexander has excellent taste in birthday cakes. I'd say that even if he was 35 instead of five years old. Red Velvet is not a personal favorite, but I've made the Cakeman Raven recipe. Your decorations should have put a smile on everyone's faces. I love carrot cake and made one recently with a layer of Junior's Cheesecake in between. I baked them in tube pans and froze the cheesecake until I needed to "install" it. Next time I'll have to try Riva's recipe as it's not too different than my favorite of the last 25 years, Frog Commissary, seen here. The recipe shown on Southern Living is missing 1 tsp. baking soda, but otherwise correct. The Frog recipe has 1/2 c more oil, more baking powder and more baking soda, plus more nuts and raisins.

I almost missed the brownie finale because I didn't look at your blog for a couple of days as I was just too busy. :-(
Ohmigosh, I love the idea of putting a layer of Junior's Cheesecake in the middle of a cake -- this is genius! I am so going to have to try that!
Louise said…
Baking the cakes in tube pans is a little tricky as far as matching up the layer size, but I had too different styles and the outside matched fine. The inside, not so well, but no one really sees it. I actually had a springform tube pan for the cheesecake and lined the bottom with parchment. I froze the cheesecake on the base. I used cream cheese frosting as the glue between layers and on the outside. The final cake was easy to cut into twenty some decent size pieces since there was no center.
emilyrein said…
alexander's birthday every year reminds me how long i've been reading your blog. love it!
Louise said…
Brownie Mosaic Cheesecakes are really impressive and extra tasty too. Susan Purdy's "A Piece of Cake" included one twenty years ago. I've also made her recipe with BAKED brownies. Her baking technique doesn't use a water bath and seems to work great. has a recipe for Junior's Brownie Swirl Cheesecake that is great too. They use part of the brownie batter to make the crust. People love this stuff.