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A Baker or Not?

Apr 11, 2020

I don’t even know who I am anymore. Self-isolating as a COVID-19 precaution has brought out characteristics that I wasn’t aware I possessed. I have always been a pretty solitary soul and spend a lot of time on my own. A variety of projects, books and chores keep me busy. I am good at being alone (or as alone as it gets with a husband and three dogs).

However, who knew that I would want to do puzzles? Seriously. This wasn’t a hobby that was ever on my radar. Suddenly, I had puzzle envy every time one popped up in my Instagram feed. With the only puzzles in this house being toys geared to toddlers, I sourced a small South Dakota gift shop for a shipment, and soon puzzle pieces were strung across half of my dining room table. While I haven’t just sat down and intently puzzled, instead, I snagged a piece or two and popped them into place every time I passed the table. It only took five days to get an image of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water together, and now, I am working on the blueprint puzzle of the same.

The second activity that has seized me is baking. You read that correctly. After years and years of telling you all that I am not a baker, I still won’t claim that I am. But I have been baking much more than ever. Who am I? I haven’t plunged into sourdough starters, but I have welcomed small batch baking of little treats like cookies and brownies into our self-distancing menus (although my idea that baking six cookies would last two days failed miserably and led to even more baking).

I have always created desserts for holidays, pandemic or not. And with Easter just around the corner, more baking is more or less mandatory, even for our small solo dinner. Therefore, I pulled out a tried and true recipe from America’s Test Kitchen for a delicious Carrot Layer Cake. It doesn’t require the fussing of measuring batter equally into separate baking pans. Instead, this unique four-layer cake is created by slicing a thin sheet cake into four rectangles that are stacked with smears of cream cheese icing in between. My only warning is to make sure your sheet pans are somewhat level. I have a couple pans that are warped from steady use in hot ovens. A warped pan does not produce a level cake, but wonky layers still taste great.

I have made this cake for at least three Easters, and sadly, I think this year was the first that I fully followed the directions for the cream cheese frosting. Prior to whipping it up, I had visited with a friend and commented that I didn’t think it really mattered. I am going on the record revoking that statement. This frosting is incredible. It is light, fluffy and tangy as only the best cream cheese frosting can be. Hubs is that guy who scrapes half of the frosting off his slice of cake, and with this Carrot Layer Cake, he asked for a corner. It is that good. Don’t skip the toasted pecan coating. They easily make a prettier cake for us non-bakers and add a great nutty texture to the dessert.

I may not recognize who I have become during these trying times, but I do know that this Carrot Layer Cake would be a blessed event for even a minimalized Easter table.


Carrot Layer Cake with cream cheese frosting and toasted pecans is a delectable dessert for your scaled-down Easter meal.

Carrot Layer Cake

(adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)



1-3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1-1/4 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup canola oil

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 carrots, shredded (approx. 2-1/2 cups)

1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 18x13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper and butter parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves together in large bowl.

Beat sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla together until mixture is smooth. Stir in carrots and raisins. Add flour mixture and fold by hand with a rubber spatula until mixture is just combined. 

Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and smooth surface. Bake until center of cake is firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Place a new sheet of parchment on a wire rack and invert cake onto wire rack (do not remove original parchment). Cool cake completely. (I usually bake the cake in the evening and allow to cool overnight without any ill effects.)



16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 cups confectioners' sugar

1/3 cup buttermilk powder (DO NOT add to milk or water; use just the powder for this recipe)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 ounces cream cheese, CHILLED and cut into 12 equal pieces

2 cups pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, beat butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla and salt on low speed until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping bowl and pulling mixture from the whisk as needed. Increase speed to medium-low; add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time; and mix until smooth and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.



Transfer cooled cake to cutting board; remove top layer of parchment but leave parchment under the cake. Using sharp knife, cut cake and parchment in half crosswise and then lengthwise to make 4 equal rectangles, about 6x8 inches each.

Place 1 cake rectangle, parchment side up, on platter or cake plate and carefully remove parchment. Cut small squares of parchment or wax paper and arrange (overlapping) under the edges of the cake. (These will be pulled out after frosting and leave a clean(er) serving platter.) Spread 2/3 cup frosting evenly over cake layer. Repeat with two more layers of cake, frosting each layer with 2/3 cup frosting and pressing gently on each layer to level. Place last rectangle of cake on top and frost top of cake with 1 cup frosting. Use remaining frosting to coat sides of cake. (It’s fine if some crumbs show through frosting on sides, but if you go back to smooth top of cake, be sure that spatula is free of crumbs.)

When cake is fully frosted, gently press chopped pecans onto sides. Carefully remove the small squares of parchment from below the cake. (Smaller parchment pieces — one for each end and two on each side — are usually easier to manage and not disturb the finished cake.) Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. (Serves 10-12)


Fran Hill has been blogging about food at On My Plate since October of 2006. She, her husband and their three dogs ranch near Colome.


09:38 am - Sat, April 11 2020
Kris Ringstmeyer said:
This looks so delicious! This is the first frosting recipe that I have seen with powdered buttermilk! I always try to keep that on hand because I love what buttermilk does for baked goods! Can’t wait to try it!

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