Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Carrot Graham Layer Cake -- #recipe #bookgiveaway

LESLIE BUDEWITZ:  I wrote this post earlier in the month, before concerns about the coronavirus became so serious, and it seems a bit glib now. But I firmly believe that in times of crisis, one of the best things we can do is cook for each other, with love, joy, and kindness. I know you agree, even if you can't get to the grocery store for all the ingredients at the moment! Stay well, eat as well as you can, and reach for a good book.

Happy Birthday, Erin! 

Regular readers of Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen know that we have jokingly divided ourselves into two camps, People of the Pie and Clan of the Cake. I am proudly People of the Pie. But every so often—usually during the first week of March, for reasons best explained by the vintage photo below—I find myself craving cake.

And since March 17 is the birthday of Erin Murphy, the protagonist of my Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, I decided on a dual celebration. For readers who haven't met Erin yet, she's the funny, feisty, half-Irish, half-Italian proprietor of The Merc, a local foods grocery in her family's hundred-year-old building in the heart of Jewel Bay, Montana, a lakeside resort community on the road to Glacier National Park.

In a case of perfect timing, the weekly newsletter from Deb Perlman and The Smitten Kitchen arrived with this utterly delicious recipe. It’s astonishingly easy, and so yummy. The layers, though thin and fairly soft, come out perfectly smooth. (The only change I made, other than to clarify the instructions a bit, was to lengthen the time for cooling the baked layers before turning them out; that made a huge difference in the ease of handling.) The graham cracker flavor is unusual but not weird. Lots of carrots, yes—I used my food processor to grate them—but not too many. Mr. Right ate this right up, commenting that it was “much better than hippy carrot cake,” meaning a slightly dry cake loaded with raisins and walnuts. Although I like raisins and walnuts in a carrot cake and wouldn’t hesitate to add them to this recipe—at least, not until his comment!

What’s a neutral oil, you ask? One without its own flavor that changes the flavor of the cake. I used canola oil; Perlman uses safflower or sunflower. If, like me, you’ve only got two round cake pans, don’t worry—just plan ahead! Bake the first two layers, then when you turn one out on to the cooling rack, turn the parchment round over, spray it, and bake the third layer.

Now, while I’ll pit my pie crusts against anyone, I lack the cakerly expertise of some of my MLK sisters, particularly Krista and Ellie. The cream cheese frosting in this recipe is light, smooth, and fabulous—it’s my skills, not the recipe, that need work. I used a little too much between the layers, not leaving quite enough for the outside. Don’t be like me. It was fun to use a cookie cutter and some extra graham crumbs, about a tablespoon, to make the design on top.

Yes, that's the same cake plate as in the pictures below---Fostoria Americana, a wedding gift to my parents. And doesn't that kitchen just scream early '60s? (You know you've reached a certain age when the things you remember from childhood are now called vintage and classic!)

Let's talk cake! Birthdays! Vintage dishes and kitchens -- look at that fridge! Leave a comment below for a chance to win your choice of a Food Lovers' Village mystery featuring birthday girl Erin Murphy, who loves cake and pie in equal measure. 

And those beautiful flowers are Mr. Right's contribution to the celebration! 

Carrot Graham Layer Cake

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen blog.

Cake layers

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs, plus extra for decoration
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons neutral oil (1 tablespoon short of 1 cup)
3 large eggs
3 cups peeled and grated carrots (5-6 carrots)

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered or confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F. Line three 9-inch cake pans with a fitted round of parchment paper and coat with a nonstick cooking spray. (See Leslie’s note above making 3 layers with 2 pans.)

In a large bowl, whisk or stir together flour, graham crumbs, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk or stir together the sugars, oil and eggs until smooth. Stir in grated carrots. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until flour just disappears.

Pour batter evenly between three prepared baking pans. Bake each layer for 15 to 18 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cake will seem soft and likely still sticky on top. Let rest in cake pans for 10 minutes on a cooling rack, then run a knife around the edges of the first cake layer to ensure no parts are sticking to the sides, flip cake out onto cooling rack, remove parchment paper and flip back right-side-up on another cooling rack. (If you’ve got two racks, place the smaller one over the pan and turn it out, then turn onto the larger rack.) Repeat with remaining layers and let the cake layers cool completely before filling.

Fill the cake With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time. Beat in vanilla until combined.

Arrange bottom layer on a cake plate or stand. Spread top with frosting; repeat twice with remaining layers. If desired, sprinkle top decoratively with extra graham crumbs using a cookie cutter. Let cake chill until serving.

This cake is even moister and more flavorful on the second and third day; cover to keep the frosting moist. (Perlman says the layers can be made in advance, wrapped well and frozen until you're ready to fill the cake.)

Yield: 1 9-inch 3-layer cake

Let's talk -- cake, birthdays, vintage dishes and kitchens -- look at that fridge! Leave a comment below, with your email address, for a chance to win your choice of a Food Lovers' Village mystery featuring birthday girl Erin Murphy, who loves cake and pie in equal measure. 

(Winners with US addresses may choose a paperback or e-book; e-book only for winners elsewhere.) Winner will be announced Friday, March 20.) 

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries, and the winner of Agatha Awards in three categories. Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers' Village Mystery, won Best First Novel in 2013, following her 2011 win in Best Nonfiction. Her first historical short story, "All God's Sparrows," won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story, and is now nominated for a Macavity award; read it on her website. A past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat, an avid bird-watcher.

Swing by my website and join the mailing list for my seasonal newsletter. And join me on Facebook where I announce lots of giveaways from my cozy writer friends.


  1. I have a plate just like that I think. It was my mother’s.

    1. Very popular in the 1940s. I've got quite a few pieces that were my mother's, and others I've collected or been given over the years.

  2. Thanks for sharing the carrot graham layer cake recipe, it looks scrumptious! I have never read any books from "food lover's village mysteries series. I will definitely be looking them up at the local libraries, once they open back up. What a great picture ! Is the baby you ? The baby looks very happy and cute ! I love the fridge. Have you heard of a company called Elmira Stove Works ? They make kitchen appliances that,look like antiques and vintage.
    My favorite is the North Star collection (1950's) .
    My favorite colors in that collection are Buttercup yellow, Robin's egg blue and Mint green.

    1. Hi, Mindy! If you use an e-reader, you can check books out even when your library is closed. And yes, that baby is me! I've seen some of those updated vintage appliances -- very cool!

    2. Thanks for replying back. I have a Kindle, I've done e-books before. I just prefer physical books.

  3. Cooking for friends and loved ones is always a joy. We love Carrot Cake. One of my faves. When I was selling to local diners mine was a fave as well. Only 5 ingredients. Whole wheat, carrot, egg, sugar, olive oil, Oh. and nuts for a nut. Been awhile. Think I will do one today. Thanks for the incentive. And yes. We love cake and cupcakes and pie and cookies. bessdeepotter84 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Bess -- carrot cake is a diner classic, isn't it?

  4. My boyfriend just baked an apple cake. The house smells really good.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

  5. Your delectable cake would be perfect for the family. I love the vintage look since everything is so cold and sterile in today's kitchen. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)om

    1. Thanks, Traveler! I should post pics of my own kitchen in a future post -- farmhouse modern with LOTS of vintage and mixed materials.

  6. Replies
    1. Sliding a piece through the screen for you right now!

  7. I love vintage items. I was born in 1960 so I guess I am one. This recipe sounds really good. The older I get,the more I like cake. 🎂😊

    1. LOL! The picture of me on my first birthday was taken in 1960! I like to think of myself not as older, but as vintage. :)

  8. I love the old school kitchens which had warmth, charm and comfort. What a special place that was for baking, cooking and telling stories. I miss that setting and era. My favorite treat to bake is a homemade apple cake. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  9. I always forget to enter my email address. It's clugston.kathy@yahoo.com

  10. This looks so good! And it looks easy enough that I could make it. :) gayleboyce@gmail.com

    1. You can do it, Gayle, I know you can!

    2. yes I think I can, once I can shop with confidence that I can get the ingredients. :)

  11. A nice variation on a classic.

    libbydodd at comcast dot net

    1. Thanks, Libby. All credit to Deb at The Smitten Kitchen!

  12. The recipe for Carrot Graham Layer Cake sounds delicious. Wish I had a slice right now. :) I'll definitely be giving it a try.

    I'm basically, like you, more of a pie person. And I get more requests for my pies too. However, every once in a while I still get the hunger for a good, moist piece of cake. The problems is with just the two of us, I can make a pie and in a few days it's gone. Unless I can freeze some, a cake seems to take forever to eat. Hubby like variety not the same old thing every day after day. :)

    Love the word classic. It's a lot better than antique - especially when you go to referring about things I personally grew up with. Think we won't be doing so bad if we were more classic when things were made to last and did. You repaired instead of tossing in the trash. My Mom and Dad still had their chrome dining room set when they both passed on. I kept it for another few years. I still have my high chair that went with the set.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. No one ever turns down a piece of cake, right? So bake and share!

  13. This looks so yummy! kristin.segura at gmail.com

  14. Yummy! I think I might just have the ingredients for this. I look forward to eating some interesting food in the next few weeks. We are now under "shelter in place" so are going to eat all those foods in the freezer and pantry that continually get passed over for our favorites. Thrifty, too ha ha!
    When we were young we got to choose the dinner and type of cake we wanted for our birthday. Since my mother always cooked from scratch I of course wanted something in a box so usually requested Duncan Hines cake - ok but she was actually an excellent cook and baker. And if you asked my sister today she would still instantly reply, "Chocolate-Chocolate-Spaghetti."
    Stay safe and thanks for the giveaway.

    1. We've been joking about freezer finds and cleaning out the shelves, too! My cake of choice as a child was always Angel Food, but now it's carrot or a flourless chocolate torte. Of course, now I have to bake them myself!

  15. I like the addition of graham crackers to your carrot cake recipe, sounds really good. I have my Mom's recipe box and I still make some of her recipes.

  16. I love cheesecake with graham cracker crust but also love love a good carrot cake I lost my 1st foster mothers recipe that she brought from Australia and have been looking for years tried many my hubby does the baking and i am the sous chef as I have RSD but i still have the taste buds and love to eat cake and cookies. peggy clayton ptclayton2@ aol.com

    1. How nice to have a husband who can bake! Mine's a terrific cook, but has never really tried to bake.

  17. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the vintage red and black dishes, Poppy Trail from Metlox. My father was a traveling furniture sales rep, and he bought these from one of his dealers; not sure just when, but at least by March 1960, as I spy the sugar bowl in my first birthday picture!

  18. lordy, I love this cake. Thank you for sharing. :)

  19. I love carrot cake, and my daughter-in-law has been baking it for my birthday. :) bluedawn95864 at gmail dot com

  20. Oh yum 😋yum 😋yum 😋yummy 😋
    That is just too divinely delicious :-)
    Thank you for sharing.
    I have a special cup of my gran from her mom
    It was part of a set with a pitcher green with hand painted tiny flowers 💐.
    I have a tiered sandwich /pettifor stand of grandma's.
    Love love your BOOKS.
    Thanks bid much for your generous time.