Salut les amis, ça va?
A good friend of mine recently shared a post about an annual camping trip, a simple tradition but one that holds a lot of meaning. The thing about traditions is that they provide comfort. The one constant you can count on in a constantly changing world (see what I did there?)
Living so far from home has made me cling onto certain traditions tighter than I normally would otherwise. My family has never been that big into Thanksgiving but I’ve done Friendsgiving in some form or another every year since I moved to France. And tomorrow I’m having friends over for a “Halloween Happy Hour.” It’s as if living abroad has somehow made me appreciate certain traditions even more, especially at this time of year.
Fall (or winter, tough to say) has finally arrived in Paris. Yesterday morning when I woke up it was “39 but feels like 32” (that’s freezing for all you Celsius fans out there). Needless to say, it was a chilly start to the week - hard to believe it was picnic weather two weeks ago! But I’m not complaining, honestly. I actually kind of like that first cold snap in the air, especially after what felt like an endless summer.
I think what I love most about fall is the food. You still have the tail end of summer produce with the last of the tomatoes and green beans, but you also have apples, pears - and pumpkin.
What I’ve noticed from my three years living in France is that the whole seasonal obsession with pumpkin is much more subdued here. You can still find pumpkins (the little kind you bake, not the ones you carve) at most markets, and you might even see a pumpkin gnocchi or risotto at some hip restaurant, but I have yet to see pumpkin offered as a dessert. Meanwhile I just made my second (or third?) loaf of pumpkin bread in the span of a few weeks, but who’s counting?
What I do tend to see on dessert menus in France, especially trendy little coffeeshops (highly recommend stopping by the Workhouse Café for lunch if you find yourself in Nice), is carrot cake.
Mmm carrot cake. Can someone tell me if this is a spring or fall dessert? I honestly don’t know because I tend to associate it with Easter, but at the same time, the cooler weather makes me think of heartier veggies like carrots and rich, spicy flavors.
Growing up I remember carrot cake as my dad’s favorite dessert. For years, this was his birthday cake of choice, and every year as a kid, I remember thinking “Carrots for dessert? Yuck!” But hey, now I’m older and wiser. And as any respectable adult knows, if you add enough sugar and cream cheese frosting, even carrots pass as dessert.
So I asked my mom for her recipe which she got from an old neighbor. It was super easy, a forgiving recipe like banana bread. Until the part where I had to grate the carrots by hand using a little cheese grater, but I think that’s probably a problem specific to my own poorly equipped Parisian kitchen. I did adapt it slightly, swapping out the cream cheese for crème fraîche and marscapone since those are both widely available ingredients here and, let’s be honest, just as - if not more - delicious.
Julie’s Carrot Cake
2 c. grated carrots
2 c. flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1.5 c. oil
1 c. pecans
1 c. coconut
2 c. sugar
Original cream cheese frosting:
8 oz. package cream cheese
1/4 c. butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 box (453 g.) powdered sugar
My frosting à la française:
Dash of vanilla
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Cream sugar and eggs, beating until light and fluffy. Mix all dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture of sugar and eggs. Add oil, nuts, coconut and carrots. Bake in a greased pan at 300-325 for 50 minutes.
While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting. Instead of cream cheese like the original recipe calls for, I decided to use a mixture of crème fraîche and marscapone, with a bit of powdered sugar. The marscapone helps add a bit more stiffness to the crème fraîche, but whatever you do, don’t use anything less than 30% fat (look for épaisse on the label). I stirred in powdered sugar without really measuring, but I’d guess it was around 1 cup, definitely less than the 453 (!) grams the original recipe calls for. Add in a dash of vanilla and you should be good to go. I did add some butter as well but I think you could get by just fine without it.
I frosted my cake right in the pan - the icing was a bit thin but that made it easier to spread. A sprinkle of cinnamon also helps to hide any frosting imperfections ;) Pop the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours to let the frosting set. Carrot cake tastes best served cold anyway, if you ask me.
This recipe easily serves 12 so chances are you’ll have leftovers. I like to put a few pieces in jars so I have a treat to bring to work with me during the week.
Try it and let me know what you think!