You may have noticed that I have been absent from my blog, Facebook, and Twitter for the last three months. I’ve been wrestling with how to address the situation, and decided on a very abridged version to share with you. Someday, I would like to share the full story complete with the emotional roller-coaster ride that my family and I were taken on, but I think it’s still a bit too fresh in our minds for that just yet. It’s understandable if you don’t wish to read any of this, as it has little to do with this blog, or food. The recipe for the cake is at the bottom of this post, so feel free to scroll all the way down :]
Today, April 15 (Tax Day!), is my little sister Rebecca’s birthday. She is 21. This is an extra special birthday this year. No, not because she can legally drink. Why then? Because she is here to celebrate it!
On December 21, while I was home in Florida visiting my family for Christmas, my littlest sister, Rebecca, was struck by a car while crossing the street. Though the car was travelling at less than 20 mph, she suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhaging, leading to three different hematomas and cerebral edema, along with falling into a coma. She was flown to the nearest trauma center and moved to the Intensive Care Unit where she was hooked up to life support.
On December 23 (Christmas Eve Eve—Rebecca’s favorite holiday), we were told that the chance of her making it out of this was “1 in a million,” and that “it would take a miracle.” The pressure being exerted onto her brain due to the swelling was so severe, that the doctors thought she was brain dead. All of the scans and technical tests were pointing to grimmer and grimmer news. On Christmas Eve morning, they decided to do one final practical exam—they were going to take her off of all of the sedatives, and see if she was at all responsive to simple commands. To the complete shock and awe of the medical staff, Rebecca was able to wiggle some of her fingers and nod to answer questions. I truly have never felt so much joy in my life. The feeling of going from the lowest low, to the highest high is absolutely indescribable. It was a true Christmas Miracle. Because she was unable to breathe on her own, and kept falling in and out of a comatose state, she was put back under sedation for a few more days.
After three weeks in the ICU, and three weeks in rehab, she made it back home. She had to relearn to walk, eat, and even breathe, but if you saw her today, aside from the now extremely short hair and a scar where her tracheostomy tube was placed, you would never know that she had such a close brush with death, and now suffers from a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Her memory of the last year or two is gone, and she has fairly severe short-term memory issues now, but she is making amazingly speedy progress in her recovery.
Rebecca (and my dad, whose birthday is only 4 days away!), have always had a special fondness for carrot cake, so when I knew that I was going to be flying back down here to celebrate her birthday with her, I needed to find an extra-spectacular recipe. My good-friend, Helen, recommended this one to me, and boy am I glad she did :]. It was also her brilliant idea to use candied carrot strips for decoration! They look super fancy, but are actually fairly simple to prepare.
This tropical spin on carrot cake was a perfect choice for a Florida Birthday Cookout to celebrate life and many, many more years to come for my little sister. It was a huge hit with all of the guests, and the rainbow candied carrots really wowed everyone. The frosting is absolutely addictive, and the cake disappeared in practically no time. I particularly liked the way the macadamia nuts, coconut, and ginger get incorporated into the flour to give the cake amazing overall flavor. The best part? Rebecca loved it.
Tropical Carrot Cake with Candied Rainbow Carrots
cake recipe slightly adapted from here
candied carrot recipe from here
For the cake:
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts
- ¾ cup chopped crystalized ginger
- 1 ½ tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 2 8-ounce cans crushed pineapple, well-drained with cheesecloth
For the frosting:
- 3 8-ounce packages Neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese, at room temperature
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- ¾ cup canned sweetened cream of coconut
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp coconut extract
For the candied carrot garnish:
- 12-16 ounces rainbow carrots, peeled and thinly sliced with a mandoline
- 7 cups sugar
- 3 cups water
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9-inch cake pans and line bottom with parchment paper; set aside.
- In a large food processor, combine the flour, coconut, macadamia nuts, and ginger. Process until the texture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and oil. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and beat to combine. Add in the vanilla and beat to combine. Add in half of the flour/nut mixture and beat to combine, then add in the second half and combine. Add in the carrots and pineapple and stir to combine.
- Divide the batter among the three pans. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 1 hour before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
For the frosting:
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, followed by the cream of coconut and both extracts. Chill for 30 minutes.
For the candied carrot garnish:
- In a large pot, combine 4 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Add in the carrot strips and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the carrots are translucent, about 25-30 minutes.
- In a smaller pot, combine the remaining sugar with the remaining water and bring to a boil over high heat. When the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat.
- Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the cooked carrots from the old sugar mixture into the new one. Discard the old syrup. Let cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. (To crisp up the garnish, allow to set on wax paper overnight, at room temperature.)
- Place 1 layer of the cake flat side up on a cake stand. Spread ¾ cup frosting over the top. Top with the next layer, flat side up and spread with another ¾ cup of frosting. Top with the last layer, flat side up. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Chill cake and remaining frosting for at least 30 minutes.
- Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Decorate the sides of the cake with the candied carrot strips.
- Chill cake for at least 1 hour prior to serving (without the garnish), and up to 1 day.