GUEST BLOG—By Brandon Hernandez, West Coaster** Craft Beer magazine, Editor-at-Large.
The Perfect Pairing. I never grow weary of the incredulous if not reviled looks I receive when telling the unindoctrinated about the harmonious beer-and-dessert pairing that is carrot cake and India pale ale. I can relate. The first time Ballast Point Brewing veteran Colby Chandler shared this one-two punch with me, I was floored.
It sounded ridiculous to marry any confectionery creation – much less one fueled by beta carotene – with a hoppy beer, but once we put that theory to practice during a cookbook shoot, I found out how meant to be this unlikely duo actually is.
In the years since, I’ve indulged in this pairing numerous times and found that what takes it from being a good pairing to a great pairing is beer selection. For the most part carrot cake tastes the same from baker to baker, but IPAs can vary dramatically. Those that are more of the old-fashioned English or imperial kind tend to be sweeter with more malt-born caramel notes, while San Diego-style IPAs are drier with unimpeded hop aromas and flavors.
All these types of IPAs will work, but hop-profile is key. Classic C hops – Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus – lead with resinous, pine-like characteristics that are among the few that don’t mesh well with carrot cake. IPAs brewed with hops exhibiting the essence of tropical and citrus fruit – Citra, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin – fare much better with this classic dessert.
Until recently, this was the extent of my technique for pairing IPAs and carrot cake, but the emergence of a new ilk of India pale ale recently inspired me further refinement, and it turns out that, with its unbelievably fruit-forward flavors and low-grade bitterness, hazy Northeast-style IPAs brewed with hops packed with tropical punch are the penultimate option in this sweets-and-suds game.
Options abound from breweries all throughout San Diego County, but when experimenting I ventured into the heart of the “Murklands”, Miramar’s Pure Project Brewing. In just over a year they have made a big name for themselves thanks much in part to their ever-hazy line of hop-heavy offerings. After some trial with very little error, I can attest that their Northeast-style IPAs pair nicely with carrot cake, but I wanted to take things to a new level, by not only selecting a well-suited beer, but tweaking the cake to blend especially well with its liquid counterpart.
Enter my tropical take on carrot cake. I start with a time-tested recipe for that dessert, then adjust its many mix-ins, which often include raisins, nuts, pineapple, coconut flakes and carrots. The latter remain, of course, as does the pineapple, which is the most obvious flavor-bridge for the tropical-fruit essence of the hops in the IPA.
The coconut and raisins stay, as well, but the latter are made to soak in a substantial dose of spiced rum before going in, adding to the tropical nature of the finished product. And though popular, I do not add any walnuts or pecans, as they don’t bring much flavor to the party, and none that aids in pairing with the IPA.
On the frosting front, it would be downright sacrilege to mess with the glory that is cream cheese, butter and sugar, but instead of adding milk or lemon juice, I substitute in some pineapple juice. A generous sprinkling of toasted coconut helps bring things together while adding texture. It also makes this dessert a shoe-in pairing with Vacation Coconut IPA from Resident Brewing, which comes across as the Piña Colada of beer.
Pure Project head brewer Winslow Sawyer suggested grilling the pineapple, but given the lack of caramel notes in the beer I selected, a murky IPA hopped exclusively with Mosaic called Thousands of Money, I felt it was best to go with unadulterated pineapple. But by all means, switch things up and try your own forms of experimentation. The results will be as fun to savor as your friends’ reactions when you tell them how well carrot cake pairs with hoppy beer.
Brandon’s Tropical Carrot Cake with Toasted Coconut, Rum-Bloomed Raisins & Pineapple Cream Cheese Icing
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
¼ cup spiced rum (Local distilleries making spiced rum include Cutwater, Liberty Call, and Malahat)
¾ cup golden raisins
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¼ cup ground allspice
¼ cup freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups carrots (preferably yellow), grated
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
½ cup crushed pineapple
12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ lbs confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbsp pineapple juice
1 cup toasted coconut flakes
Heat the rum in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once warmed, place the raisins in a small heat-proof container, cover with rum and let soak, covered, for 30 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
--In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the granulated sugar and oil.
--Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated.
--In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, allspice and nutmeg.
--Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix until the batter is smooth.
--Add the carrots, untoasted coconut, pineapple and raisins and mix in on low speed.
--Pour equal portions of the mixture into three greased 9-by-2-inch baking pans and place in the oven.
--Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
--Remove from the oven and place the pans on baking racks for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool to room temperature.
--Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream the ingredients together until completely incorporated.
--Add the confectioner’s sugar 1 or 2 cups at a time, until thoroughly incorporated.
--Mix in the pineapple juice and set aside.
--When the cakes are cooled, use a bread knife to slice off the rounded top of each cake so that each is level.
--Place a round on a cake plate and top with roughly ¼ of the frosting. Use an offset spatula to make an even layer of frosting. Top with another cake round and repeat the process. Top with the remaining cake round and ice the top, then use the remaining frosting to ice the sides of the cake. Top the cake with toasted coconut (or apply to the sides, leaving the top unadorned).
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