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In a fit of madness, I decided to bake my son’s second birthday cake. And to make sure I was setting expectations really low, I decided on a multi-layer frosted cake. Now, those of you that are experienced bakers are probably reacting with an offhand shrug and a “Why not? Sounds doable.” But I’m not that person. I love whipping up the casual weekend upside down cake. A batch of salted chocolate chip walnut cookies? Easy. A pie or fruit tart? A little more involved, but still in the realm of fun. But mention offset spatulas and buttercream, and my headache sets in.

Given that I had made the decision and there was no looking back, I turned to my foolproof ship in the storm – Ina Garten. Aka the lady whose recipes never, ever fail. They may not be anything earth shattering in the creativity department, but they will taste amazing, which is all you really want in this situation. The extra stick of butter that finds its way into her recipes doesn’t exactly hurt.

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And this was the result – a carrot pineapple cake with maple cream cheese frosting. Partly in honor of my son’s obsession with raisins, nuts, pineapple, and heck, anything sweet. And partly because carrots seemed only appropriate given his birthday fell on easter this year. In fact, the sheer volume of carrots in this cake is impressive and if you close your eyes and hum while you eat your slice, you can even pretend it’s health food. I veered away from Ina’s frosting recipe, which sounded excessively sweet, and hacked my own version, which seemed just right to our collective birthday taste buds. I present this cake as proof to any of you that question your own layer cake abilities. It can be done, and it can be delicious. Go forth and wield that offset spatula with pride.

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Carrot Pineapple Layer Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

For the cake:

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/3 cups vegetable oil

3 extra-large (or regular, large) eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 pound carrots, grated

1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple

For the frosting:

16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese, at room temperature

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure maple extract

2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

For the cake: Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. Add to the batter and mix well.

Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack. Then wrap each cake tightly in plastic wrap and freeze, preferably overnight. (This step is not required but results in a moister cake and an easier time with the frosting process.)

For the frosting: Mix the cream cheese, butter and maple essence in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

Remove the cake layers from the freezer. Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with diced pineapple and graham cracker crumbs if desired. Place the cake in the refrigerator to thaw for 6-8 hours before serving.

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