I felt so organized, I had it all planned out. I would not only make the cake but photograph it and publish it here on Halloween. My plans were thwarted by a storm which, uncharacteristically among New York weather forecasts, turned out to be stronger and much more damaging than anyone expected. Taking the warnings lightly at first we didn’t stock up on food, water, or candles. We didn’t try to locate our missing flashlight.
Subways stopped running on Sunday evening; on Monday schools and offices were closed. Homebound by this citywide shutdown, we huddled and played games all morning. The hurricane was on its way, barely perceptible but for the blustery weather, and we were waiting. Suddenly we felt we must go out. Now was the moment, while there was still time.
The impulse was to go toward the water, see the swollen river, perch on benches to watch the eerily high Hudson. It seems frivolous now. The city was already deserted. The empty park, the windswept streets. We decided perhaps we should make provisions, after all, and my thoughts were, stubbornly, on the Halloween cake.
Some stores that had been open were closing, sending us and a few forlorn tourists on their way. We finally found one, ransacked of chicken and ice cream but with plenty of carrots and walnuts. I forgot to look for candles. We stopped at a pharmacy, they were sold out. I bought two different sizes of batteries hoping one might fit the flashlight, if I could find it.
That night the hurricane came with howling winds and crashing trees, but in our corner of town the power didn’t go out, the lights barely flickered. The next morning I even made the cake. Then the news started getting worse. Those without power were soon without water. Stories of houses burned to the ground, scenes of complete devastation.
So we started checking up on friends, offering food, hot showers, and power outlets. And friends came. And it was Halloween. And though all was dark downtown and broken elsewhere we went trick or treating in Harlem, with neighbors. I even finished the cake, with icing and evil-looking spiders. Just in time.
The news kept getting worse. Within a few days some areas recovered electricity, water, and heat; others did not. Many have lost much more. We were unnaturally lucky, so close and so unscathed. My mind hasn’t been on cooking. Feeding friends and family, yes, but not cooking.
For the past three years I’ve made carrot cake for Halloween, adorned with what I think are pretty cool, mean-looking, edible prune and cranberry spiders. I’m not exactly sure how I got hung up on that particular type of cake but in my mind it presented itself as the natural choice. I was inspired by a few recipes to achieve this one, which comes quite close to my ideal version of a carrot cake. Dense but moist, not too sweet, with nuts.
1 cup (225 g) butter (and a little extra to butter the pan)
1 1/4 cup (200 g) brown sugar
1/2 (150 ml) cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup (75 ml) honey
2 cups (250 g) flour, half white half whole wheat
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps salt
2 cups (250 g) finely grated carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 (100 g) cup raisins
1 cup (250 ml) apple sauce
Take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften at room temperature for about 15-20 min.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line the bottom of an 11-inch (28 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.
In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar until the mixture becomes light colored and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well to combine. Add the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and honey, mixing well.
In another bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the flour to the sugar/butter/egg mixture, stirring just enough so the flour disappears.
Gently add the carrots, walnuts, raisins, and apple sauce.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 min. The cake is done when a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
8 Tbsps (110 g) unsalted butter
6 oz. (170 g) cream cheese
1 lb (500 g) mascarpone
1 1/2 cups (150 g) icing sugar
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
At room temperature, let the butter become very soft. In a medium bowl, beat it well with a spatula.
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese well before mixing it with the butter. Once the cream cheese is incorporated with the butter, beat the mascarpone well before adding it to the butter and cream cheese.
Sift the icing sugar before mixing it into the butter/cream cheese/mascarpone mix.
Finish by stirring in the lemon zest and juice.
Refrigerate the icing about 1/2 hour before spreading it onto the cake.
1 prune and 1 large sweetened cranberry per spider
Cut the prune into thin slivers lengthwise to create eight spider legs. Place the cranberry on the cake so as to make the body of the spider. Arrange the ‘legs’ around it.