Hatch Chile Carrot Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting and Hatch Chile Candied Walnuts
We are nearly at the end of Hatch chile season here at the Casa de Mai Tai Tom and Tracy, and we recently picked up a bunch of Melissa’s Produce Extra Hot Hatch chiles. Tom has been hankering for my carrot cake lately, so I decided to try a Hatch Chile Carrot Cake.
My Nana had a great carrot cake recipe that I used for this recipe, swapping out the Hatch chiles for the pineapple. Since I took the pineapple out of the cake, I added it back into the cream cheese frosting and topped the cake with candied walnuts made with Melissa’s Hatch Chile Powder. And then, because I only work full-time and have nothing better to do, I also made the cutest fondant carrots to garnish the cake. Whew!
Quick back story, my Nana would bake a carrot cake EVERY SINGLE YEAR for Thanksgiving, and my brother and I would never eat it because it had CARROTS in it (we would not eat the carrot raisin salad either). After I was married, Tom mentioned how much he liked carrot cake, so I hauled out my Nana’s recipe and baked it for him. It was good, really GOOD. Kids, what do they know?
As I was tinkering with my Nana’s recipe, I turned to my trusty Cook’s Illustrated to update the recipe (what kind of flour? Oil? Light or dark brown sugar?). I was surprised to learn that Cook’s Illustrated does not recommend coconut or wheat germ in the cake, and pineapple and nuts are an optional item. What? I thought that was traditional! In any event, I did use their method of adding the oil to the batter in a steady stream and processing until well emulsified. This resulted in a moister cake that was the perfect texture, not too dense or oily.
August and September is Hatch chile season. The Hatches come from New Mexico and are very popular everywhere these days. Hatch chiles are pretty low on the Scoville heat scale (6,000) and come in mild, hot, and extra hot. To put this in perspective, the hottest chile is the Carolina Reaper, which comes in at an astounding 2,200,000 on the Scoville scale! A jalapeño measures around 10,000. So don’t fear the Hatch!
In a pinch, you can use a can of diced green chiles, but nothing beats a fresh grilled Hatch (I put Tom to work for the grilling). I used Extra-Hot Hatches, but this cake was not hot at all with the Hatches enhancing the moistness and scrumptiousness of the cake. For a sweeter cake, use the crushed pineapple instead of the Hatch chiles.
Try to use small to medium size carrots with the tops on. According to the Barefoot Contessa, leaving the tops on the carrots makes them sweeter. I know it is a PAIN to grate the carrots, but don’t be tempted by the pre-grated bag, which tends to be dried out and tasteless. Better yet, if you have a food processor, throw them in there!
Both the cream cheese frosting and candied nuts can be made ahead of time. If you do make the nuts ahead of time, you might want to consider tossing them into the cake in place of the toasted nuts saving yourself one step (but keep a ¼ cup for garnishing the cake).
This hot and sweet combination works well. Last season I made Hatch Chile Butterscotch and Pecan Blondies. I made the blondies a few times to perfect the recipe, with and without the hatches, and in taste tests, every single time, the blondies with Hatches won hands down. Salty, sweet, and subtle heat all in one bite.
This cake can also be made as a 9 x 13-inch sheet cake, in two 9-inch rounds or as cupcakes. Check out this handy link to a baking pan conversion chart. http://dish.allrecipes.com/cake-pan-size-conversions/
Wow, your friends and family with this one!
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
½ t. fine sea salt or kosher salt
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
3 t. cinnamon
3 c. fresh carrots (peeled and grated using the large holes on a box grater or toss them in the food processor – about 10 medium or 15 smaller carrots)
¼ c. Hatch chiles, roasted, seeds, and skins removed, diced (about 3 large Hatches)
1 c. nuts, toasted and chopped (pecan or walnut) (or use the left-over Hatch Chile Candied Nuts)
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 c. sugar
1 sweet orange fully zested
3 t. good quality vanilla
1 ½ c. vegetable or canola oil
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare three 8-inch round baking pans by greasing and lining with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir in the carrots, chiles, and nuts until fully incorporated.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, combine the sugars, eggs, orange zest, and vanilla. Gradually add the oil while the machine is running until emulsified. Stir the carrot mixture into the wet mixture, so all traces of flour are gone.
Divide the batter between the three prepared pans, filling each about half-way full. Try to get them as even as possible. Gently tap the sides to even out the batter.
When placed in the oven, be sure there is space between the pans so the air can circulate around them for even baking.
Bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean – 35 to 45 minutes, check after 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack and then remove from the pan and peel off the parchment paper.
Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. block cream cheese at room temperature (sorry but don’t use low fat!)
4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 – 4 c. powdered sugar
¼ c. pineapple juice (fresh or from the can)
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter until creamy and smooth. On low speed (so powdered sugar doesn’t fly out), add 3 cups powdered sugar and the pineapple juice and combine. Add more powdered sugar, ¼ cup at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. I used 4 cups of powdered sugar. If it gets too thick, add a little more pineapple juice.
Hatch Chile Candied Walnuts
1 c. walnut (or pecan) pieces
2 T. butter
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
2 t. Melissa’s Produce Hatch Chile Powder or chile powder (divided)
½ t. fleur de sel or kosher salt
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat, stir the nuts, butter, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the chile powder. Stir until the sugar melts (about 5 minutes), and the nuts are thoroughly covered. Quickly spread the nuts on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with the remaining chile powder and salt. Allow to cool completely before using.
You will have left-overs, so if you want, you can add those to the cake in place of the toasted nuts.
I have never worked with fondant before. I went to the store (Michael’s) to get some marzipan but got distracted by all the fun, colorful baking supplies and purchased fondant by mistake.
As I learned, fondant dries quickly, so put the lid back on the container while rolling out the decorations. If the fondant is sticking to your hands, a tiny bit of cornstarch will help with that. Pinch off a small piece of the fondant and roll into a ball (about large gumball size). Flatten one side and then roll the fondant with your fingers on a piece of parchment paper to the desired shape. I used a skewer to poke a hole in one end and insert a small part of the carrot top (which are edible). Voila!
If the tops of your cakes are rounded (hopefully not), gently cut just enough off the top with a serrated knife so that they are level.
Place one cake layer on your serving platter and frost with about 1/4 of the frosting, spreading almost to the edges. Top with the next cake layer, press down lightly and repeat with frosting.
For the top layer, turn the cake over so the bottom of the cake is on top (the flat side and less chance of crumbs). Press down on the other two layers gently to stick in place. Frost the top layer.
With your remaining frosting, cover the sides of the cake as thin as possible and then use a bench scraper to scrape it off. Some people like the sides almost completely naked, I like a little bit of frosting on the sides.
Chop a ¼ cup of the cooled candied nuts and sprinkle on top of the cake and garnish with fondant carrots (optional!). Refrigerate at least a half-hour before serving as it makes it easier to cut, or cover and refrigerate for the next day to give the flavors time to meld.