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Breaking Rules and a Bourbon Pecan Carrot Cake

April 26, 2012

Can we talk about cake today?

And can it be all about the cake and only about the cake?

I want to talk about cake the way that most people talk about the weather. I suppose we could talk about the weather if you insist, but I find cake to be infinitely more interesting, which makes it a far better distraction. And when I’m not distracted all I can think about is my friend Linda. She’s 400 miles away, but I know what she’s doing right now: she’s staring down at the swollen bandages wrapping her body where her breasts used to be. Fucking Cancer.

See? That’s why I have to talk about cake, why I NEED to talk about cake. This carrot cake is not your mother’s or your grandmother’s carrot cake though I suspect they would approve. From the assembly technique to the filling this is an unusual, but mighty fine specimen. The cake itself is moist, really moist and that gives it high marks on my list. For me, the worst cake, is a dry cake. Did I mention that the cake is soaked with bourbon? Bonus!

Linda likes cake, chocolate cake, the triple chocolate, death by chocolate kind of chocolate cake. When you go out to eat with Linda, she orders chocolate cake–as an appetizer. “Cake is way better than salad,” she will always say to the bewildered waiter taking our order. “Besides, I might be too full for dessert, and then I’d miss my chocolate cake.” Linda loves breaking life’s little unwritten rules, the very same rules that I always follow. And that’s one of the many things I love about her.

Do you know what I don’t love about Linda? That she’s battling breast cancer. Again. When I heard her cancer had returned after eight clean years, I stopped breathing. Suddenly I was 29 again and the woman on the end of the phone was my mom telling me that her cancer had returned. Mom promised me that she would be fine. She lied.

Right, so cake. Carrot cake. This one is a looker to be sure. It will elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from impatient onlookers as you carefully unwrap it, revealing all ten, yes ten, layers. And then it will be quickly devoured before you can even snap a picture of the marvel in its entirety. In fact, had I not promised a slice to my neighbor, this post would be devoid of any cake picture at all. Just look at those layers would you. There’s the boozy cake, which I’ve already gushed about. Then there’s a little something called “liquid cheesecake”, followed by fistfuls of graham cracker crumbs and pecans and generous slathers of old school cream cheese frosting. Did I lose you at liquid cheesecake? Uh huh, I thought so. That’s what happened to me when I came across it for the first time in Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. She’s the same pastry genius behind the Compost Cookies that I’ve been raving about for two years. Like Linda, Christina Tosi is a rule breaker. She doesn’t even bake her layer cakes in round cake pans. Have you ever made a layer cake out of a cake baked in a 9×13 pan? I hadn’t until I came across Tosi’s recipe.

I’m going to make another cake today, a chocolate cake, the triple chocolate, death by chocolate kind of chocolate cake. Won’t Greg be surprised when I serve it up for dinner tonight? That’s right, we’re having cake for dinner rather than dessert. It’s about time I start breaking a few rules of my own don’t you think?

Thanks for dropping by and letting me talk about cake. It helps.

Bourbon Pecan Carrot Cake

The cake and liquid cheesecake recipes are adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar. Experiment with your layers and fillings. Tosi’s original recipe uses a Graham Frosting in lieu of the cream cheese frosting used here. You can find a recipe for her frosting at



    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 1/2 cups shredded carrots


    1/4 cup bourbon (or milk)


    8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    2/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
    1 large egg


    1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
    1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 1/4 cups powdered sugar


    9×13-inch cake pan
    small glass or ceramic baking dish (approximately 6×6-inches)
    6 or 7-inch springform pan



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of the 9×13-inch cake pan.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium-high until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs and mix on medium-high for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low, slowly add the oil. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, until the mixture is very light in color and nearly doubled in size. Scrape the sides of the bowl once more.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Mix on low until just blended. Fold in the grated carrots and spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the cake.


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Cream together the cream cheese and the sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until you have a homogeneous slurry. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the slurry and mix for 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the batter into the small glass dish.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the outsides are firm, but the insides are jiggly. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.


  1. For the crumbs, stir the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. For the frosting, beat together the butter, cream cheese and salt with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until smooth and silky.


  1. Invert the cake onto waxed paper or a piece of parchment. Use the springform pan to stamp out 1 circle and 2 half circles. The scraps will be the bottom layer of your cake. The half circles will be the middle layer. And the complete circle will be the top layer of the cake.
  2. Clean the springform pan. Line the inside with several 7-8-inch strips of parchment to support the height of the finished cake.
  3. Assemble the cake using the plan outlined below. Cover the cake and transfer to the freezer for 6 hours to set the filling. Remove from the freezer 3 hours before you plan to serve the cake. Release it from the spring form pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Slice and serve.


Top of Cake

1/3 Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot cake circle
1/2 Liquid Cheesecake
1/2 Crumbs
1/3 Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot cake semi-circles brushed with 1/2 the bourbon
1/2 Liquid Cheesecake
1/2 Crumbs
1/3 Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot cake scraps brushed with 1/2 the bourbon

Bottom of Cake

Serves 8.

If this carrot cake looks too daunting, try this Banana Cardamom Cake instead.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2012 4:05 pm

    First of all, Cancer Sucks. Second. I have eaten clean for the past month, which includes no sugar (or coffee for that matter), but I would end it all for a bite of that cake.

    • April 27, 2012 2:30 pm

      No sugar or caffeine or…? How do you feel? I’m flattered to know you’d fall of the wagon for my cake.

  2. April 26, 2012 4:15 pm

    oh my gawd. if i was still in the neighborhood, i’d be at your front door right now.

  3. Beth Merkle permalink
    April 26, 2012 7:01 pm

    So sorry to hear about your friend. I lost 3, THREE, people to fucking cancer last year. One of them was my Mom. Thanks for thinking of cake. We all need a little cake sometimes.

    • April 27, 2012 2:38 pm

      Three in one year Beth? And your mom too? Life has a strange, unfair way of showing us what we’re really made of. Indeed, a little cake can go a long way sometimes.

  4. April 27, 2012 12:07 am

    You didn’t lose me, you actually had me at liquid cheesecake. It’s cheesecake and you can pour it…how great is that?!

    So sorry to hear about your friend…I do hope she pulls through. Cancer is a conniving disease. I know…one of my aunts is battling with breast cancer too.

    • April 27, 2012 2:39 pm

      Linda is a tough cookie–I know she can beat it. I hope your aunt is just as tough.

  5. April 27, 2012 8:07 am

    As I love baked goods full of veggies,I will be making this real soon. I am so sorry to hear about Linda, and my condolences on your Mom. It sucks when your friend is hurting and you are so far away. I am 3 years clean from breast cancer, but hearing the stories of recurrence, keeps me on my toes and the thoughts never far from my mind. Please let her know that I am praying for her….she will kick cancer to the curb once again!!!!!

    • April 27, 2012 2:41 pm

      Congratulations Imagine365! And thank you for the encouraging words. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

  6. April 27, 2012 9:02 am

    It can! you know, it’s funny – I’ve seen three carrot cakes today, one of which I posted. Very strange how these things happen. Anyway, Bobbi, this looks utterly fantastic! A really nice recipe – carrot cake is BY FAR my fave.

  7. April 27, 2012 11:55 am

    Oh, wow! This looks absolutely divine! Thanks for sharing!

  8. April 27, 2012 12:08 pm

    Really sorry about your friend. I wonder how well your chocolate cake travels. She might like opening up that package during her recovery.

    • April 27, 2012 2:44 pm

      Geesh! Why didn’t I think of that. Great idea-thank you. Now I know why I’ve been saving all that bubble wrap in the basement.

  9. egg me on permalink
    April 27, 2012 1:36 pm

    I’m very sorry to hear about your friend … I wish her all the rest during her treatment and recovery. But — this is a great looking cake and a really great way to support her. Well done. (PS: Those compost cookies are amazing. Planning on making them myself.)

    • April 27, 2012 2:59 pm

      Thanks egg me on. You’re going to love those compost cookies. I recently discovered that the dough freezes really well too, so you can bake off a few at time if you choose.

  10. April 30, 2012 4:45 pm

    Three layers, plus bourbon PLUS pecany graham crumbs…you’ve really done it with this cake. I love carrot cake but have never seen a recipe like this! Will bake it for my bf for his graduation!

  11. May 10, 2012 11:01 am

    Que Ótima aparência!!!!!! obrigada.
    E temos tantas bananas por aqui. Parabéns!

  12. August 16, 2012 10:26 pm

    i’ve utilized this recipe on three occasions and every time it has been a hit! Amazing recipe!! Thank you!

    • August 17, 2012 4:22 pm

      Cari, thank you so much for the note. I’m thrilled to know that you’re enjoying the cake. It’s a favorite here too. Cheers!

  13. Becky permalink
    March 19, 2013 8:09 am

    I haven’t made this yet, although it is on my list to make in the next month, (maybe Easter)? My only confusion comes when you invert the cake and cut it into the circle shape with the small cheesecake pan. You describe there being the complete circle, two half circles and scraps. I can visualize the small cheesecake pan forming the circle, and I can picture the scraps of the cake left from the sides cut off by the cheesecake pan. However, I can’t figure out where the two half circles come from when you are finished cutting out the circle shape with the cheesecake pan? Thanks in advance for your help and I hope your spring 2013 has been better than your 2012 sounded.

    • March 25, 2013 8:40 am

      Hi Becky, I’ve been twisting my brain in circles trying to come up with a better way to explain this, sorry. The first circle is punched out of the far left side of the sheet cake. With the remaining right half of the sheet cake cut out a semi-circle from the top and a second semi-circle from the bottom. The straight edges of the semi-circles are actually the outer edges of the sheet cake. If this still doesn’t make sense, perhaps I explain it better over the phone.

  14. Tee permalink
    July 2, 2014 8:12 pm

    Loved this entry. Well done. In honour of Linda I shall eat cake for breakfast. I shall have my middle finger up instead of my pinky as I drink my coffee saying f**k cancer too.


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