Thursday, September 5, 2013

[Cupcake Portraits] Discworld Personalities: Carrot Ironfoundersson

Carrot often struck people as simple. And he was. 
Where people went wrong was thinking that simple meant the same thing as stupid. 
Carrot was not stupid. He was direct, and honest, and good-natured and honorable in all his dealings. In Ankh-Morpork this would normally have added up to "stupid" in any case and would have given him the survival quotient of a jellyfish in a blast furnace, but there were a couple of other factors. One was a punch that even trolls had learned to respect. The other was that Carrot was genuinely, almost supernaturally, likeable. He got on well with people, even while arresting them. He had an exceptional memory for names.
For most of his young life he'd lived in a small dwarf colony where there was hardly any other people to know. Then, suddenly, he was in a huge city, and it was as if a talent had been waiting to unfold. And was still unfolding.
- Men at Arms

It has been a while, uh? 
Well, fear not! The Fanbaking Project is definitely on!
But I must confess, this third installment gave me lots of trouble. 
See, as the Discworld Personalities series took shape in my mind, I figured out I could stick to some kind of rotation to make things easier for myself, and in the end the one that made the more sense seemed to be a Witch - Wizard - Guard - Random sort of thing. 
Which is to say, my third installment had to be a guard!

Now I realize Vimes would have been the expected choice, and you peeps are probably waiting hungrily (literally!) for his cupcake rendition. 
Fact is, Vimes terrifies me. He's such a complex character, and he changes so much from one book to the next - in short, I don't feel I can nail him down just yet. 

I needed someone simpler to portray in the meantime! 
And yes, you guessed it right - Who could be simpler than Carrot himself? 

Image belongs to graffitihead @

(I don't think anyone who has seen that Twins movie can help picturing Schwarzy in the role...)

As he is introduced to us in Guards! Guards!, Carrot could easily be mistaken for your average Lawful Stupid character. 
I mean, come on - he's some sort of red-headed, law-abiding jock who considers himself a dwarf by adoption, and always does things by the book. It looks like he's a bit of an oaf, if a hugely sympathetic and cuddly one.
But from Men at Arms onwards, we get to know him as a much more well-rounded character. 
To begin with, he is the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork - which he knows all too well but, even since Vimes made him see how monarchy is a bad idea indeed, he has a conspiracy of silence going on, to the point that he often negates the obviousness of it in such a blatant way, it's hilarious.
Also, he's shown to possess a keen intellect, a sharp eye for details and a love of books (although his punctuation skills when writing are nothing short of abysmal) - yet he remains very much the honest, jovial, trustful fellow we knew (and loved) from the start. 
The only fault I could find with him is his debatable taste in women - but hey, the guy's a dwarf; he likes his grilfriends hairy. Just don't get me started about this. No, really - I'm serious. 

To me, the point with Carrot is that he's the proverbial glass you measure your view of the world against. 
He's my BFF Flavio's favourite character, and he reminds me of him in many ways - they both believe everyone is nice deep down, and that any controversy could be easily settled if only people were willing to have an earnest talk about it. To the likes of him, Carrot's strenght lies in his guileless nature, as his very attitude and example make people hate the idea of letting him down.
Less optimistic-minded people like yours truly, on the other hand, would be tempted to say that such a view is far too naive, and Carrot only manages to get away with it because of his royal charisma. 
Who's right? No one knows for sure, with the possible exception of Sir Pratchett himself - and he's not telling. Because in the end, this is the true power of books IMHO: that while tricking you into believing you're only discussing fictional situations and characters after all, they make you look deeper into yourself and your beliefs. 

But enough with philosophy, and back to cake - carrot cake, that is!
Which may seem an obvious enough choice, but believe me - Carrot's name was not the sole reason for it! 
Fact is, carrot cake is as simple and reliable as a dessert could get. It's healthy and sensible and traditional - my version especially, since it doesn't include nuts, fancy spices, chunks of tropical fruit or anything. Just your basic, comforting, by-the book ingredients, plus a slosh of beer to honour the character's dwarfish upbringing... 

Carrot Cupcakes

* 1/2 cup butter (softened)
* 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp 1/2 light brown sugar
* 2 eggs
* 175 g grated carrots (about 2 cups - see instructions)
* 1/3 cup beer (I used Budweiser - see instructions)
* 2 cups self-rising flour
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt

1.  Scrape the carrots to remove all the dirt,  grate them, and allow them to dry thoroughly. (Don't skip the drying part, it's important!)
Also don't use the smallest holes of your grater, as I found out that if the carrots are grated too finely, your cupcakes will turn out soggy and dense, and will go bad pretty soon.

If you can grate them as coarsely as mine in the pic, the quantity you'll need is 2 cups, full but not super-packed. If you own a scale, you'd probably be better off weighing them! 

2.  Pre-heat oven to 320° F.

3.  Sift the self-rising flour, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. 

4.  Cream the butter and sugar. 

5.  Whisk the eggs slightly, then slowly add them into the sugar and butter mix, one Tbsp at a time or so.

6.  Check that your carrots are really really dry and dump them in. Add the beer as well. 
It will look like an ugly mulch. Keep mixing! 

Before going on with the recipe, allow me to spend a few words about teh beer
Professional chefs will usually tell you not to cook/bake with booze you wouldn't want to drink, but in my experience, baking with beer is a bit of an exception. 
Believe me, I've tried baking these with a couple beers I love - a refreshing, hops-rich Bock, and a wonderfully rich Amber Ale - and in both instances I got a nasty, bitter flavour in my cupcakes, and a creepy sticky texture. I almost gave up on the carrot/beer concept altogether. The one that did the trick in the end, was humble Budweiser: it made my cupcakes wonderfully light and soft, and the beer flavour in them is not overwhelming and pleasantly sweet...

7.  Add in the flour mix, one couple spoonfuls at a time. Your batter will magically look like batter again!

8.  Line a cupcake mold with wrappers; I picked some silvery ones to suggest the guards' armour. The batter is enough for 12 cupcakes (but if you go with the "crown baked inside" decoration that I'm showing you further on, you'll get 22-24 - KEEP READING!)

9.  Remember to place a water-filled silicon cup on the oven's bottom before baking. It is the secret to get soft, moist cuppies!

10. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the cupcakes feel soft and spongy to the touch. Test for doneness with a skewer - there's lots of wet ingredients in these babies, so you might have to adjust your baking time somewhat. 

11. As soon as the cupcakes have cooled down a little, seize one of them. Read it its rights, then eat it. And afterwards, you can write home about it. There, you're done! 

At the risk of sounding immodest, I will say I'm really happy with this recipe, and I'm not even a fan of carrot cake usually - and no, I don't have a bias against veggies in my desserts, and you should know as much. It's just that carrot cakes are typically soggy, with a slightly slimy texture that I can't stomach. 
Now these cupcakes, they're like an airy, fluffy, delicious sponge cake. You can taste (and see!) the carrots inside, but they don't feel weird and chunky under your teeth; and there's a hint of mellowness from the beer, although it's light enough that it doesn't feel like an "adult dessert" at all (you'll have to judge this for yourself, of course, but I'd say these are safe for even kids to eat.)

They're yummy as-is, or topped with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon if you really can't stand not to have a hint of spice with your carrot cake. 
Or you could make some cream cheese icing to go with them, like I did for the photo shots. It's runny and messy, and I think its sweetness kills the cupcake's subtler flavour, but it's what you'd traditionally pour on a carrot cake proper, and - what with this being a Carrot-inspired recipe - I wanted to stick to the rules as much as possible. 

...But, wait! Is there no decoration at all on them? 

Sad but true. As fun as sculpted badges, swords, and regulation books would have been, I learned from bitter experience not to put fondant on top of slushy frosting - and this one's even soupier than Granny's! 
So, I went down a different route this time, and baked the decoration inside the cupcakes. Thus, when you cut them... 

...Carrot's distinctive crown-shaped birthmark is revealed! 

It is an easy enough technique, if a bit time-consuming. I don't know who came up with it in the first place; I've seen lots of tutorials online and I have no idea which one's the original. 

Basically, to make these you'll need to mix two batches of batter, and to tint one darker. 
Powdered food colours would be ideal for the job; liquid ones take forever (guess which kind I had on hand, uh?)

It doesn't look like there's a huge difference in the pic, but the colours will darken as they're baked. 
It's also worth reminding here that since the batter itself is orange, you'll have an easier job making it darker if you use a contrasting colour such as blue or green, as opposed to red or brown. You can add a bit of black too, but don't overdo it!

Next you need to grease a sheet cake pan and pour the darker batter in it. 
Bake it for slightly longer than you would the cupcakes, as you'll be cutting up the resulting cake, so you need it to be firm. 
I happened to have a crown-shaped cookie cutter, but you can easily freehand the outline, using a paper template as a guide - the simpler the shape, the better! 

Just make sure that your cake cut-outs aren't too big to fit vertically inside a cupcake mold! 
Mine were, so I trimmed off the base... 

...and stuck one little crown inside each wrapper, after putting a bit of the lighter batter on the bottom to help it standing. 

Don't fret about the cut-outs being completely covered in batter; it will rise anyway, and if there's still some darker bits sticking out in the end, they will be covered by icing. 
Mine are actually way overfilled - the batter didn't spill out, but try to resist the urge to put in so much! 

As you take out the baked cuppies, YOU MUST FIND A WAY TO REMEMBER WHICH WAY THE CROWNS ARE FACED - because if the cupcake is cut at the wrong angle, of course you won't be able to make out the shape. 
You can simply mark the bottom of the wrapper with a pencil, or cut shield-like "badges" out of golden paper and glue them on the front of the wrappers - I went with the latter solution, as it also worked to reinforce the whole Watch theme. 

This was all there is to it, really. 
Enjoy your Carrot cupcakes, and please let me know how you liked them! 

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