Friends, we meet again. Heartfelt apologies for the no-so-brief hiatus since our last rendezvous: somehow the time seems to pass so quickly.
For your delectation today, I have a much-researched rendition of carrot cake, tweaked to my own specification and tastes, and which I hope you’ll enjoy. It is said that the real debate with carrot cake is that of moistness versus lightness: With this recipe I have attempted the double. I should also robustly reference the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi, whose formula provides the basis for this cake, if not the final result.
If you are already a reader of this column, it may not surprise you to learn that my relationship with carrot cake began way back, when I was still having many food-related battles with myself, my family and the world at large (see Melanzane Parmigiana for more info). At the time in question, I would have been between 8 and 10 years old; still in the no-meat-no-veg-except-potatoes stage, when my entire sorry diet consisted of mild cheese, bread, a little fruit, some yogurt and whatever refined carbohydrate I could lay my hands on – which to be fair, wasn’t much, given my mother’s F-Plan (remember that, 80’s dieters?) tendencies. Before he and I unsorrily parted company, the child analyst (note: I was the child, not him. It’s not the same as child bride) suggested that ‘disguising’ vegetables might be a way of getting me to eat them (he seemed to me to entirely miss the point of phobias), as might my parents giving me money equalling the price of the vegetables I ate (ditto). After the latter proved a first rate lose/lose – unacceptable risk of financial loss for my father concurrent with a non-starter for me (see phobias) – we turned to the former. (At this point I am aware that most of Mumsnet and beyond will be wondering why a child shrink was needed to suggest the disguising of vegetables. He wasn’t. I believe he had resorted to the time-honoured technique known as clutching at straws).
Anyway, you’ve no doubt twigged long before now that the first mystery food was carrot, cunningly disguised as, erm, carrot cake. Oh dear. Not such a disguise perhaps, though in my pre-teen mind the word ‘cake’ was undoubtedly looming larger than the word ‘carrot’. Such is the way with juvenile sugar addicts. The other swaying factor, as I recall, was the stamp of approval from my parents’ American amigo Cathy, whose opinion I valued above all others as it was she who introduced me to proper American chocolate chip cookies, made with proper Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels, which you couldn’t (and still can’t) get over here. Cathy was of the view that as long as it had a real cream cheese ‘frosting’ (another alien concept), carrot cake got the thumbs up.
In the end, the result of the great vegetable swindle was unmemorable. I was all geared up to give you the verdict and now I find that I can’t seem to dredge it up. It is entirely possible that this was due to my mother’s unwavering habit of halving the fat and sugar content of any recipe (the latter admirable in its intent for sure) and wholemealing everything in sight. If this is indeed what happened, I fear for the fate of the carrot cake and indeed may have given up the concealment of real food as just one bad job.
Somewhere along the way – probably during my Spinach Period – I must have re-discovered the beauty that is a really good carrot cake as now I bring you my titivated version in all its glory. Special mention should also be given to whomever makes the CC that is sold at the wonderful Colonna and Smalls coffee shop in Bath. That too is a thing of wonder with icing as light as air. In my version, the aforementioned moistness-and-lightness is achieved with the use of the ground almonds (see Chocolate Orange Cake for further evidence) as well as whisked egg white. I am sure you’ll agree that the result is endlessly repeatable.
- Preheat the oven to 170C
- Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin
- A mixed 160g plain flour and ground almonds. I tend to use 50/50 to good effect
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4-1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (perhaps a touch more if you are using almonds)
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 225 ml rapeseed or sunflower oil (it is using oil rather than hard fats that helps with moistness)
- 135g caster sugar
- 135g soft brown muscovado sugar
- 150g grated carrot
- approx 50g dessicated coconut
- 75g walnuts (optional, but wonderful)
- 2 egg whites
- a pinch of salt
- 75g unsalted butter
- 30g icing sugar
- 200g full fat cream cheese (e.g. Philly or equivalent)
- 30g honey/condensed milk blend – or one or the other
- Lemon juice and zest (optional) to taste
- Sift the flour into a bowl and combine with the spices, baking powder/soda and the ground almonds. Make sure everything is evenly mixed
- In a food processor or with an electric whisk, combine the oil and sugars. Mix on high setting for about a minute
- Whisk the whole egg and yolk together. Add this to the sugar mixture and mix by hand or on medium. You’ll notice the mixture smoothing out and coming together
- Add the carrots, coconut, walnuts and flour blend. Mix by hand, just enough to combine everything properly.
- In a dry clean bowl, whisk the eggwhites and salt until stiff peaks form. Then, in 2-3 batches, fold the egg whites into the rest of the mixture, taking care to retain as much air as possible.
- Transfer to your prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes. Then. cover the tin with foil and bake for a further 30 minutes. This prevents burning. When it is ready, a skewer should come out clean and the cake will have a lovely even flat surface.
- Remove the cake from the over and let it cool completely in its tin before you transfer it onto a plate. At this stage it should look something like this:
For the icing
- Thoroughly cream the butter and icing sugar. It’s probably easiest to do this in the mixer or with an electric whisk. It should be soft, smooth and fully combined
- Add the cream cheese, honey/condensed milk and lemon juice/zest
- Whisk thoroughly until light and creamy.
- If you make the icing whilst the cake is cooking, simply cover with cling film and refrigerate until the cake is cold.
- When you’re ready to ice, use a spatula to distribute generous dollops of icing on the top of the cake, then spread evenly, creating swirls and waves as you choose. The recipe makes easily enough icing for the top, but if you want to do the sides too (mmmm), just spread it out a bit more or increase quantities a little.