I pinch myself when I see my kids eat raw carrots. I think they prefer them to cooked ones. I grew up eating carrots only because they made you see in the dark, supposedly.
In my teens, vitamin A-packed raw carrot sticks became the health food of choice until a friend ate so many (far more than the recommended daily intake and over a prolonged period), that her palms turned orange – which is how we learned about moderation, even with good things.
As a nation, we’ve grown very fond of carrot cake, another triumph in baking. Its appeal is that it screams “I’m healthy” even if it may not always pass muster. Many carrot cake recipes pay lip service to the eponymous filling, ending up more sponge cake with a fleck of carrot woven through. My other peeves include when a carrot loaf is too oversized to cut a decent slice without it toppling over, or when the ratio of icing to cake is unsatisfactory.
A first impulse in making a cake healthy, is to dissect the refined sugar, flour and fat content in a recipe. I’ve learned that stressing about reducing it all down to the lowest common denominator and meddling with low-fat alternatives and sugar substitutes induces a degree of stress that negates the karma of wholesome baking.
For my carrot cake, my belief is that there is just as much health-giving value in packing in more goodness than simply a few carrots. I have added fibre with wholemeal flour, oats, walnuts and desiccated coconut to give a dense texture. Natural sweetness is added with really ripe bananas, dried fruit and cinnamon (even a little grated apple or pineapple will sweeten and moisten the cake). The best part is that any of these ingredients can be left out or swapped if you don’t have them in your store cupboard. Sunflower seeds can be used instead of walnuts and different spice blends offer complementary flavours.
Since it is deliciously moist, it requires nothing at all on top if you have made it this far into January being good! Although for many, including myself it wouldn’t be a carrot cake without the heavenly cream cheese icing, but in moderation – to avoid the sugar rollercoaster. If you would prefer not to use a cream cheese icing, it’s wonderful with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Ingredients (makes a 2lb loaf)
75g dark muscovado sugar (or caster sugar)
½ tsp vanilla essence
100g very ripe bananas (approx 2 bananas), mashed
75ml sunflower oil
100g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bread soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
200g carrots, coarsely grated (approx 2 medium carrots)
25g porridge oats
1½ tbsp desiccated coconut
25g walnuts, chopped
Cream cheese icing
125g full-fat cream cheese
Zest of ½ lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice
100g icing sugar
1. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment and preheat a fan oven to 200°C.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla essence together, add the bananas. Whisk in the oil until well combined.
3. Sieve together the flours, baking powder, bread soda, salt and spices.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Next fold in the carrots, oats, coconut, walnuts and sultanas until fully combined.
5. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin, level the top and bake in the preheated oven for 10mins at 200°C until risen and starting to darken in colour, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C for the remaining 50 mins or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly in the tin, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
6. For the cream cheese icing, use an electric whisk to beat the butter until soft, add the cream cheese, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add icing sugar gradually, beating after each addition until blended. Ensure the loaf cake is cool before spreading the icing over the top.
Substituting a third of the carrots with courgettes will make a tasty version of this loaf cake. If you’re worried your bananas are not ripe enough, you can slightly increase the quantity of sugar in the recipe.