Carrot cake fans seem to fall into two categories: those who vehemently insist their cake should be light, fluffy and cloud-like, and those who equally strongly believe the perfect carrot cake is dense, moist and rich. I fall into the latter camp. The only thing the two seem to agree on is that the cake should definitely include a thick layer of cream-cheese icing with a citrusy hint.
Historically, carrots were a good source of sweetness when sugar and dried fruits were extremely expensive. Carrot cake seems to have its roots in a sweet meat dish. Much like mincemeat, it slowly lost its meat and gained sugar over the centuries.
Carrot cake took off during the second World War, to make the best use of a home-grown source of sweetness. The oil in the mixture means this is a beautifully moist cake that will keep very well. Once the frosting has been added, the cake should be refrigerated. A butter-based cake will firm up in the fridge, but the oil in this cake means it will stay moist even when cold.
This cake looks good simply decorated with extra nuts, grated carrot or orange zest. I also think it makes a wonderful celebration cake or dessert for a garden party (I’d put a punt on al fresco dining being this summer’s major trend, if the lockdown is lifted).
While you have time on your hands, and if you have fruit trees in the garden, it would look beautiful decorated with crystallised apple blossom. Pick the flowers on a dry day when they are fully open, gently brush them with egg white, dip in caster sugar and leave to dry on baking paper for a day or two.
This recipe can be adapted to whatever bakeware you own. Convert it seamlessly into a traybake (using a rectangular baking tin) or use half the ingredients and bake it in a 2lb loaf tin (for a loaf you’ll need to increase the oven temperature to 180 degrees and add 15 mins to the baking time).
CARROT CAKE WITH LEMON CREAM-CHEESE ICING
Makes one 20cm cake
200g soft brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
200ml unscented oil (sunflower)
250g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp bread soda
1tsp mixed spice
250g carrots, grated (about 3-4 carrots)
75g sultanas, soaked in orange juice, tea or water for 30 minutes
50g pecans (or walnuts), chopped
100g butter, softened
200g full-fat cream cheese, chilled
250g icing sugar, sieved
Zest of 1 lemon
1. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees or equivalent. Grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins with baking parchment. Soak the sultanas.
2. To make the carrot cake: i0n a mixing bowl, use an electric whisk to combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until well combined. Whisk in the oil until the mixture is thick and pale.
3. Sieve together the flour, baking powder, bread soda, salt and spices. Fold the sieved ingredients into the wet mixture.
4. Drain the sultanas (discard the liquid and pat them dry with kitchen paper). Add the carrots, sultanas, chopped pecans (or walnuts) into the batter and stir until well combined.
5. Divide the mixture evenly between the lined sandwich tins and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each sponge comes out clean.
6. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool fully.
7. To make the cream-cheese icing, beat the butter until pale and creamy. Next beat in the cream cheese to a lump-free consistency (but avoid over-whipping the cream cheese). Add the sieved icing sugar gradually. Lastly incorporate the lemon zest (adjust amount of lemon to your taste). Refrigerate the icing for 20 minutes.
8. Ensure the sponges are cool before icing them. Peel away the paper lining from each sponge. Use a spatula to spread half the icing on a layer of sponge. Spread remaining icing on the second layer and place it on top. Return the cake to the fridge for one hour. Serve chilled.
Not all kids like nuts and sultanas. You can leave them out and make carrot cake muffins instead.