carrot cake

Studying Classics, I feel completely entitled to describe my baking abilities as my Achilles Heel. It is a cause for distress amongst most when I admit that I don’t have “much of a sweet tooth” – having never really fallen in love with puddings and cakes, I’ve never really bothered to make them. But this is no such excuse with two important birthdays around the corner; I have set myself the task of making a selection of cakes, alongside proper English pouring custard. Nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end!

Dr. Carrot: excepting times of crisis, know your place – the vegetable aisle!
(Imperial War Museum)

So to begin: carrot cake. I think from a young age I had been poisoned against carrot cake, believing that one of my favourite vegetables had no place straying from the savoury to the sweet. It seemed an odd concept, one that I wasn’t too keen on trying. Unusually for me, a lover of pretty much everything old-fashioned, I think this was only made worse when at the age of 10 I learnt of its popularity as a wartime treat. Carrot cake then, to me, essentially became something people made because they were low on options – using carrots might seem a logical replacement for flavour when you can’t get things like chocolate! But when you can get chocolate, is there really any need for carrot? It was just a cake that my mum avidly ate, and I avidly avoided. But how silly I realised I had been, when I went to dinner cooked by friends, and ate a slice out of politeness. Because after Slice One out of politeness, I ate Slice Two and Three out of ‘wanting-to-check-it-was-nice’, and Slice Four out of pure greediness. Finally I had found a cake that suited my tastes – it wasn’t sweet and sickly like other cakes and puddings; it was a non-sweet dessert that satisfied my non-sweet tooth!

Knowing nothing about how to make carrot cake, aside from the principally obvious ingredient, I began researching into it. I was initially disgusted to discover that the icing is in fact made from cream cheese – something I absolutely hate. I tried to console myself, knowing that I had already eaten it, and enjoyed it, but found that this made the concept perhaps even more disgusting; I had been tricked! However, many recipes in fact suggest additions to the cream cheese, such as butter and sugar, orange zest, lemon zest, walnuts, pecans; considering these options, I decided that with citrus flavours, brown and icing sugar, the cream cheese icing might be bearable, even enjoyable, so long as I did not think “I AM EATING CHEESE ON A CAKE” with each forkful. Mens agitat molem.

The pleasing taste of the cake, without overpowering sweetness, is derived from its spices. In the recipes I found, combinations of nutmeg and cinnamon are responsible for a dessert-type flavour, without making it sickly; it is sweet in a different sense. In the recipe I’m giving below, citrus zests of contribute to the sweetness, so if you do have a sweet-tooth – you are accommodated with this cake! The cooking of this cake varies on whether you like a loaf-like cake, or a sandwich-cake – I made the sandwich type cake, because I thought the icing in the middle would contribute moistness, as this cake is generally quite dense.


  • 150g butter, melted
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda; 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 200g carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg

Icing:   * 150g full fat cream cheese

* Icing sugar and light brown sugar to taste

* Zest of ½ lemon

* Zest of ½ orange


  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Pour into a mixing bowl, and add the eggs and sugar. Whisk until the ingredients are combined, and you are left with a toffeeish coloured mixture that has increased in volume.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and the spices. Gradually fold this mixture into the mixing bowl with the eggs/sugar/butter. It is important to do this gently, to avoid losing the airiness of the mixture created by the initial whisking. Fold in the grated carrots.
  3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees, and line two circular baking tins. Distribute the mixture evenly between the two tins, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Cool the tins for 15 minutes before placing on a cooling rack.
  5. Whilst the cakes are cooling, prepare the icing: similar to butter icing, combine the cream cheese with either icing sugar or brown sugar alone, or both to taste, until it is sweet and of a desired consistency. Add the zest – either to instruction, or to taste, and combine. Adding both the sugars give it a butterscotch note, and a nice toffee colour which blends with the darkness of the cake itself.
  6. Only when the cakes are cool, spread half of the icing in the middle of the cake, and the rest on the top. Decorate, if you wish, with nuts.

One thought on “carrot cake

  1. I am a big fan of carrot cake but have been disappointed in the past by dry, heavy offerings and I absolutely hate the sultanas that some people put in. However, this recipe is not like that – the cake has the texture of gingerbread cake and is complemented by the frosting. I too am not a lover of cream cheese in the savoury sense, but add a little icing sugar and it does the trick superbly! Enjoy at mid morning with coffee; for afternoon tea; dessert or for a snack!

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