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!
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
* Zest of ½ lemon
* Zest of ½ orange
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cool the tins for 15 minutes before placing on a cooling rack.
- 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.
- 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.