A medieval idea revived by wartime rationing, carrots in desserts disappeared once sugar became widely available again, to resurface in the 1980s as a glamorous American import. It’s fair to say that carrot cake is a little more decadent today than it was under the Ministry of Food, and all the more fun.
Preparation 45 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
150 g butterplus extra for greasing
200 g carrots
100 g pecan nutsplus a handful extra to decorate
150 g soft light brown sugarplus 50 g extra for the glaze
200 grams self-raising flour (see step 4)
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
100 g sultanas or raisins
For the cherry
150 g full cream cheese (see step 6)
1 Size isn’t everything
Part of the charm of this cake (for me anyway) is how thick it is with carrots, chopped nuts, and other good stuff, so a slice goes a long way, hence its relatively small size. If you’re looking for a showstopper, double the quantities and make four layers instead of two.
2 Melting, grating, roasting, roasting and chopping
Melt the butter and set aside. Wash the orange well under hot water (especially if it has been waxed, as most non-organic fruits usually are), then finely grate the peel (keep the fruit itself for another use, or eat it). Scrub and coarsely grate the carrot.
Toast all pecans in a dry pan, then roughly chop 100 g and keep the rest aside for decoration.
3 Start with the batter
Grease two 18cm loaf pans and line with a line and preheat oven to 200C (180C Fan)/390F/Gas 6.
Place the melted and slightly cooled butter in a large bowl, add the sugar and eggs (you could also use white sugar here, but the toffee-like taste of brown suits the cake’s healthy vibe better), and whisk until the volume has almost doubled.
4 Fold in the dry ingredients
Sift the flour (or use 200g wholemeal flour and two teaspoons baking powder), bicarb, salt and spices into the bowl then, using a large metal spoon, very slowly fold in the egg mixture, making sure to expel as little air as possible, until you no longer see bags of flour.
5 Add the carrots, fruit and nuts and fry
Gently fold in the carrots, orange zest, chopped pecans and dried fruit until well distributed, then divide between the two tins – it may be helpful to weigh them to make sure they are the same size.
Smooth the top and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
6 Drain the cheese
Meanwhile, make the glaze. Pour off excess liquid from the cream cheese (I find the stabilizers added to the UK’s leading brand give it a slightly less satisfying texture than regular cream cheese – own label or the fancy Breton stuff would be my preference – but anything but, possibly, Boursin would work) and put it in a bowl.
7 Make the icing
Break any lumps in the cheese, then whisk in the 50 g remaining sugar until the mixture has a light, airy consistency. Add the finely grated zest of half the lemon (wash it first, as for the orange) and a splash of juice to taste; if the cream cheese is unsalted, you can also add a pinch of salt. Refrigerate until use.
8 Cool the cakes, then ice
When the cakes are done, place them on a wire rack to cool. Under no circumstances should you try to freeze them until they are at room temperature, otherwise the glaze will melt. Once cooled, place the less attractive-looking of the two halves on a plate or pie plate and top with just under half of the frosting, extending slightly upward around the edge.
9 Finishing touch
Place the other half on top, ice and garnish with the remaining toasted pecans in a pattern of your choice. Although the carrot itself wilts quickly once grated, a few strands of julienne orange peel will look nice, or go all out, as I once did for a friend’s wedding, and sprinkle the top with miniature fondant carrots and bunnies. Each their own…