My Perfect Carrot Cake
Necessity quite often is the mother of invention. A few weeks back, I actually tried carrot cake for the first time. Yes I know, 40 plus years and counting, a supposed baking enthusiast, and I've only just had carrot cake. I must admit that while I adore carrots with my roast, I was ever so slightly wary of carrots (or indeed any veg) in my cake. Especially when paired with oil - which I understand is normally something used in carrot cake. Anyway, Mike and I were out and about in town with Sam one day, and went for our usual coffee and a little something.
Shock and horror, though, most of the cake and baked treats had sold out. What was left was a bit of a sorry choice between Victoria Sponge and Carrot Cake. I went for the sponge, but then couldn't believe it when the manager (who was serving us) said that he didn't know what state it was in as it had been sitting in the heat, so if it was dry I could send it back and swap it. Apart from reeling from the brazen way he would even consider sending out something he reasonably suspected was a bit dodgy, so averse to carrot cake was I that I decided to go with it. More fool me. After attempting to cut into it, it was clear that it was rock solid and dry as a bone. So a bit wary, I decided that I would just have to try the carrot cake. Oh My God. It was lush. And there I was kicking myself.
So fast forward a few weeks and I've now tried it a few more times, at different places, and liking it each time. So much so, that I decided to have a bash at making it. I wanted to do some recipe research though, as I wanted something light and fluffy and still moist, and flavoured just so - so that I ended up with the right version for me. I tried a couple of recipes out, and then when I found one I liked the taste of, but textually wise was not quite right, had a bit of a play around. This is what I came up with. It is more of a typical way of making a sponge, but is still light and gorgeously moist. Although it may be a bit lower in calories, this is not a low calorie carrot cake though, so be warned. You could tweak the recipe a bit to make it lower. I leave it up to you.
Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
113g softened unsalted butter
200g soft light brown sugar
2 medium eggs (mine each weighed 60g in the shell)
150g plain flour
50g wholemeal plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1/4 tspn salt
160g carrot (which has been peeled, grated and most of the excess moisture squeezed out - 5 medium/large carrots gave me this amount)
50g walnuts chopped
For the frosting
150g full fat cream cheese at room temperature
100g softened unsalted butter
around 3 cups (250g) icing sugar
grated zest of one orange
2 tspn orange juice
Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Grease and baseline a 8 inch (20cm) cake tin. I used an extra deep sandwich pan, which was fine, but a normal sandwich pan might not be deep enough to take the mix.
Prepare the carrots by peeling and grating them. I then used a few sheets of kitchen towel to squeeze some of the excess moisture from them, leaving them still moist though - you don't want them bone dry. The picture above shows how much liquid I still managed to get out of them, and that was from only half the carrots! I did this because my first version of carrot cake was moist, but very, very dense, and I thought it might be due to all the moisture in the recipe, including that from the carrots. For me then, getting rid of some of this worked a treat.
Put both the flours in a mixing bowl along with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between until just incorporated, then add the milk.
Add the flour and mix gently until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold in the carrots, walnuts and raisins until they are evenly distributed throughout the mix.
Turn into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden and a cocktail stick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Mine cracked a little on the top, but I didn't worry about this as I knew it was going to be coated with the frosting. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
To make the frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth (I use my stand mixer for this with the paddle attachment), then add the orange zest and juice. Bit by bit add the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add sugar until you get the consistency you like so it may be a bit more or less than the amount I used. I wanted a fairly loose consistency for this as I was just going to spread it on the top (if I was piping for example, I would have used more sugar for a thicker icing).
I used a cake slicer to cut my cake in two horizontally, as I wanted to create a sandwich effect (and I like frosting!), but to be honest, I could easily have left it as one cake and simply iced the top. The cake was so moist that the layer of frosting in the middle wasn't necessary. But as I said, I like frosting and so decided that a double hit was the way to go. I then spread the top of the cake with frosting, and used some walnut halves as decoration.
It was seriously yummy, and Mike, who doesn't really do carrot cake either, agreed. The hint of warming spices was lovely, and against the zinginess of the orange frosting worked really well. The boys wouldn't try it of course - no chocolate - and, after all, while it might help their eyesight it probably wouldn't do much for their waistlines.