A medieval idea revived by wartime rationing, carrots in desserts disappeared as soon as sugar became widely available again, emerging in the 1980s as a glamorous American import. It’s fair to say that carrot cake these days is a bit more decadent than it was under the Ministry of Food, and all the more enjoyable.
Preparation 45 minutes
To cook 30 minutes
150g of butterplus extra for greasing
100g of pecan nutsplus an extra handle for decorating
150g soft light brown sugarplus an additional 50g for the icing
200g self-rising wholemeal flour (see step 4)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
100 g raisins or sultanas
For the icing
150g whole cream cheese (see step 6)
1 Size isn’t everything
Part of the charm of this cake (for me, anyway) is its density with carrots, chopped nuts and other goodies, so one slice goes a long way, hence its relatively small size. If you’re looking for a standout, double the amounts and do four coats instead of two.
2 Melt, zest, grate, grill and chop
Melt the butter and set aside. Wash the orange well under hot water (especially if it is waxed, as most non-organic fruit tends to be), then finely grate the zest (save the fruit itself for another use or eat -the). Scrub and coarsely grate the carrot.
Toast all the pecans in a dry pan, then coarsely chop 100g, reserve the rest for decoration.
3 Start on the dough
Grease and line two 18cm sandwich pans and heat 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 can use white sugar here, but the caramel flavor of the brown works best with the healthy vibe of the cake) and whisk until smooth. almost doubled in size.
4 Add the dry ingredients
Sift the flour (or use 200g plain wholemeal flour and two teaspoons baking powder), baking soda, salt and spices into the bowl, then use a large metal spoon to very slowly incorporate into the egg mixture taking care to push out as little air as possible, until you no longer see any pockets of flour.
5 Add carrots, fruit and nuts, and cook
Gently stir in the carrots, orange zest, chopped pecans and dried fruit until well-combined, then divide between the two cans – you may find it helpful to weigh these to make sure that they are the same size.
Smooth the top and bake for about 30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
6 Drain the cheese
Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Drain any excess liquid from the cream cheese (I find the stabilizers added to the leading UK brand give it a slightly less satisfying texture than plain cream cheese – my own brand or the luxurious Breton thing would be my preference – but anything but, potentially, Boursin would do) and put it in a bowl.
7 Make the icing
Break up any lumps in the cheese, then stir in the remaining 50g of sugar until the mixture has a slightly airy consistency. Add the finely grated zest of half the lemon (wash it first, as for the orange) and a squeeze 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 frost
Once the cakes are ready, turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. Do not try to frost them until they are at room temperature, otherwise the frosting will melt. Once cooled, place the two less appealing halves on a plate or cake stand, and cover with just under half of the frosting, lifting slightly around the edge.
9 Final touches
Put the other half on top, glaze and decorate with the remaining toasted pecans in a design of your choice. Although the carrot itself wilts quickly once grated, a few sprigs of julienned orange zest looks good, or will do just fine, as I did once for a friend’s wedding, and sprinkle the top with carrots and miniature fondant bunnies. Each to their own…