Carrot Cake Revisited
To say I love carrot cake would be an understatement. It has become, since our very first encounter, not so long ago, one of my favourite cakes. However, I have to admit that before sinking the fork into my very first slice, I was skeptical, to say the least. Carrot cake is not something I grew up with so when I first heard the terms “carrot” and “cake” together it seemed more like a juxtaposition than a delicious combo and it sort of reminded of this photo I’d seen in a 1940s album depicting children having carrots on a stick in lieu of ice-cream due to rationing during WWII. Naturally, the idea of carrots for dessert didn’t seem appealing at all. But the first taste of this dense, soft and coarse crumbed cake proved me wrong.
Carrot cake apparently originated in Switzerland and the first documented recipe dates as back as 1827. But carrots have been used in desserts since medieval times, as they were much cheaper and easier to come by than other sweeteners. And it’s probably for the same reason, which also brings us back to the “carrot on stick” story, that carrot cake’s popularity was revived in Great Britain during WWII. Afterwards, it was introduced in the US sometime in the early 1960’s and has remained a staple ever since.
In micro and personal history, I’ve been making carrot cake for some years now. I’ve started off with a basic recipe since carrot cake is truly easy to make and the required steps resemble those involved in making a sweet bread in that the wet ingredients get mixed with the dry ingredients and then everything is baked. In the years I’ve been making it, I’ve tweaked and played around with ingredients and quantities and below is my ultimate recipe. I hope you enjoy it. This is a wheat-free version of the cake as it’s made with rye flour; I find that rye flour gives it a very nice texture and flavour, but feel free to use any type of flour you like. Also, you can substitute the coconut oil for another vegetable oil that you prefer (rapeseed and sunflower oil work well).
For the cake:
100g/1 cup pecans, pan-fried until fragrant and then roughly chopped
350g/2½ cups carrots, peeled and finely grated
250g/2 cups rye flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
4 large free-range eggs
300g/1½ coconut sugar (or any other type of sugar you like)
250ml/1 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds scraped from one bean
Preheat your oven to 180C/355F. Grease a 20cm/9 in cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too. In a large bowl, place the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and set aside. In the bowl of your stand mixer or with the aid of a handheld mixer, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened. With mixer running on medium speed, add the oil in a slow and steady stream. With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined. Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack, then remove to a cutting board and when it’s completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
60g/½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g/8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
250g/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
1 tsp lemon or orange zest
In the bowl of your stand mixer or with the aid of a handheld one, beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended. Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest. Refrigerate until using.
To assemble the cake:
Place the first cake layer on a serving plate, spread half of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over. Spread the rest of the frosting evenly on top and decorate with leftover pecans if you have any or a handful of chopped raw pistachios kernels. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. The cake will keep in the fridge for about 3 days.