I adore carrot cake, and have a long list of tried and tested recipes which proves just that. Interestingly, there is considerable variation between them, and while most produce a cake that is fairly dense and moist, the texture and taste is influenced not only by the type and quantity of flour, fat and sugar but also by the inclusion – or not – of differing amounts of dried fruit, nuts, spices, alcohol and citrus flavours. And then there’s the topping, which can also be made in a thousand different ways.
I’m more than happy to try any carrot cake, and for me the only critical issue is that it needs to be moist, although a soggy carrot cake – and there’s a fine line between them – is a friend to no-one. I’m also most partial to some kind of cream cheese topping, which I firmly believe should be present in generous amounts.
Still excited by Lily Vanilli’s new book Sweet Tooth (see my previous post), I couldn’t wait to try out her version of carrot cake. In something of a departure from the recipes I’ve used previously, this one contains courgette (zucchini) along with the carrot, and is also gluten-free. But rather than using a gluten-free flour mix, ground almonds act as a substitute instead, adding a soft and subtle nutty taste which complements the overall flavour of the cake extremely well (and which is often developed in other – flour-based –versions with the addition of pecans or walnuts).
It isn’t the most straight-forward carrot cake I’ve made – some of which are wonderfully quick to prepare – but I was really pleased with the result, which captures (for me) all that there is to love about carrot cake. It’s sweet and moist, isn’t over-powered by the cinnamon and nutmeg, and the seeds add texture as well as flavour. Equally, it’s not the healthiest version, and there are some excellent low-fat carrot cakes recipes which are definitely worth a try. And no, it shouldn’t count as one of your ‘five-a-day’.
Recipe: Gluten-Free Carrot and Courgette Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake
400g peeled and trimmed carrots and courgettes (zucchini), grated
100ml orange juice
300g caster sugar
250ml olive oil
500g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
60g sunflower and pumpkin seeds, plus extra for decorating
1 batch of cream cheese frosting (see below)
Use kitchen paper to soak up any excess moisture from the grated vegetables, then put them into a bowl, add the sultanas and orange juice and leave to soak.
Whisk together the eggs and sugar until light and airy – approximately 7 minutes. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, beating just enough to incorporate completely.
Mix together the ground almonds and the baking powder, and fold into the wet mixture along with the spices and coconut. Finally, fold in the soaked carrots, courgettes and sultanas, and the seeds.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two prepared cake tins and level out to the edges. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top has risen and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out crumby but clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When cool, spread the base layer with the cream cheese frosting (recipe below), sandwich together and spread more frosting on the top. Sprinkle with more sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
For the cream cheese frosting
125g unsalted butter, softened
200g firm full-fat cream cheese, drained of any liquid
250g icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes, until smooth and evenly incorporated.