I really don’t like carrot cake… but this one won me over. I wanted to make something relatively healthy, and I felt like cake, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try making something new. This recipe is honestly so easy to follow, quick to make, and it’s not even that bad for you. To top it all off, it has the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever tasted!
True to its name, carrots are one of the primary ingredients in this cake. It seems like a bit of a cop out putting carrot in a cake, but actually the carrots give it a really light and rough texture that compliments the smoothness of the frosting. Cultivated carrots are believed to originate from wild carrots in Afghanistan, the wild variety having small edible white roots. It’s thought that these wild carrots were used firstly as a medicinal herb, the tops being used far before anyone thought to eat the roots. Nowadays we think of carrots as orange, but the first carrots were white and then purple, the orange carrot being a much later development. A brilliant website dedicated to carrots, carrotmuseum, traces the history of our orange carrots:
“The first evidence of carrot used as a food crop is in the Iranian Plateau and the Persian Empire in the 10th century AD (Brothwell & Brothwell 1969). These original carrot roots were purple and yellow in colour. From Persia, cultivated carrot spread to surrounding areas. Orange carrots appear to have become popular in the 16th century when Dutch and Spanish paintings began depicting orange carrots in market scenes (Banga 1963), although orange carrots likely originated much earlier (Stolarczyk & Janick 2011). Banga (1957) first hypothesized that orange carrots were initially selected from yellow cultivars and this is now supported by modern genetic analyses (Simon et al 2016).”
The lovely carrotmuseum comes to our aid again when researching the origins of carrot cake. Food historians posit that carrot cake developed as a more refined version of medieval carrot puddings, which were dishes that resembled the modern Indian halwa which I used to eat as a child, consisting of sugar and grated carrots. Carrots were initially used as an inexpensive substitute for sugar in many different desserts. The first recorded recipe for the cake appears in The Art of French Cookery by Antoine B. Beauvilliers in 1827. I’ve posted the original recipe below if you fancy trying it! Carrot cake then rose to popularity during the second world war, when rationing once again made sugar a scarce commodity.
It wasn’t until the 1960s in the US that cream cheese became the frosting of choice for carrot cake, so this recipe is an homage to the American style cake as opposed to something which approximates the traditional carrot cakes and puddings. The frosting really is, in my opinion, what makes this cake so delicious, so don’t skimp on it! I added the mascarpone as a personal touch, mainly because I had some left over and I didn’t have enough cream cheese, but I found it really adds to the thick texture and creamy taste so I’d say it’s worth putting in.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
2 cups (260 grams) plain flour
2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsps ground cinnamon
300ml vegetable oil
200g caster sugar
200g lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
300g grated peeled carrots (4-5 medium carrots)
100g coarsely chopped walnuts and/or pecans
For the frosting:
175g cream cheese, at room temperature
140g powdered sugar
80ml double cream
50g coarsely chopped walnuts, for topping
- Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease a deep 8 inch cake pan and cut out a circle of baking parchment to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Sieve together the flour, cinnamon, salt and soda in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, caster sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk in an egg to the wet ingredients. When it’s blended, whisk in another and repeat this process until all the eggs are incorporated.
- Stir in the dry ingredients a little at a time using a spatula, until everything is mixed in and the batter is smooth. Stir in the carrots and nuts.
- Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean, around 40-45 minutes. Often with cakes I go by smell – when the baked cake smell starts wafting through your house, the cake is done.
- As the cake is baking, make the frosting by whisking the cream cheese and mascarpone until it’s light and fluffy. Tip in the powdered sugar a little at a time, and continue to whisk until incorporated. Whisk in the cream, pouring in a thin, steady stream. The mixture should have retained its light and and fluffy texture. Chill it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
- Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes, then tip it out of the tin and let it cool for another 5-10 minutes. Once it‘s cool, carefully cut the cake in two. You can eat it sooner than this but it’ll make your frosting melt a bit (note that I say this from experience as I was impatient and that’s what happened to my frosting in the photos!)
- Spread the frosting generously across the middle of the cake using a palette knife. Put the two pieces back together and tip the rest of the frosting onto the top of the cake. Carefully smooth it out and around the sides until you have an even covering.
LF – use lactose free cream cheese instead of the normal cream cheese and also instead of the mascarpone
GF – use gluten free flour
V – this dish is naturally vegetarian
Ve – try a vegan carrot cake recipe instead