"I don’t care what the problem is, carrot cake is the solution."
Into the Cookie Jar
Started on this a couple of days ago - the day of an empty mind, and I can't quite remember now why. Obviously the mind is still empty - but in a different way. Never mind. Carrot cake it is. Maybe I thought carrot cake would be the solution to my lack of inspiration and/or my feeling of overall gloom. Hence the hopefully encouraging quote at the top of the page, and the picture of this very beautiful carrot cake shown here. I no longer know where I found this picture - I think it's an Instagram thing. the point is that it looks delicate and really, really, tempting, and not healthy at all. I was also beginning to think about what cake I would make for my book group in just over a week's time. Maybe that was it? Anyway carrot cake it is and let's begin with the 'perfect' Felicity Cloake:
"In its sugary modern incarnation ... and crowned with creamy icing, the healthiest thing about carrot cake is the name. But then that's probably why it's so darn popular." Felicity Cloake
Well you can kid yourself it's healthy can't you? It's got carrots in it. Indeed somebody asked if you could count carrot cake against your 5 vegetables a day.
Felicity Cloake is always a good place to start with a topic such as this and she gives a sort of general overview of the most common variations, with a little bit of history thrown in, works her way through them and comes up with an amalgam of the best. This is the end result of her carrot cake experiments - perhaps not the most glamorous but certainly squidgily tempting.
Beginning with the history it seems that there have been cakes sweetened with carrots for centuries. In the days before sugar, carrots and other root vegetables such as parsnips were often used to sweeten cakes and other desserts. Then during the war the British government encouraged people to use carrots - of which there were plenty - for dishes other than just plain boiled carrots, including a carrot cake which also included dried egg and oatmeal, so probably not that great. After the war and into the hippie era and the wholemeal phase of cooking carrot cake became a big thing, although it was probably not slathered with icing as it can be these days. We had a friend who epitomised that era - her cookies and cakes were sort of puritanical.
Then health food became slightly less 'virtuous' and carrot cake became much richer and spicier with layers of cream cheese icing, and lots of nuts. This is usually the kind that you will find in a café. And according to Nigel Slater
"It turns out the frosting is essential to the balance of the cake. Without it, each mouthful feels worthy and somehow missing the whole point of why we eat cake."
And for this kind of carrot cake he is probably right. By this kind I mean the kind that includes nuts, and sometimes some dried fruit, sugar as well as the carrots and that cheese frosting - sometimes the more fashionable mascarpone these days. It is close to Humming bird cake which I wrote about some time ago now and which explains why some carrot cakes also include pineapple - which the purists deplore and also coconut - like that beautiful cake at the top of the page. Also a no-no to the purists by the way. The other main bone of contention is whether the flour should be plain, whole or wholemeal or a bet each way. Depends on how healthy you want to be is my guess.
The Age's Good Food people actually held a competition to find the best Australian carrot cake - from amateur cooks who had old recipes that had been handed down through the years. And the winner is this one, from a lady called Angélique Lazarus - and it breaks those so-called rules, by including tinned pineapple in the mix. Her nuts are pecans but most people go for walnuts.
So, of course, I hunted for examples and here are a few of this type: Recipe Tin Eats - she also sins by including pineapple and coconut, but then it's adapted from an American recipe; Curtis Stone's offering for Coles Magazine is pretty pure; Jamie goes for tea as a flavouring for his Chai spiced carrot cake, plus a whole lot of other spices, pecans and that coconut; delicious. Magazine's Phoebe Wood lashes out with peaches in the mix as well for her Peach, carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese icing - instead of pineapple?; Maggie Beer also wickedly includes the pineapple and coconut, adds ginger to the mix but uses macadamia nuts; Valli Little doesn't ice her version, choosing to decorate with candied carrots instead; and if you want to be a bit trendier try Woolworths Quinoa carrrot cake - roughly the same idea as everyone else but with the addition of a different, super trendy 'ancient' grain.
None of them look healthy! But then it's cake isn't it and cake by definition is not healthy.
"Carrot cake counts as a vegetable, doesn’t it?" Into the Cookie Jar
As I continued my exploration of the net for suitable recipes I soon found that there are, in fact other ways of making carrot cake. The sort of in-between mode is represented here by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who laces his with honey, and uses wholemeal flour, but no nuts; and Belinda Jeffery who uses a whole heap of dried fruit, including crystallised ginger and alas the recipe is not online - although other versions are. Neither of them ice their cakes which would make them a bit less cloying perhaps.
But then comes what I think is the perfect version - from Italy - mostly a ground almond, and carrot cake with no icing - but there are variations. Of course there are. Here is what I found. Stephanie Alexander bases hers on a recipe from Jane Grigson and calls it Italian almond and carrot cake; Beverley Sutherland Smith in her book The Seasonal Kitchen has Almond carrot torte which alas is not online but similar to Stephanie's; Nigella's Venetian carrot cake is decorated with pine nuts; and Valli Little goes for alcohol with Carrot, amaretto and almond cake.
And finally the outliers - those that really don't fit into either of those two categories: Matt Moran's No-bake carrot cake which is a kind of cheesecake I think and includes chocolate - it looks good; David Lebovitz offers a much flatter version of the Italian kind from Provence adapted from a Richard Olney recipe; and Heston isn't even pretending his Carrot cake overnight oats are cake, but still he does use the name.
I'm also down to just carrots in my veggie compartment in the fridge, so I think I might have to go for one of these for that book group. But then again you can do a whole lot of other things with carrots too.
These are two of my favourite photos of David in later years, the first taken in the beautiful French town of L'Isle sure Sorgues which is full of antique shops. I thought he had food in his hand, for I know he had been sitting on that bench eating his lunch of a pain au chocolat, but I see that has been consumed and he is clutching his hat , not food. The other is in the beautiful Italian border village of Apricale - eating breakfast in one of the most gorgeously situated B&Bs we have ever been in - and we have been in a few. I include them to cheer him up after a minor operation, and also as they better illustrates Rachel Roddy's quote from yesterday, than my apricots. Here's the quote again to remind you.
"Sgargarozzare by the way is a Roman expression which means to “To consume or throw back with joy, and with no intention of stopping.” Mostly used in relation to wine and food, Sgargarozzare is a word to live by," Rachel Roddy