Monday 10 November 2014

Carrot Cake

When my brothers and I were little people, my mom used to cook and bake for us a fair amount, making a variety of different dishes and treats. As the years passed, and she returned to full time employment, she continued to cook regularly but the baking, well the baking held little interest for her anymore. She had other things to get done, quite frankly. 

But there was one treat she used to make occasionally, and never from a box mix: carrot cake. Oh, we tried the box mix, but it was far too inferior to the real thing to consider even calling it by the same name. The carrot didn't look like real carrot, and it certainly wasn't real cream cheese in the icing. A poor imitation to be sure.

Whenever my mother's rota came at work for her to bring in a treat for the staff room she always made this. We were always slightly resentful of this fact, because she would slave and swear over it, being out of the habit of baking now, but we would rarely get to taste it. The completed dish would be put in the fridge overnight and whisked away to the teacher's lounge at her school the next day. She would bring the empty carcass of a dish home the next day, smiling triumphantly. "It disappeared within a couple hours!" she would boast as she put the pan into the dishwasher. We vultures hoping for crumbs would slink away upstairs, cursing the teachers who had stolen what we considered to be OUR cake.

The recipe was from a battered old book from my nursery school, a fundraising effort by the mothers when they asked all the mums to contribute their favourite recipe. A slim volume, we lost it several times but eventually found it again. When the 21st century arrived, I made sure to have this recipe emailed to me so as not to ever lose it again.

I have adapted it over the years, but at its core it remains the same. I added pineapple where none existed originally and spiced it up a bit further, and I do have to adjust it slightly to fit UK ingredients. The original recipe works great in North America, but we are unable to get block cream cheese here so more butter is necessary in the icing in order to ensure it does not end up too runny, I also find it ends up denser here with UK flour than in in the USA - I have no idea why. 

On this occasion I was making it for a church gathering, so my 9 X 13 dish was more suitable to make it a tray bake like affair, but you could make it in a couple 8 inch round pans and stack them on top of each other. The choice is yours.

In order to have everything in grabbing distance, I assembled the goods. This isn't a recipe I make on a whim, as I usually don't have sufficient carrots, cream cheese, and pineapple to make it without shopping specially for it.

First I made up the flour mix. I used to skip this step, wanting to save on washing up by just adding the dry ingredients all together later and stirring them into the egg mixture. However, occasionally I encountered an unsavoury problem: green carrot. After a day or two, some of the carrot in the cake would go green, making it look slightly alarming and toxic. This would happen even when I stored the cake carefully in the fridge. Eventually, thanks to, I learned this is what can happen if you have either too much baking powder or it isn't distributed evenly into the mixture: it's just a chemical reaction between the raising agent and the carrot, nothing poisonous, just freaky looking. So now I make sure to be real careful like when measuring the raising agents for this, and I do the flour mix ahead so I can be sure to mix everything together. So in went flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and a few spices, one of which was allspice. I find it confusing that allspice and mixed spice are both sold and are completely different. 

Once I'd mixed that I set it aside and thought I'd be real clever by putting the pineapple through the small grater on my food processor. This was not as smart an idea as I thought:

So I put in the blade to mash it up a bit more. You could just buy a small shredded pineapple if you are stateside, but I've not found it here so it becomes a DIY job.

That's better. I then put it into a measuring cup. No, I didn't rinse the cup out first.

Then I peeled and shredded carrots until I had 4 cups of shredded mixture. It's important to get your five a day.

Finally it was time to move on to the oil and sugar. For some reason it looks like a gooey green monster here.

I added four eggs.  And yes, stir them in one at a time, because in a controlled experiment Cooks Illustrated found it was actually better for your cake to do so. Here went the first.

And then went the others followed by just a touch of Costco vanilla.

And then in went the flour mix to be folded in.

Last but not least went in the carrots, pineapple, and some sultanas that I tried to, er, chop with the food processor. I managed to chop some of the shredded carrot still in the food processor but not the sultanas. Oh well, at worst they all sink to the bottom of the cake.

Some people put nuts in their carrot cake. They are wrong.

It makes an ungodly looking mixture, but baking will make it better.

It might be necessary to repeat that to yourself a few times as you put it in the pan. I put loads of paper up the sides to make it easy to pull out and slice later.

See, it looks better now, doesn't it?

The next morning I made the icing. I would have liked to do at soon as the cake was cooled, but there wasn't room in my fridge to put the completed product in overnight, and I didn't want the icing sitting out overnight. I did, however leave the ingredients overnight at room temperature, as coldness is the enemy of this icing. You'll soon see why...

All I did was combine icing sugar, butter, cream cheese, and vanilla and stir them with my hand mixer.

And look what I got! A lumpy mess. I have come to realise this is a result of things not being quite warm enough. Even left overnight, my kitchen was too cold for things to happily blend together. Into the microwave it went for a ten second blast.

My adoring fans looked on.

After that quick burst of heat, it blended up all creamy like. I had a LOT of lumpy batches of icing over the years before I figured out that trick.

"Mama, you one clever lady!" is what he meant to say. It came out as "AAAM!"

Now time for the two parts to meet. As you can see, the cake came out of the tin easily in one quick lift.

Which made it easy to cut into slabs.

And easy to lift these slabs into their tins en masse. Here they are, nestled inside.

Now I could have iced them, then cut them and put them in, but that ends up a bit messy. So instead, once they were in the transportation tin, I put the icing into a ziplock bag.

And then put a blob of icing on each of the pieces. It could have been prettier, to be sure, but I had to make a batch of cardamom buns as well so I was in a bit of a rush. Anyway, it means they transport easily and are easy to remove without sticky hands everywhere.

There were no survivors. I get a LOT of requests for this recipe, so here it is:


2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs 
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup shredded pineapple
3 1/2 cups shredded carrot
1/2 cup sultanas

225 g cream cheese
140 g unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and position rack in centre of oven. Line a 9"X13"pan or alternatively line two 8" round cake tins. Sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices together and set aside. In large bowl, beat sugar and oil together. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients then stir in carrots, pineapple, and sultanas. Pour into pan and start checking at 30 minutes, though it may need as much as 40. 

Once cake is cool, blend icing ingredients together with electric beaters if possible and spread on cake as desired.

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