When I first made a Carrot Cake with my children they were amazed to see how the humble carrot could be transformed into this delicious baked treat. I always find that children have such a thirst for knowledge and question everything. While making the cake they asked me something that really got me thinking. I love to find out the origins of recipe but I actually hadn't wondered before about this one before. They couldn't understand how someone decided to make up a cake recipe who's main ingredient is a vegetable. With modern technology this query was of course easily answered. Amazingly carrots were used in European sweet cakes since the Middle Ages when other sweeteners were almost impossible to find or just too expensive. Beets are also found in dessert recipes as along with carrots they contain more sugar than most other vegetables. I have always been aware that carrots are promoted as a 'super veg' due to their especially high level of Vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for good eyesight, especially in dim light. During World War II the British championed this belief by declaring that British pilots improved their night vision by eating vast amounts of carrots. They were, however, only trying to encourage the eating of carrots as it was one of the few foods that were not in short supply during the war. Vitamin A is found fortified in many food products such as cereals and breads but to eat the raw version, as in carrots, is much more beneficial. Shockingly according to the World Health Organisation some 1.4 million children worldwide are blind solely due to the lack of accessibility to any form of Vitamin A. So little did I know that this unassuming vegetable had such a significant past and this recipe for Carrot Cake showcases the carrot perfectly!
If you are looking to try out a cake with children then this is the one to experiment with. It is so simple to make, all is required is the combination of all the ingredients before pouring into a well greased tin. The cake can then be topped with the Creamy Icing and some toasted nuts. For a truly special Easter Cake top with a little bunny decoration and some tiny carrots made with marzipan.
Butter (for greasing)
125g (4 ½ oz) whole meal flour
125g (4 ½ oz) self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
250g (9oz) light muscovado sugar
250g (9oz) Carrots (peeled & grated)
4 free range eggs
200mls (7 floz) sunflower oil
125g (4 ½ oz) cream cheese
25g (1 oz) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar (sieved)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390f/gas mark 6. Lightly grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and then carefully line the base with baking paper.
2. Sieve both types of flour into a bowl, adding any bran left in the sieve. Stir in the mixed spice, sugar and carrots until they are thoroughly combined.
3. Crack the eggs into a jug. Use a fork to lightly beat them together. Then pour the eggs into the bowl with the flour mixture.
4. Add the oil and then stir until all the ingredients are mixed together. Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
5. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until it is risen and golden. You may need to cover the top of the cake with tin foil for the last 20mins, if it has browned too quickly. Remove it from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out.
6. Carefully turn the cake out on to a cooling rack.
7. Put the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat together until smooth and creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract. Put the icing in the fridge for 15 minutes to harden slightly. When the cake has completely cooled spread the icing over the cake and smooth using a palette knife.
8. If desired sprinkle with some chopped walnuts.
Last week, for Diarmuid's parents anniversary, I made two round carrot cakes and sandwiched them together with the icing and packed in some roasted hazelnuts. I love that this mixture works well in any well greased tin. However I won't be winning any prizes for my decorating. Rustic is in though, isn't it? :)
This article was published in The Westmeath Independent on 13th April 2011.
Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.