The Humble Carrot and the Luscious Cake

Fionn stirring as fast as he can to combine all the ingredients.
With all the chocolate that is lurking around, I thought I would share with you a slightly healthier treat! As cakes go I think if one were to choose a 'wholesome option' Carrot Cake would have to top the poll. There certainly is less guilt about tucking into a slice of cake that has one of our ' 5 a day', well at least this is what I tell myself!

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 the 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 whose 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 bread 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.



For Cake-
Butter (for greasing)
125g (4½ oz) wholemeal flour
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
250g (9oz) light muscovado sugar
250g (9oz) Carrots (peeled & grated)
4 free range eggs
200mls (7fl oz) sunflower oil

For Icing
125g (4 ½ oz) cream cheese
25g (1 oz) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar (sieved)
20mls milk
walnuts or pecans (optional)

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.


MissCakeBaker said...

This looks like a great carrot cake. Thanks for the history - I love knowing about how cakes originated.

WiseMóna said...

Great story. I never knew how the carrot cake came about either. Looks yummy.

Nessa Robins said...

Thanks! I always love hearing foodie facts and it's good to pass them on. Try out the cake - it's delicious!

From Beyond My Kitchen Window said...

So glad you did some research, very interesting. Your cake looks amazing. The lightness shows through in the photo and usually carrot cakes are heavy. Another thing is the specks of orange through it, wish I had a piece.

Anonymous said...

I made your lovely carrott cake but I dont know what I did wrong with the icing ! It was a bit runny !! How do I get it stiff ? Thx

Nessa Robins said...

Hi Yvonne. Glad that you liked the cake. It's always so disappointing when a recipe doesn't completely work. The rule I stick to with toppings is double the quantity of icing sugar to butter. In this case I would use 250 icing sugar & 125 cream cheese plus recently I started to add 25g butter for added creaminess! I usually don't add the splash of milk until after creaming these together, just in case it seems wet enough as some cream cheeses have a higher water content. Try to stick it in the fridge for an hr before spreading on the cake. If it still seems too wet I would just sieve in some extra icing sugar until you have reached the desired thickness.Taste it before spreading on the cake & add more vanilla if required or a squeeze of lemon if too sweet. I hope this will help in perfecting your carrot cake.

Unknown said...

hi Nessa - made this carrot cake again for a picnic on the beach today; it was just the thing with a flask of coffee and looking at the kids playing in the water. Anyway, wanted to share my good thought here on my solution for the topping, which wouldn't mix with a hot day on a sandy beach: I skipped the lovely cheese topping; in stead I melted a bar of white crispy chocolate bar and let it set on the top with walnuts. Worked a treat!

Nessa Robins said...

Thank you for sharing that lovely memory with me. I love the idea of using the crispy white chocolate. I make this cake regularly, so I'll definitely give your topping a go.
Thanks so much. Nessa x

Unknown said...

well, you can't really beat cream cheese (oh oh the pun) but the chocotopper version certainly was easier to wrap up for a picnic. Love that carrot cake and people are always asking me for the recipe; I duly point them to the blog :)

Nessa Robins said...

Delighted you enjoy the recipe. Thanks so much for sharing with others. :)