I reckon it's fair to say that I'm not the only person in the country who has needed a fair bit of cheering up of late. Cake is quite the cheerer-upper, I find, a comforting friend that doesn't disappoint. And what could provide more perk-me-up solace than a cake made from some beamingly orange vegetables? Carrot cake is a fresh, moist joy of a cake; I know that 'moist' isn't a very appetising word, but it perfectly describes that 'just so' texture between my-fan-oven-isn't-so-amazing-after-all and dammit-why-did-I-spend-so-long-in-the-shower. There's the nuts chunking out through the fluff, and somehow carrots taste like a natural treaty dessert ingredient, not at all like that gag-inducing Kelkin juice stuff that I went through a (frankly, pointless) phase of forcing into myself. Then there is the lovely chilled slab of icing on top; lets face it, the majority of the joy derived from a cake is via the icing, and I think that this applies to carrot cake more so than any other kind. This recipe came from my not-so-new-anymore Ottolenghi cookbook (as recommended by the lovely Lilly Higgins), which I haven't had much time to pore over and experiment with, unfortunately - but as things are slowly becoming less hectic I'm hoping to have some more quality time with this delight of a book in the near future. In the meantime, I honed in on this classic beauty to brighten up my little world.
I have suspected for quite some time that I am measuring my baking ingredients inaccurately because the bowls I have been using are so heavy as to desensitise my not-so-sophisticated scales. The original bowl that came with it (I think it's seven years old, and I don't think it cost much more than a tenner in Dunnes Stores) cracked and fell apart a very long time ago, so since then I have been using the nearest bowl that I can grab when I'm in the thick of kitchen concoctions. In the interests of more accurate baking, I finally hit on the grand idea of using an old ice-cream tub, which also moonlights as a lunchbox and something to freeze stuff in, since it's nice and light and shouldn't screw with my quantities. Ah the joy and relief of solving a very mundane, but niggling, kitchen quandary.
Sieving and weighing and spicing - oh my! Actually that's a lie - I'm too lazy to a) go out and buy a sieve and b) use it. And guess what, everything turns out just fine. I think I will put that alongside stretching before running/workouts in my 'life's too short' file. (Not an ACTUAL file, people, an IMAGINARY one, as that would be totally contradictory). So - just the weighing and spicing, then. 160g plain flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.
No matter how many times I do it I get a little separation anxiety when trying to crack eggs precisely so that the white of the egg will whip itself up into a fluffy puff of perfection. There's the little fecky flecks of shell that just fly in there, not to mention a potentially oozy yolk spoiling the entire operation. It only ever went wrong on one occasion, resulting in having to throw out a box of eggs and start all over again, but I still get the sneaking suspicion that my whites are just never fluffy enough. I'm hard to please. Anyhow, I digress - at this point I need one whole egg whisked together with one egg yolk.
How many carrot cakes do you have to eat to get one of your five a day? Now that's an experiment you wouldn't have to pay me to participate in. Um, I don't think that the veggie content of the cake cancels out the sugar, fat etc etc though. Oh my GOSH did I just admit that?! This is a major milestone, as usually I would be very open about my happy little little self delusion that the carrots would render all nutritional wrongdoings contained therein null and void. I must be growing up.
The thing that always kinda puts me off making carrot cake is grating the carrots; I always imagine that it will take a year and a day and leave my hands in tatters. In truth, it takes about 30 seconds. So let there me no more excuses from me on that front.
200g sunflower oil and 270g caster sugar get whizzed up...
...then in goes the egg-plus-egg-yolk mix.
Now I just couldn't be bothered with chopping walnuts on a chopping board. They fly all over the place, I can't be dealing with it. Plus they are the perfect shape for cracking up and breaking into smithereens with your hands, and going OTT with the chopping would spoil the lovely knobbledy texture of the walnuts. I do like a nice homemadey, rough-n-ready, chunky texture to my food.
The walnuts (50g) go into the oil/sugar/egg mix, along with 50g dessicated coconut and 135g grated carrot.
Then the dry ingredients join the party.
Two egg whites are needed to add a little lightness, so just one more alongside the other from earlier, then. I just love the way the fat little yellow yolk sits in its own half of the eggshell, lazy little thing could just loll there forever if it didn't have to be sacrificed to the gods of cake.
The eggs didn't let me down: fluff happened, and it happened good. This is where I always wonder at the magic that happens when you take a foodstuff and do a thing with it and add it to another and then wowwwwwwww: something totally different happens to it that didn't happen the last time when you took the exact same ingredients only did the odd thing differently here and there. Basically what I'm saying is: I just do what I'm told and somehow it always ends up tasting good. The egg whites are folded slowly and gently into the cake mix in three batches, with minimal vigour.
Cake goes into the oven (preheated to 170) for about an hour.
In a sort of self-created personal tradition thingy I always ensure that there is a satisfying amount of cake mixture left in the bowl for me to enjoy the fruits of my labour before the finished product comes out of the oven. It's actually probably just because I have abiding childhood memories of always losing out on bowl scrape-age to a more quick-off-the-mark sibling.
This beauty of a recipe jazzes up staple icing ingredients with a lovely sticky golden blob of honey. I didn't think that this one little spoon could make quite such an impact on all that icing and, in turn, the entire cake. It has such a distinctive type of sweetness, a sharp, warm flavour that cuts right through the cold creaminess of the Philadelphia. Add 25g to 70g unsalted butter and 35g icing sugar.
Loosen up 175g cream cheese, then add the butter/honey/sugar combo.
Oh the noiv-uss-ness when the cake comes out of the oven and you don't know if it's going to provide you with hours of eating pleasure or many moments of annoyance, when it's just not cooked properly but you just can't justify doing anything other than eating it. GULP.
The delicate operation of transferring the cake from tin to plate went very smoothly - what could go wrong now? On the home stretch, for sure. I mean, even if the cooking end of things turned out to not really have worked out that amazingly, feck it sure there's enough sweet, sugary, tasty, nutty things happening in there to make it more than edible.
And lets not forget the icing; since it's a no-cook situation it's kinda difficult to screw up that end of things.
I ate this entire cake by myself. Not in one go, mind, I did manage to stretch it out over a week, but it made for some wonderful cheer-uppage. That homemade piece of roundy sweet sunshine munched away at my glumness and was a lovely treat to look forward to at the end of some not-so-amazing days. There are definitely worse distractions from reality. Go forth and bake.