Carrot Cake, an unexpected love relation

Just Carrot Cake.

My favourite version of the Carrot Cake, sans frosting.
Photo © JE Nilsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2011

In preview of Valentine’s Day, here’s a culinary limerence of mine for something as basic and unromantic as the Carrot Cake.

My first encounter with this unlikely creation of the baker’s genius was, I believe, in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Possibly at Starbucks or Hard Rock Café in Singapore and in the company of a group of friends, possibly having some influence on my judgment. ‘Unlikely’, because carrots do not immediately strike me as a cake ingredient even today. Perhaps what sold me, was the frosting.

As all who have grown up in Singapore, I was mostly used to white carrots or radish in fried chai tow kway, a dish usually eaten at breakfast in the country.

But biting through the cream cheese frosting, into the coarse, dense texture of the Carrot Cake, the taste explosion I encountered on the fabulous bake treat after just one try had me head-over-heels in love with this creation. And after arriving in Sweden, I just had to learn to bake my own since it isn’t always that the café around the corner from my place has a tray of Carrot Cake for the buying.

Walnuts, crushed.

Walnuts, if not Pecans, go into my favourite version of the Carrot Cake.

This cake is very versatile, which is both what makes it attractive and unattractive, depending on your nemesis. You can easily retrive an overwhelming (more than 1.4 million hits) variety of recipes in cookbooks and on-line cooking sites alike for this cake. Which led me to that I needed to decide what combination of flavours I liked in this cake, i.e. with or without nutmeg, with or without pineapples, what type of nuts to use etc. and settle for a recipe that had the taste and texture I wanted. But I figure that goes for anything. I think the true art of cooking is to produce whatever you like yourself so in that sense, the hunting for the perfect recipe is futile, just take any recipe at hand and adjust it until the end product is what you want.

Carrot Cakes are actually a big thing in Sweden too and a traditional recipe from a standard Swedish cookbook upon which I have based this particular cake includes:

350g grated carrots
200 ml cooking oil
260 g flour
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
250 g sugar

To the above ingredients, I’ve also added, 100 g of chopped walnuts, the zest of one lemon, a half decilitre (ca. 80 ml) of Turkish yoghurt and sometimes, depending on mood, I can add half a can of well-drained, crushed pineapples too. The pineapples were left out in this particular cake.

This cake does not take much time to put together. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir till well combined. There is no need for an electric mixer for this batter, a simple whisk and subsequently, a spatula will do. The consistency of the batter when properly thick is barely running. You would need to actually shove it into the tin. So, shove the batter into a greased and floured baking tin and set it into a pre-heated oven at 175C for about 45 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean. To use a bundt tin is a good idea since this will give the cake a larger crusted surface, and the crust is just marvelous on this cake!

Carrot Cake 2.

A blunt butter knife gives the best cut for this cake, since I do love the sight of the sides of the cake crumbling when served.

By now I have tried Carrot Cakes with plain cream cheese frostings and Carrot Cakes filled with crushed walnuts, Carrot Cakes mixed with mashed bananas and ones sprinkled with lemon and orange zests. Still, I come back to a basic Carrot Cake, with no frosting, because I think that is what I prefer the most. This cake is also something of a sturdy meal on its own, filled with vegetables, nuts and eggs and honestly, it hardly needs any more sweetening or fat to be perfectly fine.

A generous slice of this robust cake and a tall glass of cold, old fashioned full-cream gammaldags milk makes up a light lunch or a perfect Sunday afternoon meal, if you will.

Enjoy! And good luck with your own experiments.

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