My daughter Nessie has been growing carrots – glorious, sweet and so good (as is she) – so carrots have been on the menu quite a bit here. I posted a simple roast carrots on instagram, and was asked for a carrot cake recipe. Hmmm….. I thought, okay, but wanted to re-work the recipe that appears in my first book Wholefood – heal, nourish, delight. Don’t get me wrong I love that recipe – dense, chock full of raisins, nuts, coconut and yes, pineapple. But I had been thinking to shift it to a slightly more wintery version (which really makes sense as that is when carrots are in season), to match those carrots more so with other foods that belong in the same season ( I also wanted a lighter textured crumb). This reflects very much where I am today in my wholefood journey – matching seasonality and locality, using ingredients from a simple pantry. But changing (or converting) a recipe is a process – often scientific, but also because we are working with real ingredients (with different energy fields) we have to work with intuition and heart too.
The original recipe calls for 1 cup white spelt, 1 cup wholemeal, 1 cup dark muscovado sugar, 4 cups grated carrot, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup each nuts and sultanas, 3 eggs and 1/2 cup oil (oh and that pineapple, 1/4 cup of the juice and the coconut). Looking at the core ingredients and knowing the cake, I reworked the trial recipe to:
1 cup white spelt (130 g), 1 cup wholemeal spelt (145g) 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup dark muscovado (170g) 2 cups grated carrot (250g) spices, vanilla, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup olive oil (185ml), 1/2 cup each nuts and raisins. So what I had in effect done, was to remove fat and moisture from so many nuts, coconut, pineapple (including it’s juice) and sultanas. To compensate for this, I increased the oil by 60ml, and reduced the amount of carrot. Yes, reducing the carrot will mean that some moisture is lost, but it also means that the batter is less bound by the carrot, and the leavening can move more freely through the batter. I chose to not do a simple wet to dry mix, but rather allow myself the opportunity to include more air into the batter (and thus lighten it) by beating the eggs and sugar to the ribbon before hand. The result: some of the spices were too strong in flavour (I had upped them considerably and included cardamom), and as you can see, it hasn’t risen all that well. It was slightly dry (only very slightly) but none the less it wasn’t bad – nothing that a bit of cream cheese icing (or a spread of butter) couldn’t kiss and make better. But, it was still a bit dense for me.
To me, there were two obvious issues. 1) it was too dense and 2) a little dry. Good conversions are best done by thinking (often over a cup of tea) and thus was on my mind as I went to bed that night. Somewhere around 1am, it occurred to me that even though the obvious next step was to increase the moisture, with 60ml orange juice (much more seasonally appropriate and I had hundreds from mum’s tree) I somehow felt that wasn’t going to be enough. Why ? Because it felt (and here is the heart and intuition bit) that the ingredients were somehow isolated from each other, it wasn’t tasting or feeling like a comfortable whole. But perhaps lessening the heft of the wholemeal flour by a bit might bring those primary ingredients closer together and allow them to form that relationship, and make the whole? Lessening the flour would also help with the dry factor. Lessening the flour and increasing the liquid moisture (the 60ml) orange juice would also make the batter a bit more liquid and allow the air produced by the leavening to actually move freely through the batter. I also changed the leavening slightly reducing the baking powder to 2 teaspoons, and using 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (an alkali which would react with that 60ml acidic orange juice) as it is a sturdier lifter than baking powder alone. Result ? Totally brilliant – was fabulous. At some point I will also try replacing the 3/4 cup of wholemeal spelt with 1 cup (110g) barley flour. Because of it’s super low gluten content, I feel confident that adding 1/4 cup extra of flour won’t make any difference…
It was super successful, loved, eaten and left overs lasted really well. If you’ve got carrots coming out of your ears right now, give this a go this weekend… (oh and these Carrot Fritters on an older post are so good too….)
Beautiful photography by and ©Harriet Harcourt
Grown Up Carrot Cake
A couple of things here.. firstly, taste your olive oils, find one you like. I prefer fruity ones, and they are always extra virgin. In Perth, I like Guinea Grove Fruity Leccino, and Reagans Ridge Fruity. Interstate I love Nolans Road, Robust and Mt Zero but you must taste and find one you love. The cake is super easy to make, just a bit tricky to know when it is cooked. Cook until the centre is feeling the same as the sides – firm, use your fingertips, don’t insert a skewer / cake tester into this cake, but be gentle. You’re not pressing into the cake, just gently feeling if it is firm underneath. Once cooked, turn the oven off, and with the oven door ajar about 10 cm leave it to cool a little. (oh, and be generous with the lemon zest in the icing)…..
Pre heat oven to 180c or 148 – 165c if fan forced (in my Smeg oven, I use 148c). Brush the sides and base with a little olive oil, and line the base of 2 x 20cm round cake tins
Add the flours and spices to a medium size bowl, and sift in the baking powder and soda. Add the nuts and pecans, whisk through to evenly distribute the ingredients and set aside. Measure out the olive oil and add the orange juice to your cup measurement (so you have 3/4 cup juice, and 1/4 cup juice = 1 cup).
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the eggs and sugar (break up any bits that have stuck together and formed lumps) to the bowl. Whip on high speed to the ribbon. This means that when you lift up the whisk, the batter that falls down onto the mix should sit atop the mix for about 10 seconds. It takes about 6 minutes or so, and needs to have doubled (or more) in volume. I tend to push it here, and really whip it (and whip it good :) )
Remove the bowl, and gently fold in the olive oil, juice and vanilla, but only until it is just barely incorporated. Add the dry flour mix, and carrots and gently fold through until evenly distribute all the ingredients (but don’t overdo it). Divide the mix between the two cake tins, GENTLY even them out and bake for around 40 mins. I found that they took considerably longer than I thought to bake. I looked at them at 30 minutes – the sides were cooked, but the centre still super soft so I kept them going. I was concerned they were getting too dark, but I didn’t reduce the heat, just kept going and they were fine. Cook until the centre is feeling the same as the sides – firm, use your fingertips, don’t insert a skewer / cake tester into this cake. Once cooked, turn the oven off, and with the oven door ajar about 10 cm leave it to cool a little. This will stop it being shocked and shrinking, and then remove it to a cooling rack. Cool completely before turning out and icing.
Favourite Cream Cheese Icing
I used the Billingtons semi refined Golden Icing Sugar to give it a slightly more earthy flavour without overwhelming it. You can absolutely also use honey or maple, but both will be assertive in flavour.
Using an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the cheese, butter and icing sugar. Add the vanilla, zest and lemon juice (to taste), and you may need a little hot water to loosen it more to a good spreading consistency. Beat it, beat it, beat it… till super smooth and creamy. Add more lemon or sweetness as desired.
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