This is a fantastic time of year for gardeners, growers and all those who love just-harvested, fresh produce. Our friends who have gardens are dropping by with little cornucopias of fruits and veggies, and it must have been a good summer for carrots because they seem to be front and centre and taking over. Happily for us all, carrots are an essential ingredient in one of the most beloved of all cakes, and, as the average cake will use up about 3 cups of grated carrots, what better way to use up a bunch than to make this classic dessert?
Another grate (get it?) thing about carrot cake is you can use the older, larger veggies, maybe those that have been growing for a while and are a bit gnarly. Those little sweet baby carrots are best enjoyed lightly steamed with a little butter and salt, or just snacked on raw, but it seems a bit of a waste to use them in a cake; not so with the older carrots just past their prime, they work beautifully grated up and mixed with the other goodies in your cake.
Carrot cake gained a foothold in Great Britain during the second world war; carrots are cheap, easily grown and readily available, and they are naturally high in sugar, second only to sugar beets in the vegetable world. And because of the high water content they keep the cake nice and moist-not that it’s going to last long enough to dry out. It wasn’t until the sixties that carrot cake was popular in North America, but since then it has become one of this continent’s favourite cakes. Butter cream cheese icing is the favoured topping for this cake, whether it be a layer cake, sheet cake or made into muffins, and nowadays you see it at diners, luncheons, truck stops and of course weddings. Who knew that this unlikely cake would win the hearts and souls of dessert lovers everywhere!
My favourite recipe for carrot cake is from my mother in law, Joan, who just celebrated her 92nd birthday. You’ll never guess what her birthday cake was! Not a fan of the traditional cinnamon and nutmeg spicing, Joan likes to doll up her cake with chopped dried apricots, walnuts and chopped candied ginger, “especially if the carrots are a little long in the tooth.” Frost with cream cheese icing and serve thick slices with strong tea. Magic.
Joan’s Gingered Carrot Cake
2 cups sugar
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 3-4 large carrots)
¾ cup dried apricots, chopped
¼ cup crystalized ginger, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans. In the first bowl mix sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla and beat for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to wet in 3 additions, beating all the while, then continue beating for another minute. Pour into cake pans and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in pan. Then remove from pans and cool on wire rack. Completely cool before frosting with Butter cream cheese icing.
Butter Cream Cheese Icing- makes enough to frost 1 double layer cake
1 stick softened butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using a beater, cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add icing sugar while continuing to beat, then add vanilla. Beat until icing is uniformly creamy and smooth.