Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Classic Carrot and Walnut Cake

According to recent news headlines, we love lists. As we apparently can't resist them, here's a list of reasons you really ought to bake this carrot cake this weekend:

1. It tastes really good. Really, really good. Any semblance of modesty has clearly been thrown out of the window as I type this but, after tasting this cake, I received this text from the birthday girl: 'OMG!! That cake was OUT OF THIS WORLD'

2. It's got carrots in it. And carrots are a vegetable. Which everyone knows are really healthy. Sure, it may not exactly be a large, crunchy bowl of salad but it sounds a bit more healthy than, say,  a 'Double Chocolate Devil's Food Cake'

3. Its got a super thick layer of gloriously decadent cream cheese icing. The best icing a cake can be smothered in.

4. Carrot cake has rather a illustrious history. According to the World Carrot Museum (surely up there with the Lawnmower and Pencil Museums as front-runners for the title of the quirkiest museum in Great Britain) the Carrot Cake is likely to have descended from Medieval carrot puddings, when carrots were used instead of sugar to add sweetness. During the first and second world wars, rationing of sugar again led to carrots being used as sweeteners in cakes. 

5. It tastes really good. But I may have already mentioned that. 

Classic Carrot Cake 

For the cake:

125g sultanas 
juice of 1 orange
75g walnuts

3 large eggs
150ml oil
150g light brown soft sugar
200g self-raising flour (wholemeal or white)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
220g peeled and grated carrots
50g dessiccated coconut
grated zest of 1 orange

For the icing:

200g full fat cream cheese
75g butter
100g icing sugar

1. If possible, the night before baking the cake, place the sultanas and orange juice in a bowl and set aside. This will plump up the sultanas ensuring they are nice and juicy for the cake. If you haven't the time, simply pop the sultanas and juice in a microwave-proof dish and microwave for around a minute or so
2. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 3/180C/160C fan/325F. Grease and line two 8inch/20cm sandwich tins with baking paper
2. Spread 50g of the walnuts on an ungreased baking tray and toast for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove, cool and roughly chop into small pieces
4. Whisk the sugar, egg and oil together for a few minutes until all the sugar is nicely dissolved
5. Sift the flour, spices and bicarb into the bowl and fold in
6. Add the sultanas, carrots, coconut, orange zest and 50g of the toasted nuts and fold until combined
7. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and bake the cakes for approximately 25-30 minutes or until risen, firm and springy to touch. Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes before turning out the cake to cool completely on a couple of wire racks
8. To make the icing: beat the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar. Spread to sandwich the two cakes together and use the remainder on top of the cake. Decorate with the remaining walnuts

Baker's Notes...

  • Apparently Carrot Cake is one of the Nation's Favourite Cakes (ohh, another reason to add to the list to get baking this over the weekend!). I enjoyed a particularly fine example in Peyton and Byrne in Greenwich just yesterday

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Olive Oil, Ricotta and Raspberry Cake

I was strolling home from work the other night, my mind filled with thoughts as to what to make for tea (admittedly, not the most exciting narrative to be running through my head despite it being a very close contest between a salmon stir fry and a spring veg risotto) when Simon Mayo and chums on Radio 2's Drivetime Show began discussing this cake.

Regular listeners of Radio 2, all 15,568,000 of us, may know that each week resident cook Nigel Barden makes everyone feel rather hungry on their way home as he describes and demonstrates a weekly dish. All thoughts of our supper swiftly disappeared as I listened to Nigel, Simon et al devour this very tempting sounding cake. And when they mentioned it was created by one of my all time favourite American cookery writers, the brilliant Debs from Smitten Kitchen, well, I was sold. And within ten minutes of arriving home, via a quick pit stop to pick up a pot of ricotta and a punnet of raspberries, the oven was on, the spatula sticky and egg shells were littering the work surface.

I was not disappointed. The ricotta adds a cheesecake-like creaminess, the olive oil a depth of flavour and the raspberries a tangy sweetness. And the best thing is the versatility of this brilliant recipe. The original suggests a red grape coulis, but I simply spread a layer of raspberry jam from the lovely Pen Y Lan Pantry and decorated with the fruit.

The full recipe can be found right here, I adapted it somewhat, as follows.

Olive Oil, Ricotta and Raspberry Cake

(adapted from Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen Cookbook- Recipes from a New York Kitchen/Random House)

For the cake:

250g full fat ricotta
80ml olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
190g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp table salt

For the decoration:

1 punnet raspberries
1 tbsp raspberry jam
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160fan/Gas Mark 4/350F
2. Grease and line a 23cm springform tin with parchment paper
3. In a large bwol whisk together the ricotta, olive oil, sugar and vanilla
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition
5. Sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and fold in until just combined (be careful not to overmix)
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for thirty minutes until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
7. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes before removing onto a wire rack to complete cooling
8. Once cooled, spread the top of the cake with the jam, decorate with the raspberries and dust a over a little icing sugar

Baker's notes

  • No fresh fruit? Radio 2's Nigel suggests splitting the cake in two, dolloping the centre with a spoonful of jam and finishing with a dusting of icing sugar. The result: an intriguing, rather posh Victoria Sponge.