Cake is not really my thing. Too sweet, too dry, too much icing, tasteless icing, bland, blah, bleh, bleurgh. I don’t remember ever ordering cake in a tea shop or restaurant- I opt for a biscuit every time. Mostly, I enjoy baking them but nine times out of ten I end up saying something negative starting with “it’s too” or “it’s not”. And every once and a while, when I find myself in a situation where a cake is required (birthdays mainly) I bake this one. I cannot tell you how many people I have baked that cake for but it is many people, many times and many compliments later that I have come to realise that I remain in the minority of cakes-not-my-thing-people and whilst it’s handy to have one good cake up your sleeve, it’s even better to have two.
Enter: Don’s 28th birthday
For Don’s birthday I had plans and they were big. A brand new kitchen with more space than…well, my last kitchen and a big counter top for decorating. With my new cupcake book in hand I was brewing up great ideas for a playful novelty cake or maybe a cheesecake with a dark chocolate ganache blanket over the top. It would be the main centre piece for the party I was planning and even if I didn’t love it, the love-cake majority would swoon over it in the following weeks, months even years. But then because it was July 4th weekend that his unfortunate birthday had to fall there was nobody to finish constructing my kitchen and everybody in their right mind had escaped the smoggy city for the Hamptons, or if not the Hamptons then certainly somewhere a tad cooler. Smart people. And so it was that the party was canned, the kitchen remained incomplete and Don and I sweated it out together in the city.
Enter: Carrot cake with citrus frosting
A change in plans was required and as with most things I cook, the decision of what to make fell upon a brief glance into the fridge and five minutes of rummaging in the cupboard. Cream cheese, check. Butter, negative. Grated carrots…ah huh. Delia Smith has a wonderful recipe for carrot cake- one that she claims to have tweaked over the years and is now at its all time peak. As a cakes-not-my-thing person, this cake is an exception to my rule. It’s moist, it’s flavourful, it has various textures and best of all it’s quick and there’s minimal washing up to do at the end. Always a big plus. That being said, this cake may have been tweaked enough for Delia but not for me. With the warm summer heat, I wanted to get rid of the heavy dosage of wintry spices and to give it a punch of citrus. Never a fan of raisins or sultanas I swapped them for chopped dried apricots- the plump squidgy ones that you can suck on- and because I wanted to make sure that Don felt really special I doubled the recipe and turned it into a three layer cake. The icing is also full of citrus with a hint of honey (you could also use agave nectar or sugar) which cuts through the creaminess but keeps it nicely tangy. This is a seriously good cake- so good I have banned it to the freezer for fear that it would keep tempting me. This was a love-cake moment for me. Luuuurrrrve cake.
Carrot cake with a citrus icing
This makes a large 3 layer cake but feel free to halve the recipe and make 2 x 20cm/8inch cakes. The layers freeze beautifully, but wrap them doubly in cling film to prevent ice crystals. The icing will keep well in the fridge for at least one week.
Serves 12-15 (UK portions)
Diet Facts: carrots and wholewheat flour may be healthy but sugar and cream cheese are not- approach accordingly (yes, even you with the birthday badge).
For the cake layers:
400g/ 2 1/2 plus 1/3 cups of wholemeal or wholewheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
good pinch of nutmeg
good pinch cloves
350g/ 2 cups (tightly packed) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
300ml/10 fl oz sunflower oil (canola oil)
zest of 2 oranges
400g/ 14 oz peeled, grated carrot
225g/ 1 1/3 cup chopped dried (french) apricots (size of raisins)
100g/ 1 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
100g/ 3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted
For the syrup glaze:
juice 2 small oranges
1 tbsp lemon juice
55g/ 1/4 cup (tightly packed) dark brown soft sugar
For the icing:
3 x 225g/8oz packages of cream cheese
1 x 225g/8oz tub crème fraîche
5 Tbsp/ 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp runny honey
zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1 (about 1 Tbsp of juice)
zest of 1 small orange, juice of half (about 2 tbsp)
2 Tbsp dessicated coconut, lightly toasted (optional)
handful of chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
alternatively dust with ground cinnamon
You will need:
3 x 23cm/9 inch cake tins
An electric whisk (or even better an electric mixer)
A box grater or a grater attachment on your food processor
1/ Heat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Toast your nuts in the oven (about 5-8 minutes, until you can smell them roasting) and then turn the heat down to 325F/170C/Gas 3 for the cake.
2/ Spray three 23 cm/ 9 inch cake tins with cooking spray with starch (such as Baker’s Joy). Make sure that the sugar has no hard lumps in it by squishing it between your fingers. Whisk together the sugar, eggs and oil for 2-3 minutes.
3/ Whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a large bowl. Stir the gently into the sugar/egg/oil mixture and then add the remaining cake ingredients. Don’t be alarmed at the thickness of the batter. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 tins and bake in the centre shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until nicely risen, firm and springy to touch and with visible signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
4/ Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining the juices and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Once the cake has finished cooking, stab it all over with a skewer and gently spoon the syrup over the 3 cakes evenly. Allow to cool.
5/ Make the icing by beating together the cream cheese and crème fraîche until smooth. Fold in the honey, zest and juices with a large rubber spatula and check the taste. Add more honey or juices to your desired taste.
6/ To assemble the cake, turn the cakes out from their tins. Place one layer top-side down onto a cake stand. Spread the top evenly with 1/3 of the icing using a palette knife (offset spatula) or rubber spatula. Top with another layer, again top-side down and repeat until you have the final layer topped with the last of the icing. Scatter with the coconut and walnuts (if using) or dust with cinnamon.