Did you know that Carrot Cake has its origins in the Middle Ages? That’s one of the snippets of information you’ll glean from Oats In The North, Wheat From The South, a love letter to British baking, written and photographed by (ironically) a Belgian woman, Regula Ysewijn.
With a particular interest in historical recipes, the author has done an incredible amount of research, showing how Britain’s diverse climate influenced the development of a rich regional baking identity. Carrots were considered a sweet food in the Middle Ages, and since sugar and honey were far too expensive to use lavishly, carrots were used instead.
During the Second World War, many carrot cakes were made in Great Britain because there was a surplus of carrots. “Carrots are, of course, very healthy, which is why the Ministry of Food promoted cooking with carrots and a special leaflet with carrot dishes was distributed. Children became fond of carrots and were even given a thick carrot on a stick instead of a lollipop as the latter were not available during the war.”
The author likes to use wholemeal flour because it gives the cake more body and it works well with the other ingredients. Although Carrot Cake is often made with cream cheese icing or buttercream, she loves it with a cashew nut topping. The nuts go beautifully with the carrots and spices. Feel free to use cream cheese icing or buttercream if you prefer.
The recipe for Carrot Cake makes enough mixture for two 18 to 20 cm (7 to 8 inch) round cake tins.
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Recipe For Carrot Cake
For 6 to 8 people
For the cake:
250 ml (9 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
225 g (8 oz) raw (demerara) sugar
300 g (10½ oz) wholemeal wheat flour or spelt flour
grated zest of ½ orange
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
5 large cloves, ground
pinch of pepper and sea salt
400 g (14 oz) carrots, grated
2 tsp baking powder
100 g (3½ oz) pecans or walnuts, broken
butter, for greasing
flour, for dusting
For the topping:
200 g (7 oz) cashews, soaked overnight in cold water or in hot water for 1 to 2 hours
2 tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
pinch of sea salt
100 g (3½ oz) Greek yoghurt, skyr or coconut yoghurt
unsalted pistachio nuts or marzipan carrots
Start with the topping. Drain the cashews and pat dry with paper towel. Place in a food processor or blender, add the syrup and blend until smooth. Add the salt and yoghurt and blend until smooth and creamy. Spoon into a small bowl and place in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and prepare the tins.
For the cake, beat the oil and sugar together in an electric mixer for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add a teaspoon of flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from separating. Add the orange zest, spices and salt, followed by the grated carrot. Mix well with a spatula. Mix in the remaining flour and the baking powder until the batter is well combined. Finally, stir in the nuts.
Divide the batter between two prepared tins. Firmly tap the tins on the bench to distribute the batter and remove any air bubbles. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, then test the cakes with a skewer – if it comes out clean, the cakes are ready.
Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling. If you’ve made the cakes a day ahead, place them in the fridge 1 hour before decorating. Spread or pipe one-third of the topping over the bottom cake layer. Add the second cake layer and spread the rest of the topping over the cake. Decorate with whole and chopped pistachio nuts or marzipan carrots. Place the cake in the refrigerator after assembly if you’re not serving it immediately.
Recipe and images from Oats In The North, Wheat From The South by Regula Ysewijn. Published by Murdoch Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
You might also like this recipe for Sweet Lamb Pie from the same book. It’s not actually sweet but it’s fabulous comfort food!