The Ultimate Carrot Cake
You see, I train religiously (or so I like to think) with a group of strong, lean, carrot-cake eating machines every single week. They push me to work that little bit harder, throw me outside my comfort zone but keep my going through till the end. Each week without fail, I come away lighter, brighter and generally with an amazing weekend glow about me. I heard a rumour that the guys had been secretly whispering, debating the deliciousness of the promised carrot cake last week, which indeed was not plonked on the table of a nearby cafe in a pristine white cake box as originally promised. So this week, I had to deliver. No excuses.
My Wednesday started at 5:30am when my alarm buzzed, the all too-familiar sound of gentle chimes ringing out in their monotonous rhythm. Warm and cosy, I reached over to switch on my bedside lamp, cursing as I knocked over a full glass of water in the process. I rubbed my eyes and hated every minute of getting out of bed but knew I'd feel better for it after. I soaked up the water that had seeped into the carpet and was dripping from the corners of the wooden table top, pulled on my gym leggings, laced my trainers, brushed my teeth then grabbed my gym bag and quietly tiptoed out the flat and into the night.
My high-glow shimmered in the lights of passing cars, their headlights flashing past in quick succession. London was alive... at 5:30am. I made my 7am spin class, secretly racing against the guy next to me as we climbed the hill and then sprinted down the valley before calling it a day (yes, at 7:45am). I took the Victoria Line to work and treated myself to a flat white from the exceptionally cute Espresso Room in Covent Garden to give me a kick whilst going over my inbox. The day had begun. Except I'd be going for four hours already...
This was to be no ordinary carrot cake. Oh no. This would be THE carrot cake. Eyes would swivel, and mouths would water. Hopefully. I baked that night and adapted the recipe to cram as much goodness into the cake as I could. What kind of carrot cake recipe omits pecans, sultanas, cinnamon, ginger, orange zest? It seems most of them, which is bizarre since these are the things that make a carrot cake even more delicious. So I merged a few recipes and adapted the ingredients for a foolproof bake that anyone could attempt.
Saturday morning beckoned and the anticipation was undeniable. Had I known that not a crumb would be left, perhaps I would've made another for me to enjoy with a cup of tea on the sofa at home later that day. Instead, I enjoyed the leftover icing scooped up atop crunchy pecan nuts from the bowl instead, which I have to say, was a little pleasure in itself.
The Ultimate Carrot Cake
For the cake
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
150g light muscovado sugar
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
50g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
100g grated carrots
2 ripe bananas, mashed
150ml sunflower oil
Zest of one orange
1/2tsp mixed spice or nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the icing
175g full-fat soft cheese
100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
A few drops of vanilla bean paste
Pecan halves to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm deep round cake tin, or a smaller, taller round cake tin (which I like to do).
2. Beat the sugar and the eggs until pale and creamy with an electric whisk, then add in the sunflower oil and vanilla extract and beat again until incorporated.
3. Add the orange zest, mashed banana and grated carrots, then the nuts and sultanas. Mix again (with a spoon this time).
4. Measure the flour, baking power, pinch of salt and spices into a separate bowl and combine before tipping the dry ingredients into carrot/banana mixture and mixing until entirely combined.
5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, mix again and then pour into the cake tin ready for baking.
6. Level the surface and bake in the oven for 50-60mins or a little longer if required until the cake is well risen. Insert a wooden skewer to test if it's ready; if it comes out clean you know it's good to go. If it's still wet inside, leave it longer in the oven. You can place silver foil on top of the cake to prevent the top from burning at all.
7. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
8. To make the icing, whisk the butter until soft, creamy and the consistency of the cream cheese.
9. Add your cream cheese and vanilla extract then whisk again to incorporate all the wet ingredients.
10. Add in the icing sugar and combine once more until you have a smooth but firm and pliable icing for your cake.
N.B. You don't want your icing to be too runny so if it is, add a little more icing sugar. You also don't want it too sweet so I like to test-taste mine as I go.
11. Place the icing in the fridge. Slice the cake in half horizontally and leave the two parts to cool completely (overnight is best) before topping the bottom half with icing and then icing the remainder of the cake, top and sides.
12. Decorate with your pecan halves and then serve up with tea!