This classic has been around the block a few times and has had more style changes than Madonna! However, we've all had a love affair with this sweet and warmly spiced treat at some point and if you were very unlucky, then you've had a bad one! Some recipes call for the very basics when listing the ingredients, whilst some will encourage the use of pineapple and or banana to increase the tang and moisture content. I can't say I'm a fan, but I insist that people do whatever works for them in their kitchen.
My ingredients work for me and I've not had a complaint yet, but this has taken about 10 years to get right and I'm sure I will trial another variation in the future! I wanted to run through a couple of items in the ingredients list and explain why I use them.
Cornflour. If you've ever read an American recipe that calls for cake flour, this is how I make it. Cake flour is slightly lighter than regular plain flour and can be achieved by removing a tablespoon of your weighed flour and replacing it with a tablespoon of cornflour. The resulting texture is lighter, however this is not a deal breaker for me and can be avoided if you don't want to buy cornflour for this reason alone!
Cardamom. This has got to be one of those spices that strikes fear into the hearts of any baker or cook! Too little and you can't taste it, too much and everything tastes of plug-in air freshener! I chose this spice because it is so beautifully aromatic and compliments the orange in the frosting so well! You can buy ready ground cardamom, but if you have the patience to shell whole pods and grind the seeds then it is worth it.
Sultanas and nuts. These added extras are my choice and do not reflect everyone else's tastes (or allergies). Other dried fruits you could try are raisins, dates or apricots, but they can of course be left out. The same rule applies to nuts; if you don't like or can't eat them, then leave them out. However, if you do decide to add them, then you can always decorate the top with some whole nuts to compliment the flavours and let potential cake thieves know what's inside.
Full fat cream cheese. Please do not use flavoured or reduced fat cream cheeses for this recipe. It's a bit too late in the day to start thinking of calories when it comes to this cake, also reduced fat means the cheese has less stability and the frosting melts at room temperature.
Those are some of my carrot cake musings, but if you take any of my pieces of advice then it would be to experiment with what you like and make it your own.
For the cake:
250g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
Generous grating of fresh nutmeg
200g light brown sugar
200g dark brown sugar
300g grated carrots
300ml vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
100g chopped pecans or walnuts
For the cream cheese frosting:
250g full fat cream cheese – fridge cold
150g unsalted butter – room temperature
200g icing sugar
Grated zest of 1-2 oranges
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grease and line two 8” round cake tins and preheat your oven to 175°c/gas mark 4/350°f
In a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt and spices. Add both the sugars and combine everything with a spoon or whisk.
In a separate bowl combine your carrots, vanilla extract, oil & eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients in two parts and mix together thoroughly, ensuring there are no pockets of flour left. Finally, stir through the sultanas and nuts and split the mixture between the two tins.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the sponges are nicely browned and bounce back when poked!
Cool the sponges in their tins for 5-10 minutes then turn them out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, cream the butter and icing sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla, orange zest & cream cheese and beat together. Refrigerate until needed.
Once the cakes have cooled completely, add the frosting however you like. I have covered the cakes in my pictures, but you can just layer the two cakes with the frosting and enjoy.