carrot cake is far from exciting, i know. there are recipes for it everywhere, and they’re all much the same: take a mildly spiced cake, mix in some shredded carrots for moisture and sweetness, and top it all off with lashings of cream cheese icing. it’s a classic, so there really isn’t any need to reinvent it, is there?
the recipe i tend to use for carrot cake comes from the rebar cookbook (i’ve shared another one of their recipes here). rebar’s ‘coconut carrot cake’ is most excellent as is, though it does stray somewhat from your typical carrot cake recipe by including crushed pineapple and coconut in the cake, and white chocolate in the icing. sometimes, however, one needs a bit of a change from routine. well, that, and i didn’t have any pineapple, and i didn’t want the super-sweet white chocolate icing. so, i improvised. i subbed in an extra dose of carrots to replace the pineapple, and mixed in some cardamom for a bit of a twist. and. it. worked. the cake is just as moist and light as the original, but with a subtle warmth and exotic spice from the cardamom, which makes it feel as if it hails more from the middle east rather than the tropics.
i decided to extend the semi-exotic flavours to the icing by mixing in some fresh orange juice and orange flower water (finally, a use for the little bottle that has been languishing in my pantry for years!). i also cut the icing sugar by almost two-thirds, so i could taste the tang of the cream cheese and the orange without being smothered with sugary sweetness. this made for a much lighter frosting, which i think i like even better than the original.
sometimes a little forced variation is a good thing.
what do you think about altering classic recipes? is it best to leave tried-and-true recipes alone? does it seem pretentious to substitute new flavours and techniques?
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cardamom carrot cake (adapted from ‘rebar, modern food cookbook’ by audrey alsterberg and wanda urbanowicz)
2 1/2 cups grated carrots (peeled first, of course)
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins (i’m not sure if i like this addition or not, though sultanas would work well with the theme – they’re totally optional)
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut (i did include this but would consider it optional as well)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cardamom (or freshly grated)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (or freshly grated)
9 oz package philadelphia cream cheese (yep, i do think this is one application where phily is waaay superior – the no-name stuff tastes chalky)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp orange flower water (to taste)
1 tbsp fresh orange juice (to taste)
1/2 – 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
pre-heat oven to 350°. butter and flour (or line) two 8″ sandwich tins.
•combine grated carrot with any of the additions you’re using and set aside. in your mixing bowl, beat the sugars with the eggs, then stir in the vanilla and whip on high-speed until the volume has tripled. on low-speed, pour in the oil slowly to blend in.
•combine the remaining dry ingredients and gently stir into the batter. fold in the carrot mixture. divide batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops. bake 30-35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. cool in pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then invert pans to release the cakes and cool completely.
•to make the icing, beat the cream cheese on high until smooth and fluffy. beat in the vanilla and butter along with the orange flower water and orange juice. blend in 1/2 cup icing sugar, adding more if needed for the consistency you desire. adjust the orange flavourings if needed, and beat the icing until it is thoroughly combined.
•when cakes are cool, place one cake on serving plate and spread with no more than half of the icing. top with the second cake and frost with remaining icing. i find this cake keeps well, at room temperature or in the fridge, for days.
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