Adventures in Carrot Cake LandPosted: January 26, 2012
I tasked myself with making a carrot cake for my sister’s birthday. I’d never made one before so off I went to do my research on the good old internet!
I eventually settled on this one by Rachel Allen from the UK TV Good Food site. I occasionally watched her show on their satellite channel and liked the way she cooked – she also runs a baking school which they show parts of in one of her programmes.
If you’ve browsed around my ‘About’ page you’ll see we’re ‘Primal’ with our eating habits. This means the ingredient list raised my virtual eyebrow so I immediately started ‘tweaking’ it in my head – a big ‘no-no’ in the cookery world really, but I wanted to try get a balance between it being a great birthday cake and not having all that wheat flour and sugar in there. (I don’t use refined sugar by the way – I always use unrefined / raw cane sugars – they’re just not ‘played around with’ as much – for example, any colour they have is their own…it’s not added!)
TEST CAKE 1
So off I went to make my first test cake replacing a third of the flour with ground almonds, adding a 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder to compensate, and reducing the sugar in the cake by a third.
For the topping, I used marscapone instead of cream cheese (I wanted to see what it was like) but I didn’t beat the two together enough before adding the icing sugar so the texture was a bit odd – tiny little bobbles of butter still in there even though the butter was at room temperature. I also managed to find a natural golden unrefined icing sugar made by Billingtons – they do all the different sugars as unrefined ones. (There’s just something too false about the titanium white quality of the refined one! This one added a lovely golden tint to the colour of the topping) To see if I could reduce what appeared to be a SERIOUS amount of sugar, I added this bit by bit and stopped at 100g ../you’ll notice the recipe says 275g! It was more that sweet enough and the texture was perfect – not runny at all as you can see!
Now for the important bit – the slicing and the tasting!
The resulting cake was absolutely fine – no heaviness and not overly dense, and still more than sweet enough.
The topping was also great but still a little sickly – not from the creamy based part, from all that sugar, albeit a vastly reduced amount!
TEST CAKE 2
Again, wearing my Primal hat I decided to go with replacing all the wheat flour with a 50/50 split of chestnut flour and ground almonds, upping the baking powder to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons.
Whilst the orange zest in the topping was good, I wanted to try it just with the vanilla, and went for two thirds cream cheese and one third marscapone. I kept the icing sugar at 100g as I didn’t know if the orange had added to the overall sweetness, plus I wasn’t sure if the cream cheese would have a souring effect, needing the quantity of sugar to balance it out.
Here’s Test 2!
The cake rose a little less than the first one – note to self to increase the baking powder to two teaspoons, and was obviously denser in texture due to all those nut flours! I used the word ‘denser’ deliberately – it wasn’t ‘heavier’ in that way that Yorkshire Puddings are when they don’t rise, or suet dumplings are when they don’t fluff up – it was much more comforting…rewarding even!
It crumbled a little when cut (apologies…I didn’t take a photo of it), again though, completely understandable as there’s absolutely no gluten in there to ‘bind’ all the bits together – but I wouldn’t add anything like xanthan gum as it was just part of the cake’s overall ‘personality’.
As for the topping, it tasted like a really scrummy cheesecake topping! I think the cake needs the orange in there to bring the two together though – it almost felt like they were two different desserts in one. It was still overly sweet even with the cream cheese.
Overall, another successful test!
THE BIRTHDAY CAKE
When I made the birthday cake I decided to use Test 1’s tweaks. I wanted to get the balance between making a great looking cake and making sure Birthday Girl got her sweet cakey goodness birthday treat 🙂 Again, no photo (doh! It did look remarkably like Test 1 though 🙂 ) but it went down a storm! An interesting observation from Birthday Girl was that the topping could probably stand having NO sugar in it!
Would I make it again? Absolutely!
Which one would I make? The wheat flour-free version!
Would I tweak the cake recipe any more? Yes – reduce the sugar to 60g – maybe even replace it completely with maple syrup, and add a little more of the flours to compensate for the wetness – maybe even remove it completely – those carrots are very sweet! I may also give it a try with coconut flour as one of the dry ingredients. I can see I’ll have to ‘play’ further… 🙂
What would I do about the topping? I would happily have this cake without any topping – it’s stands on it’s own two feet flavour-wise. If I did want a topping for it, I’d try it ‘sugar-free’.
Overall, a great cake to make! (Thanks Rachel – sorry about all the ‘fiddling’ 🙂 )
I was horrified by the amount of sugar in this recipe – it’s not alone of I hasten to add! I can’t imagine how sweet that topping would have been with almost THREE TIMES the amount of icing sugar in it, and as for the cake – a THIRD MORE sugar in there as well…
Both here and in the US, where High Fructose Corn Syrup is added to so many things (on top of sugar and / or other sweeteners for that ‘added punch’), there seems to be a disturbing excessiveness to just how much sweetener – artificial or natural – is being put in our food. Not just ‘sweet things’ – desserts, candies, preserves, breakfast cereals et cetera – but in savoury items – anything from pasta sauces to stock cubes. (And while I have your attention, trust me, a home-made tomato sauce doesn’t REALLY need you to add sugar to it… 🙂 )
What will the manufacturers do when HFCS isn’t sweet enough any more? What’s the next sweetness-booster that will magically be created? I honestly dread to think.
So, in the meantime, on those occasions I actually need to use sugar in my cooking, I’ll stick with my unrefined cane sugar thanks, and if I can ‘substitute’, I’ll reach for the honey or the maple syrup. Better yet, I’ll keep asking myself ‘do I REALLY need to put that much in?’ It might be a good question for all of us to ask ourselves…
All bloggers appreciate comments – good or bad – so please feel free to make a comment in the ‘Reply’ box below!