Honey-soaked carrot cake

moist_carrot_cakeWatching an episode of River Cottage on TV the other day, I was momentarily transported by Hugh and his crew into the romantic rural idyll that is their world.  A place where bread is always freshly baked, beautiful ripe fruit drips from the trees, butter is churned before the cow can even bat an eyelid, and spring lambs and rosie-cheeked children skip side-by-side across verdant pastures . . .  A little far-fetched perhaps, but I think you get my drift. It’s a pretty far cry from the scraggy bush of rosemary cowering between two giant weeds that constitutes my little London garden anyway.

That’s not to say a girl can’t dream. Or indeed cook her way through a whole array of culinary highlights by way of some gorgeous recipe books (and let’s be honest, it’s mostly the food I’m after; stick me in a pair of muddy wellies in deepest Devon and I’d probably be howling for the bright lights and my local Waitrose after a shamefully short period of time). I’ve already sung the praises of The River Cottage Bread Handbook in a previous post, and River Cottage Every Day, a more recent purchase, is even better, packed with beautiful photos and gorgeous, simple recipes that really work first time.

healthy_carrot_cakeThis carrot cake is one of those recipes. We went to a leaving party this weekend for a friend who’s jetting off to a new job abroad and I wanted to bake a surprise cake to mark the occasion. After a bit of devious digging I discovered that carrot cake was the thing that would really hit the spot.

There’s a lot of hype around vegetables in cakes at the moment from the likes of low-fat champion Harry Eastwood (I’m yet to try one of her Petit Pois cupcakes but they look intriguing); the replacement of butter with nutritious vegetables adds moisture and reduces fat meaning you really can have your cake and eat it. However while our constant need to innovate means that courgette, beetroot and pumpkin have briefly replaced the humble carrot at the top of the pile, this recipe reminds you that the original sometimes is still simply the best.

frosted_carrot_cakeThe recipe below will serve at least twelve comfortably, more if you do as I did and stuff and smother it with a rich cream cheese frosting (totally unnecessary as Hugh points out but utterly indulgent and delicious). It’s light on spice so you could throw in a little cinammon if you like. I think it would also be wonderful with a handful of walnuts thrown in, or some syrupy sultanas if you’re feeling fruity.

Honey-soaked carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (from River Cottage Every Day)

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium free range
  • 150g caster sugar (use golden for a slightly caramel flavour)
  • 150ml each rapeseed and sunflower oil (I used a mixture of ground nut and sunflower which worked perfectly)
  • 350g carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 300g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g runny honey

Cream cheese frosting:

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sieved
  • 250g cream cheese
  • Finely grated zest of 2 limes

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 23cm cake pan.

Put the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a hand held electric mixture for about 10 minutes, until pale, foamy and slightly thickened. Yes, your hand will feel like it’s going to fall off with all the vibrations, but the mixture does need this time to get nice and aerated. Add the oil and beat for a couple of minutes more.

Sift together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture. Tip any bran left in the sieve into the mixture too. Fold in gently. Finally, fold in the grated carrot. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Put the honey in a saucepan over a low heat and heat gently until the honey is liquid. Pierce the hot cake all over with a skewer then slowly pour on the hot honey so it soaks into the cake. Leave in the tin to cool completely before turning out.

As Hugh says in the book, this cake is completely lovely as it is – soft, syrupy and incredibly moist. However for all carrot cake traditionalists out there, smothering it in a tart cream cheese frosting is the ultimate indulgence. Simply sling the soft butter and icing sugar into a magimix and whizz til smooth and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and lime zest and whizz again until smooth. Once cold, slice the cake in half, stuff it with icing then sandwich the two halves together and smother with the remaining frosting. De-lish.

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Royal Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese frosting

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Rich red velvet cake for a Royal Wedding

Yes I know, I’m a little bit late. The Royal Wedding happened yesterday, it’s old news, and anyone with a vested interest in making wedding themed goods will have already found, baked and eaten the recipe of their choice by the time this goes live. But I was just having too much fun gawping at the TV, gossiping about the dress, gobbling party food and sipping champagne to even consider posting this yesterday. However, since I felt this strange patriotic need to bake something delicious (and a little bit silly) to mark the occasion of Kate and Will’s happy day, I thought I mightas well share it here. Better late than never (as Prince Charles might be heard to comment on acceding to the throne).

I recently bought The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days, a collection of sinfully sickly all-American cakes and treats that puts a smile on your face and an inch on your hips just by looking at the pictures. I’ve never made Red Velvet cake before, and thought it sounded appropriately rich and royal, with the pale cream cheese frosting a perfect canvas to decorate. The recipe suggests individual cupcakes, but I wanted to make something larger so adjusted the ingredients accordingly. I think my calculations were slightly too casual as the resulting cakes were a little denser than I’d have liked, so I’ve provided the original cupcake quantities below. This recipe will make 12 large individual cupcakes, or, if doubled will fill three 20cm cake pans. Anything in between and I’m afraid you’ll have to make like me and fall back on that ancient maths GCSE . . .

The Red Velvet recipe produces a moist, tender crumb, creamy from the addition of buttermilk, with a mild chocolate flavour. I’m not quite sure where the idea for red colouring comes from, but it’s nothing more exotic than a heavy dose of red food dye (I think I’d imagined beetroot, raspberry or some other exciting ingredient). You may notice from my snaps that my cake is a little on the brown side – more Queen Mum than Kate Middleton – and this is because I took a more organic, hippy approach and tried to use natural food dyes. Don’t. It may contain a few undesirable E-numbers, but in amongst the lashings of butter, sugar and chocolate, a little bit of red food dye isn’t going to hurt you, and it is 100% necessary to produce the trademark scarlet crumb you’ll see in the Hummingbird book.

In the spirit of all things British I decorated my cake with a Union Jack, piping extra frosting over a layer already so thick you could leave giant teeth-marks in it. I finished it off with little edible sugar flowers and silver balls, and served with big juicy strawberries. Kate and Will’s wedding cake looked delicious, but if you’re looking for something a little more simple and silly, this is the recipe for you.

Royal Red Velvet Cake (from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days)

For the sponge:

120g unsalted butter, softened
300g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs
20g cocoa powder
40ml red food colouring
1 tsp vanilla essence
300g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp salt
240ml buttermilk
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the frosting:

100g unsalted butter, softened
600g icing sugar
250g full fat cream cheese

One 12-hole deep muffin tin, or three 20cm cake pans if you double quantities to make a three-layer cake.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.  Line your muffin tin with cases or grease and line the cake pans.

Using a hand held electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar til pale and fluffy. Break in the eggs one at a time and continue to whisk to a smooth, light mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa, vanilla essence and food colouring until they form a paste. Mix into the cake batter until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk to create a smooth consistency. Add the salt, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and mix to a smooth batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cases or cake pans, approx. 2/3 full, then bake in the oven for 18-20 mins or until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, put the butter and icing sugar in a blender and process to a smooth crumb. Add the cream cheese and blend til smooth, then fill an icing bag and pipe over the cupcakes, or use to layer and cover your single giant cake. Pop in the fridge for an hour or so to set then finish with decorations of your choice.

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Banana, chocolate & walnut loaf

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Sticky, moist banana loaf

Over the last few days I’ve seen quite a few blog posts cropping up with recipes recommending what to do with leftover Easter chocolate. Rocky road, tiffin, brownies, rice crispy cakes, chocolate cake, chocolate sauce and more; these are all suitably worthy resting places for those sad little eggs and shells that didn’t quite make it into the Easter morning binge. But to be honest, I’ve never really had this issue of ‘egg-cess’ (sorry), having subscribed to more of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to anything sweet from a young age. Consuming my own body weight in chocolate before Easter breakfast has now become pretty much standard practice.

Having said that, yesterday a little bit of Easter egg chocolate did manage to sneak its way into the mixing bowl as I was making my favourite banana loaf recipe. I’d returned home after Easter to a pile of soft, slightly blackened bananas and needed a recipe to salvage them pretty quickly, This sticky, moist banana loaf was the perfect answer- in fact, it simply doesn’t taste the same if the bananas you use aren’t blackened, squidgy and sickly sweet. And the addition of a few nuggets of deliciously dark chocolate prevents the richness of the banana from becoming overpowering.

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Banana, chocolate & walnut – the perfect combination

I mentioned a few weeks ago my discovery of a delicious banana, chocolate and walnut loaf recipe on Gourmet Traveller ‘s blog. I’ve made it a few times since, tweaking the ingredients here and there, and the result is always spot on – dense, moist and nutty inside, crusty and golden on the top, with a richly intense banana flavour and little hits of chocolate. This loaf is delicious as a dessert with natural Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, the perfect tea-time snack served straight up, or an incredible indulgence toasted and smothered in butter. It’s really more of a cake than a loaf though, so arteries take heed if you do decide to go for this final option.

Banana, Chocolate and Walnut Loaf
(adapted from a Gourmet Traveller recipe)

4 large ripe bananas
100g unsalted butter, slightly soft
140g soft brown sugar
2 large free range eggs
50g walnuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), chopped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
140g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Peel and roughly mash the bananas with a fork. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Crack in the eggs and whisk further to combine, then stir in the mashed banana, walnuts, chocolate and milk. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients – the banana means there may be a few lumps.

Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and gently fold into the wet mixture until just combined. The key here is to work carefully to preserve the lightness of the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour – you’ll know it’s done when a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. If it’s still wet with batter, pop your loaf back in the oven for another 15 minutes, covering with foil if the top is browning too much. When cooked, remove from oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes before transferring the loaf out onto a wire ack to cool completely.