New Year, New Carrot Cake

January 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

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A happy new year to you all. I hope you are feeling rejuvenated and inspired by the potential that the new starts and clean slates of a clock ringing midnight can bring. We slept through the chimes this year, catching up on too many other nights of seeing the early hours of the morning that look more like milky pjs than high heels and sparkles. We were, at least, away from home, up in the Tahoe Sierras, surrounded by friends and snow-topped fir trees, observing the effects of altitude on a 3 month old’s nap schedule (not good) and his hormonal mama’s reaction thereto (worse). Thankfully not much can remain unforgiven when you see a perfect snowflake land on a bemused eyelash, while its owner attempts to catch more on his little tongue.

I made resolutions optimistically, as though life was still Before Henry: sort out the kitchen so I have space and light to take photos more easily; find a way to write more than once every three months; start getting dressed in the morning with more thought than the nearest pair of skinny jeans; cook again in a fashion about more than last minute survival. And there are days, like now, where these seem like completely reasonable goals for a human being, even a mother, and so here I sit typing with a napping baby strapped to my chest and feeling like there may again be cake. Tomorrow – who knows. I’m getting used to that, slowly.

And so to the cake. For the last 14 weeks I have eaten next to no dairy. Yep, that does mean no butter (or milk, or cheese, but really it’s all about the butter if you’re a baker). There’s enough of a link between dairy and colic in babies that I decided to cut it out from the start, terrified by the horror stories from both sets of grandparents about how nightmarish Ollie and I both were as colicky infants. And then Henry’s worst meltdown ever came right after I unthinkingly ate a Tartine croissant, which doesn’t just contain a bit of butter, and when you’re rocking a normally cheery but now inconsolably sobbing little man over and over and over, coconut vegan ice-cream and cashew nut “cheese”cake seem like completely reasonable ways to eat for the return of that cheeky smile.

I’m working on figuring out a few tricks to baking a good butter-free cake, that don’t involve the use of ingredients that belong in a chemistry class (eg xanthan gum – anything beginning with the letter x does not belong in my baking). Recipes involving fruit or veg, like carrot or zucchini loaves, often utilize vegetable oil instead of butter, giving a dense yet moist texture as opposed to the finer crumb of a butter batter, so they are my fallback recipes for the time being. I also discovered a pear and cranberry bundt cake in the last ever issue of Gourmet magazine that without icing also fulfills the dairy-free criteria: it got rave reviews both from the Thanksgiving crowd and my moms’ group, which I feel denotes sufficient versatility to mention. But, since this is January, and we’re at least pretending to be all about antioxidants and vitamins and health, let’s go back to the carrots.

While there’s certainly a time and a place for a carrot cake that is slathered in tooth-aching frosting, it isn’t really the first month of the year. How about the radical idea of a carrot cake that tastes of carrots? That’s pretty much what this simple recipe turns out. It’s somehow a treat yet wholesome all at once. Start out with good, organic carrots and take the time to grate them finely, so they find their way into every crevice of the loaf. Even if you’re dubious about dried fruits, give this a go with the raisins included first as their sweet chewiness really does complement the carrot. And if you want to take a piece of three day old cake, gently toast and slather it with butter for breakfast, I won’t tell the resolution police.

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Carroty carrot cake
Adapted from Galit Babo for Bon Appetit

125g eggs (2 large eggs for me – you can weigh your first egg and then decide if two or three of the size you have are necessary)
225g sugar
110g oil (neutral flavored like canola, vegetable or sunflower)
140g plain/all purpose flour
5g baking powder
6g cinnamon
60g raisins
60g desiccated unsweetened coconut
A few chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
160g carrots

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350° degrees F.

Grate the carrots using the finer side of a box grater. Set to one side.

Beat together the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk, stand mixer or wooden spoon, until pale and well combined. Keep the mixer running on slow and very gradually beat in the oil. If you are using a wooden spoon add a small amount at a time and beat well between each addition. Turn the mixer to its lowest speed and add the flour, baking powder, coconut and cinnamon, stirring until just combined.

Put the raisins and chopped nuts in a small bowl and mix with a small amount of flour to help prevent them from sinking in the batter. Fold them into the batter and then fold in the carrots.

Pour the mixture into a loaf pan (I used a 9×5 inch) and bake for around 60 minutes. Start checking the loaf around 50 minutes – it is ready when a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs sticking. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes then turn onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Serve at room temperature. The cake will keep, well wrapped, for about 3 days, or you can freeze it for up to 2 months.

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