Carrot cake probably originates in Europe in the Middle Ages (5th–15th Centuries) when sugar was ruinously expensive. At the time, carrots grew plentifully on the meagre plots of land tended by the poor and much loved by geography teachers banging on about crop rotation. As such, carrots were a cheap source of sweet flavour. Carrots found their way into a variety of pudding preparations in lieu of sugar.
Much later, in the 1800s, carrot cake as we know it was written down by Antoine Beauvillier in his 1814 cook cook L’art du Cuisinier. Beauvilliers was chef to none other than the ill-fated King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. After his tenure with the King, Beauvilliers opened the fabulously opulent restaurant La Grande Taverne de Londres in Paris.
The restaurant, on Rue de Richelieu, is thought by some to be the oldest restaurant in the World. It appeared at a time when private chefs were being made redundant in their droves due to the beheading of their wealthy employers, thereby creating the restaurant industry as we know it.
Unfortunately, the local political right wing used La Grande Taverne as a favoured rendezvous, and Beauvilliers aligned himself with their views. With conservatism decidedly uncool at the time, the chef was forced to close restaurant in 1795 and leg it to the countryside to avoid persecution. He later returned to Paris with another vision of grand, aristocratic dining, but tastes had moved on, and the venture failed. His carrot cake, however, lived on in perpetuity.
The recipe we have given here is based on one offered by the Dr Oetker baking products company, and adapted to our kitchen. I toast the nuts, and substitute the flavourings a little.
- For the cakes:
- 175g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp orange extract
- 175g light brown sugar
- 50g pecan nuts, lightly toasted in a frying pan and chopped
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 150ml sunflower oil
- 175g carrots, finely grated
- For the frosting:
- 115g butter, softened slightly
- 375g icing sugar
- 250g cream cheese
- Dash of orange extract
To make the cakes:
Preheat an oven to 180°C (160°C fan) oven/gas. Grease and line two 18cm cake tins (for larger tines, increase the recipe quantities proportionately).
Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of sofa into a the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and pecan nuts. Add the eggs, oil and orange extract, and then run the mixer to create a smooth cake batter. Stir in the carrots.
Step 3: Divide the mixture equally between the cake tins, smooth the tops. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until firm to the touch, lightly golden and risen. Cool for 10 minutes in the tins then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting:
Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
Transfer one of the cakes to a serving plate and carefully remove the top with a bread knife to create a flat surface. Spread over with frosting. Add the second cake, spread over with more frosting and make a pattern with the tines of a fork. Decorate with additional pecan nuts or walnuts.