Today has been such a gorgeous day I dashed out on the bike before lunch and did a quick 25 mile circuit to enjoy the warm air swirling round my legs, the lovely skylarks singing their hearts out and beautiful shy hares snuffing the air. I live in a rural area which is made up of heath, forest and fields which tend to be either arable, pigs or sheep and so when I go cycling I can often pick up bits and pieces that have tumbled off the top of a heavily laden lorry carrying produce from the fields. The most frequent finds are carrots and parsnips although recently I’ve been nabbing the occasional onion. As long as you use the veg fairly quickly, bearing in mind that it’s taken quite a tumble to end up in the road verge, there’s nothing wrong with this veg and although it doesn’t go entirely to waste as local wildlife is generally happy to help tidy up – it’s always nice to get a few free carrots! The carrots I’ve used today are actually from another budget source – stock feed. If you’re prepared to buy your carrots in bulk you can buy stock-feed carrots which are, unsurprisingly, intended for feeding animals for various absurd cosmetic reasons – animals aren’t fussy if their carrots are different sizes and shapes, or have a few splits in them. Luckily, I’m not fussy either so I buy a sack of carrots for a few quid, and feed myself and my rabbits on them through the winter. I don’t think I need to really sell the joys of carrots to you, but on the off-chance that you’re not sold on them can I suggest that you make some lentil soup with them, put them into your cauliflower cheese (really!), grate them up and eat them with some shredded red cabbage as a basic salad to go with some houmus, pitta and falafel or you could make some carrot cake, the most decadent of all carrot-y cookery.
I have a multitude of carrot cake recipes ranging from simple through to the recipe as used at the Dorchester which is suitably elaborate, decadent and all-round divinely refined. The recipe I used today was a very simple chuck-it-all-in kind of recipe, which on a Sunday afternoon, when the sun is out suits me just fine! It’s just as nice as the fancy-pants Dorchester recipe but in a way far better suited to lunch boxes and picnic baskets which to be frank is more in line with the way I tend to eat anyway. Carrot’s natural partner in crime is orange which as I mentioned in my recipe for Rhubarb and Orange cake (another great recipe to try this time of year!) is also MY partner in crime when cooking and I tend to wield the zester with intent when at all possible. Both the recipes in this post contain orange for which I would apologise except that I just love love it so much that I can’t bring myself to.
Anyway, lets start with a easy little recipe for a carrot-slaw which you can adapt as and where you like. Grate up however many carrots you’re interested in slaw-ing, chuck them in a bowl and add to them some orange zest. The quantity is obviously dependent on carrot quantity but I used around 3 carrots, and about half a teaspoon of zest, it does go quite a long way but if you like things more orange-y, you know what to do! Then add a handful of raisins and dressing made of equal parts olive oil to cider vinegar. The slaw is now ready to go however I’m currently really excited about Coriander Seeds which have a delicious orange flavour and so I threw some seeds into a dry frying pan on a low heat to gently toast them and intensify the flavour and then ground them in my pestle and mortar and sprinkled them onto my carrot-y concoction. It’s certainly worth the little extra effort if you have some Coriander seeds. And below, a lovely photo of how mine looked before I took it to work with me.
If you prefer a “normal” slaw you can shred in some cabbage – spring greens are now ready and lovely and sweet and flavoursome – and some onion, maybe even some spring onions, and then toss it all in some mayonnaise with a little salt and black pepper.
And now to the main event, once you’ve earned valuable health-points eating raw carrot slaw, you’re sufficiently wholesome to enjoy a square of carrot cake. I’ve topped this one with a basic orange juice/icing sugar icing as it was intended as a “cheer everyone up” cake for my Mother’s staffroom during their recent OFSTED inspection so I wanted the cake to be easy to grab and eat on the go without getting stick fingers. However you can make a more traditional, and extravagent, frosting with a tub of cream cheese, some orange zest and some icing sugar – beat it all up, spread it on…. done!
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself first you’ll need a cake so without further ado aray on your worktop the following items -
175g/6oz dark muscovado sugar/dark soft brown sugar
175ml/6fl oz sunflower oil
3 large eggs, beaten
140g/5oz grated carrot (around 3 carrots)
100g/4oz raisins (optional, I don’t always fancy having them in)
grated zeste of 1 orange (scrub the orange first to get off the nasty waxy stuff they put on them)
175g/6oz Self-raising flour. (if you don’t have any, use plain white flour and add to it a teaspoon of baking powder)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat your oven to 180 C/Gas 4/fan oven 160 C and find yourself a 18cm/7inch square tin, line it with baking parchment.
I used one that was a bit larger than this and ended up with a rectangular cake that was shallower and took less time to cook, so don’t worry if you don’t have the exact right size pan, just take it into consideration when you set your oven timer.
So, first mix your sugar, oil and beaten eggs together and then add the carrots, raisins if you’re using them and orange zest.
Next add your dry ingredients – flour, bicarb., spices and gently stir them in.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in your preheated oven for 40(ish) minutes. Keep an eye, and a nose, on proceedings and if it looks right, feels firm in the centre and smells great before your time is up it’s probably done, so take it out!
If you want to ice with drizzled zig-zags like I did, get 113 g/4oz of icing sugar, sift it into a bowl and then add orange juice a table spoon at a time, stirring it and checking the consistency. You want it a bit runny but not liquid, then use a fork to dribble the icing across the top of the cake. If you want cream cheese frosting use the suggestions above.
I love this recipe because it really is as easy as… cake…!
Carrot cake recipe adapted from Good Food Mag. 101 Cakes and Bakes