Lovin’ Fresh is a series of recipes
designed to showcase produce gathered
from local farms or grown in my own garden.
I tip my hat to the plate in the picture below – without it I likely wouldn’t have made cake with sweet little Purple Haze and Kinko carrots, making the best carrot cake ever thanks to the intense natural flavors of the farm fresh carrots grated right before I tossed them in the batter. I give the plate credit because looking at it sitting empty on my counter made me think of cake. With young carrots being one of the early birds to show up in the farmers market in spring, carrot cake makes a perfect seasonal dessert that a clever eater can justify as getting his or her daily dose of vitamin C.
Carrot cake’s nothing new or exciting for me, but I’ve usually “cheated” in the past by using the bagged shredded carrots from the supermarket since I’m a little lazy and usually pressed for time. I’ll not make that mistake again. If you haven’t tried getting local carrots to put in your cake, you’d be well advised to do so. The other key, of course, is the freshness of your spices. People, if you’re aren’t grating your own nutmeg by now, get yourself a microplane and see what you’re missing!
Let’s talk about the dried fruit and nut component of the traditional carrot cake recipe, shall we? The nuts, in my opinion, are easy. Skip them. This sentiment is just a personal preference. Please feel free to beg to differ, but that’s my two cents for what it’s worth. As for the dried fruit, most carrot cake recipes call for raisins. I’ve found that adding a more diverse selection of dried fruit makes for a richer mix of flavors – sweet raisins, tangy cranberries, tart cherries, and floral blueberries. Always give the dried fruit a quick soak in hot water while you mix up the rest of the ingredients before draining and adding to the batter. This soak plumps them up a bit and resorts some of their juicy flavors.
On a final note, I should warn you that this cake is prone to cause household fighting by times. D. and I both wanted the last piece and it wasn’t pretty…he got it in the end. Lucky for me, carrots are a root vegetable that’ll be around for several weeks in the spring and then again in the fall (not to mention they keep for awhile too), so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to make more of this extraordinary carrot cake.
EXTRAORDINARY CARROT CAKE
Adapted from The Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook
1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground allspice
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 C. pear sauce (or apple sauce)
1 1/2 C. sugar
3 C. grated carrots
3/4 C. mixed dried fruit (mine were raisins, cranberries,and blueberries)
1 C. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 T. hot water
Cream Cheese Icing
6 oz. cream cheese
3 T. butter
1 t. vanilla extract
1 C. confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a bundt pan with a good coat of nonstick baking spray. Set out the ingredients for the icing so they come to room temperature.
Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, pear sauce and sugar until everything is well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix! Add the carrots, dried fruit and pecans (if using). Finally add the hot water.
Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake on the center oven rack for 45 minutes. Test with a skewer inserted into the center to see if it comes out clean. When the skewer is clean, remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cake is cooling, make the icing by beating together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla and beat again. Add half the confectioners’ sugar and stir slowly to start and then beat well to get rid of lumps. Taste the icing to determine if it’s sweet enough for you. If not, add more sugar until you’ve reached your desired sweetness.
When cake is completely cooled, remove from bundt pan and put on a nice plate. Spread icing over top and sides. Garnish with a very light dusting of cinnamon and a few chopped nuts if desired.
(serves 12 – or two if you’re at my house)