I totally lied. Last week I said that the first thing I was going to make in our new, shining oven/cooker was going to be Danne’s Ultimate Raspberry and Apple Crumble.
Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t, because it turns out that after 32 odd years, I don’t know my Dad at all. It was his birthday last week. So we gathered the clan for dinner and a site meeting about ‘what in the heck will we do with the rest of this kitchen’ (it pays to have a builder, an architect and an electrician in the fold). There were three under five at the table. The rest included three strapping men with hearty appetites, a pregnant vegetarian and a gluten intolerant. I asked Dad what he wanted for dessert. I was prepped for crumble. I half suspected the reply to call out one of his nostalgic favourite puddings from old Blighty; bread and butter pudding or sticky date. And yet, the text message came back with ‘carrot cake’.
I was briefly stumped.
Carrot cake? Really? Ok then. Dessert is sorted.
I had a vague hope that the rest of this post might have been like those I used to write; a ‘dispatches from a Friday dinner party’. They were relics from a time when there was time and elegant afternoon light on my side, where I’d potter away in the kitchen recipe testing, accompanied by podcasts preparing feasts for friends, like this one, or this one.
The day had other plans for me. There were teething small people to unravel from my shin, copies of Frozen to source to distract others, plans for the kitchen to print out, a house to tidy, spare bedroom to make up for overnight guests, and high res photographs of me and Will cavorting on the beach for press for the new book to source.
I needed a meal for 10 that could be prepped in easy snatches. So two lamb shoulders went in the oven at 8 am, where they had a quick 30 minute blast at 220C while we ate breakfast then luxuriated away under a tent of foil at 100C over a trivet of fennel and onion all day (though I find it useful to drain off some of the fat mid afternoon – though, learn from my mistakes- this may look like liquid, but do not pour it down the sink. It needs to be cooled and then disposed of in the garbage. Though if it does find its way down a sink and the pipes then clog, just pour in boiling water. It will melt the blockage). By the end of the day the meat was lolling off the bone into easy threads. It was topped with quick-pickled red onion, parsley, walnuts and feta on a family style platter. For a starch substitute there was a cauliflower puree. It’s a grand one to make early, set aside and warm just before heating. For the vegetarian there was a robust side of roasted portobello mushrooms stuffed with mashed borlotti beans, parmesan, rosemary and walnuts. And then there were beans and broccolini to be steamed just before serving.
And then there was this cake, which is blissfully even better when made the day before. Not only did it fit the gluten-free-brief, the absence of flour in this cake turns out to be an asset. The ground almonds provide the necessary damp (perhaps moist- though gosh that word makes me shudder) strength to stand up to the frosting. Because really, that’s what carrot cake is actually about. It’s just a rubbly, vaguely heartfelt excuse to eat spoonfuls of whipped, sweetened cream cheese. A floury, carrot flecked sponge just isn’t up to that sort of task.
The below version is a cracker. You can go the traditional route and use vegetable oil or olive oil for richness, but I’m having a little love affair with nut-brown butter at the moment, and I feel that its caramel undertones meld beautifully with the dark muscavado sugar.
This is not a subtle cake. It’s strong and diligent and puts its head down and gets things done. It easily feeds a crowd. It’s happy making stuff.
(And as I later discovered the last skerricks of it are just as good for morning tea the day after, while you finish putting all of the plates and plans away).
Happy birthday Pa. We love you.
Flourless Carrot Cake
400 g carrots, grated (about 2 1/2 large carrots)
125 g of butter, melted and heated until it turns nut-brown
250 g dark brown/muscavado sugar
3 1/2 cups/440 g of ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
30 g coconut flakes (plus additional 30 g for decoration)
100 g of walnuts, chopped (plus an additional 30 g for decoration)
500 g full fat cream cheese
50 g icing sugar
50 g butter
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 160C/320F and grease and line a 22 cm springform pan with baking parchment.
2) Grate the carrots, combine with the nut brown butter and set aside.
3) Beat the sugar and the eggs together until they have tripled in volume (this will probably take around 15 minutes).
4) Fold the carrots and butter into the remaining dry ingredients. Gently fold all of that through the egg and sugar, being careful not to knock too much air out of the mix.
5) Transfer the mix into the prepared baking tin (it will be quite full) and bake for 1 hr 20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
6) Allow the cake to cool in the tin. I then transfer the cake to the fridge, as I find it easier to slice and ice a cool cake (you can easily make the cake the day before).
7) To make the frosting beat the cream cheese, sugar and butter together until you have a cohesive and smooth mix.
8) Cut the cake in half and gently flip the top off. Spread half of the frosting in the centre of the cake and then return the top. Decorate the side of the cake with some of the flaked coconut- you can use some of the frosting to help ‘glue’ the coconut to the side.
9) Smooth the remaining cream cheese mix over the top of the cake. Toast the remaining coconut in a dry fry pan until it takes on a tanned hue.
10) Sprinkle a good handful of walnuts in the centre of the cake, and line the circumference of the top with the toasted coconut. Slice and serve.