The blog of a doctor, a baker, a wisdom tooth taker!
It’s perfect – absolutely, one hundred and ten percent perfect!
I’ve found The One folks – she’s tall, exotically spiced, has many nutty layers, is filled with voluptuous swathes of lemony cream cheese frosting and perfumed with all the zesty cheerfulness of several oranges. Who is this, a creation from the gods? None other than Dan Lepard’s carrot, orange and pistachio cake.
Until this past week, I’d made many a carrot cake in my time and enjoyed each and every one of them. Namely recipes from Rachel Allen, Nigella, Xanthe Milton and even the dietetically sometimes too virtuous Ellie Krieger. They were all lovely simple carrot cakes in their own way. All moist, spiced and topped with something resembling cream cheese frosting – I chose my words deliberately there as all too often, making the perfect cream cheese frosting to top your quietly self righteous, nay healthy even carrot cake is the recipes downfall. All too. Often in the past have they fallen considerably short and delivered me something which can only be described as a tangy drizzle, certainly nothing one could pipe nor eat without a plate, a fork or spoon and a napkin! Fortunately for any of those readers whom haven’t had such disappointments Dan Lepard will deliver us into lusciously lemony and decadently still cheesy tasting thick, pipeable, spreadable, stand up in its own-able frosting salvation! More on that later. On with the vehicle for all that lusciousness – the cake. It all begins with, wait for it… Tahini!
Yes, you heard me right – that clay like pulp of the unassuming sesame seed which works some sort of earthy magic when whisked with Greek yogurt, garlic, salt and lemon juice before drizzling over za’atar encrusted roast veg or chargrilled lamb chops. In fact, odd though it sounds, it was the addition of this very ingredient which peaked my interest in this recipe in the first place. You need a good dose of something wholesome, if not vaguely hippy-ish from a health food store to make a carrot cake truly good in my opinion. And with my first mouthful of this freshly baked cake, I knew I could definitely taste a touch of tahini but it was so perfectly well balanced with the other ingredients, it did not overtake and confuse my palate. It all just worked together in a rather ying and yang sorta way. More interesting ingredients to thrill your taste buds include pomegranate molasses, slithered pistachios and lots of orange zest and juice – as much as one can yield from three whole fruits. Genius I tell you! And what delighted me in Dan’s pre-recipe schpeal was his description of this cake and all it’s Arabic inspired ingredients as a “big blousy American-style carrot layer cake with Arabic bits. Imagine Pamela Anderson as a platinum-blonde Scheherazade”. How can that not delight you and make my grin from ear to ear? Plus I just love saying the word Scheherade out loud! Simple pleasures ….
Another joy of a carrot cake is the simplicity of its method. I’d say most recipes advocate the use of a flavourless oil rather than butter which would, in my opinion, not taste right in the cake made of carrot. The oil gives excellent keeping properties, a super soft texture and also negates the need for using ones stand mixer to cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. If you have a big, preferably earthenware, bowl and a large balloon whisk, a carrot cake is the recipe for you. It all feels a very organic experience. Now for love nor money, I cannot source pomegranate molasses so I used black treacle as Dan suggests as an alternative but other than that I kept true to his recipe. I was, however, fortunate enough to be in possession of these luridly deep jade green slithered pistachios so I did not need to chop up whole natural ones. Another simple pleasure – they might taste the same in blind taste tests but the look of a slithered pistachio is so exotically appealing to me, I swear they make the cake taste better.
Egg whites lighten the batter which, uncharacteristically, uses plain rather than wholemeal flour (and I had to stop myself swapping it out, trusting instead in Dan’s instruction – it is worth buying Short & Sweet, the book this cake came from just to read his tips and tricks and no nonsense, no pretention scientific explanations of why different flours do different things to a recipe. Fascinating stuff. But I digress… ). And I am very glad I didn’t fool around with the recipe as the cake emerged from the oven absolutely perfectly risen – flat topped brick red brown baked lovelies. The Holy Grail of a layer cake recipe! Just check out the ribbons formed from whisking together cold cream cheese, room temp soft butter, lemon zest, a squeeze of its juice and half the designated icing sugar with a hand mixer for perhaps 30 seconds. Not only a perfect texture achieved by using cold cheese and adding the sugar in two batches to strengthen the emulsion which forms as you beat but a perfect balance of flavours once again. For me, I personally just adored how the cheese flavour was present, not swamped in sugary sweetness or acerbic tang from the lemon.
As I was waiting for the cakes to bake I discovered a video Dan put on YouTube of himself making this very cake. I include the link to that here for you (hit the unlined word “here”). What I love about it how lovely Dan appears to be in this quick but succinct video (which I highly recommend watching if you would like to make this cake yourself). He appeared a little, erm, less lovely in the mug shot I’d seen of him before – but seeing him in the flesh, as it were, he comes across as having a sense of fun, a love of cake and a relaxed attitude to being in the kitchen.
For those of you preferring the recipe – get it here, via the Guardian website for which Dan makes regular contributions. The book “Short & Sweet” is currently unavailable from Amazon but if you can get yourself down to your local book shop (or have access to The Book People online) then you really should invest. I can’t commend it to you highly enough (his breads are spectacular). I know I’ll never make another carrot cake recipe again – no more time wasting with pretenders to the throne!