After an eternity of darkness and drizzle, the arrival of daffodils and daylight calls for a celebration; it’s high time to clear out the cobwebs, fill a jug with flowers and bake something beautiful. One of the things I love about this time of year is how the first few ventures into the great outdoors feel like a great release. After months of feeling a little cooped up, the raw blue skies and gusty days of April can provide exhilarating blasts of oxygen and some much needed vitamin D. The intermittent rain can be frustrating but the budding landscape appreciates it, drinking up the damp and the warmth before as it prepares to blossom. I like that, during the spring months, I can drink hot chocolate after a frosty walk one day, and pack up a picnic the next. It’s not quite berry-season yet but the crumb is becoming lighter, and the flavours lively; this month I’m trying my hand at a spiced flat breads, toasting up a few jarful’s of sour-cherry granola and baking lemony cheesecake. I have also dusted off a war-time classic and embraced the humble carrot cake.
Whether its intended as a weekend centrepiece, or an excuse for a cup of tea and a chat, a cake needn’t be majestic to be impressive. Despite its distinctly autumnal characteristics, namely root veg, nuts and spices, I’ve always associated carrot cake with spring time; something about its tearoom reputation and cloud of tangy frosting puts me in mind of crocuses, pastel colours and family gatherings. This particular cake is dark and treacly, packed with walnuts and finished with just the right amount of cream cheese frosting. It’s actually better, somehow moister, when left for a day or so after baking, so it’s wise to bake it the day before you want to eat it. A generous slice makes a great addition to a rainy-day coffee date or a spring-time adventure.
160ml vegetable oil (sunflower, groundnut)
150g light brown sugar
100g self-raising flour
50g wholemeal flour
grated orange and lemon
1 tsp bicarb
160g grated carrot
40g chopped walnuts
For the frosting
50g cream cheese
25g softened butter
45g icing sugar (sifted)
grated zest 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 180°/160° Fan/Gas Mark 4 and line a small loaf tin with baking parchment.
- Combine the eggs, vegetable oil, zest and sugar and beat well until combined.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flours, spices, bicarb and salt.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold together thoroughly.
- Add the walnuts and carrot, mixing well to combine.
- Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour. Remove the cake and cover with aluminium foil. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes.
- To test if it’s cooked, insert a clean skewer or knife into the centre of the cake and remove. If the skewer comes out clean, your cake is ready to remove from the oven.
- Allow it to cool completely before icing.
- To make the frosting, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and beat until combined.
- Ice the cake once it is completely cool, decorating with whole walnuts, chopped walnuts or pistachios.
- The cake should keep in a sealed container for a week. Keep it in a cool, dry place.