Sunday, 20 January 2013

Let Them Eat Carrot Cake...

January. It is the dirtiest of all words used to portion our year. The month of dreary tasks; battling with inside out umbrellas as you run through freezing puddles for the bus, hoovering up pine needles that are still appearing long after the tree has fallen out of favour, finding space for the never-ending supply of Christmas bubble bath, drinking smoothies that resemble the results of a pond-dipping session but that are oh-so good for your wearisome post-Christmas bod, attempting to squeeze on a fifth jumper...

But, for me at least, January is also the month in which I allow myself to brush off the greyness with a little bit of well-earned indulgence. Well, it’s a good excuse anyway. Call it comfort eating, call it adding to your winter coat (I try to steer clear of the word blubber..) call it whatever you can muster through a big mouthful of shepherd’s pie or sticky toffee pudding; we all need something to take our minds off the sub-zero temperatures and freezing fog. Because, blimey, January would be dull without something to get our faces in to as we sit, wearing two full outfits at the same time (including hats and gloves) totally immersed in the latest crap on telly (I am indeed talking about Splash, a show made only marginally more bearable by a shirtless Tom Daley) and, as I seem to be at all times lately, absolutely starving.

It is for this reason that my darling mother and I can often be found roaming the kitchen of a January evening, staring blankly into the fridge, unsure of what we are hoping will jump out and straight into our open mouths. A little more fur and a couple fewer opposable thumbs and a David Attenborough commentary would not sound at all out of place as we open the cupboard, close it, open it again, pouncing desperately on anything to satisfy our perpetual hunger...Unfortunately, more often than not, we stumble across cake long before we reach the healthy heights of celery or anything even vaguely good for you; but hey-ho, bang goes the diet, who was I kidding anyway?

I, personally, blame my irrepressible appetite at this time of year on Christmas, the time during which we train ourselves, as though it is an Olympic event straight out of London 2012, to eat at any opportunity that happens to present itself. I mean do we really need turkey sandwiches and sausage rolls just a couple of hours after the most ridiculous sized roast dinner the world has ever seen? Of course we do, it’s Christmas; but January is not just for post-mince pie detoxing, so I for one will be throwing cake, shotput style, into my hungry mouth. 

And what better than Carrot Cake; rich, spicy, bursting with fruit and nuts, it is the sort of cake that these cold, grey (snowy) evenings are calling out for. This recipe is a bit of a mash-up of everything I have ever liked in the the many slices of cake shovelled into my mouth during my long, committed (and obviously very stressful) research for this post. It is sort of a carrot cake remix; with pieces of crushed pineapple giving bursts of sweetness and the essence of a Passion Cake, orange cream cheese icing, walnuts, and as many sunflower and pumpkin seeds as I can possibly cram in, reminding me slightly of one of those fat balls you hang in the garden to feed the birds, just rather more tasty.

I usually have a few decoration ideas up my sleeve, depending on my mood and the occasion; creamy, orange scented icing scattered with jet black poppy seeds or neon strands of orange zest. This time, as I had a few free hours (the joy of a snow day...) and the bountiful supply of coloured icing I found lurking in the cupboard, I made some adorable fondant carrots which, apart from looking just wonderful, make sure nobody is under any illusion as to what is hiding within the cake. Just roll a small ball of orange icing into a pointed sausage-type shape, score slightly with a cocktail stick, before attaching their green tops. So cute, exactly the right amount of tacky and it tastes even better than it looks...Maybe you can even get away with saying it is one of your five a day?

Carrot Cake

225g self raising flour
200g golden caster sugar
2tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp mixed spice
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
200ml sunflower oil
4 eggs
1 tin pineapple chunks, drained
1 handful wanuts
2 handfuls grated carrot
1 handful sunflower seeds
2 handfuls pumpkin seeds
Pinch of salt

Cream cheese icing
200g full-fat cream cheese
100g butter, softened
325g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180oc. 
Grease and line an 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin. 
In a large bowl, sift all of the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, crush the pineapple chunks and walnuts with the end of a rolling pin until sufficiently smashed (I like small chunks but feel free to have larger pieces if you fancy more of a crunch.)
In a jug, whisk together the oil and eggs before stirring into the dry ingredients until well combined. Add the finely grated carrot and pineapple mixture, as well as the seeds and fold until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.
Pour into the cake tins, level and bake in the preheated oven until evenly risen and golden, about 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack and start on the icing.
Using an electric whisk, beat together the butter and cream cheese, before gradually adding the sifted icing sugar. When the icing is thick but not too stiff, beat in the orange zest and chill until your cakes are properly cooled.
Sandwich the cakes together before artistically spreading the top with the icing. Decorate as you please and enjoy! I definitely will...

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