Carrot walnut cake – Why carrots are used in cake

A (presumably Dutch) ‘joke’ on carrot cake: A rabbit enters a bakery and asks the owner, ‘do you also sell carrot cake’? The owner said he didn’t so the rabbit left. The next day the rabbit came over again and asked the same question. The baker again mentioned he didn’t sell carrot cake. This happened a few more days until the baker thought he’d better make one for the rabbit. That day the rabbit again asked whether he had carrot cake and this time the baker could answer ‘yes, I do’. Rabbit responds: isn’t it disgusting?

The joke isn’t funny at all (although it’s probably a lot of fun for little kids), but for a long time that was my only reference to carrot cake. I didn’t know you could actually make it and to me it didn’t sound very appealing. It just made me think of carrots and rabbits.

But, somehow, carrot cakes are a lot more common now and I’ve come to appreciate and like them. Nevertheless I find it strange, why would you want to use carrots when baking a cake? Why not just stick with apples or pears?

Carrots are sweet

Carrots are a staple in a lot of different cuisines. Here in the Netherlands carrots are a main element of one of our common winter dishes: hutspot. In a lot of other cuisines carrots are used at the start of a cooking process, being added just after the onions and garlic. Carrots have a lot of flavour and that flavour changes greatly during cooking. A raw carrot doesn’t taste that sweet and it crispy structure gives it a good bite.

However, upon cooking the carrots soften (as do most vegetables) and their flavour changes. Most noticeably, carrots tend to become sweeter. Carrots contain quite a lot of sugars and during cooking, when the structure of carrot starts to break down these sugars are released. The amount isn’t enormous, maybe some 5g per 100g of carrots, but it will contribute to flavour. A lot of dishes require both sweet as well as sour, salty or bitter tastes to be balanced well. Carrots contribute to sweetening.

Carrots in puddings, and cakes

People have known that carrots are sweet for quite some time. According to the book ‘the carrot purple‘, recipes for desserts with carrots(such as puddings) can be found in cookbooks and records up to a few centuries ago. The main reason for using carrots seems to be that sweetness. Carrots were a relatively cheap way to sweeten a dish up. Sugar at the time wasn’t as common by far as it is now.

During the second world war the use of carrots for sweetening became more common as well. There simply wasn’t a lot of sugar, so people became more creative in finding sweetness.

For a lot of ‘war foods’ you will tend to see them decline or disappear after the war. Since they are associated with war people tend to step away from them. However, this was not the carrots for the carrot cake, it seems to have stuck quite a bit. Carrot cake recipes can be found all over (just have a look at these carrot cake pancakes!). Although nowadays carrots aren’t the main sweetener anymore, quite some sugar tends to be added as well.

Carrot cake & baking powder

In a recent podcast from Taste of the Past the history of baking powder and soda was discussed. It seems that baking powder was especially popular in the US at the time of its invention. It’s quite like that the current day carrot cake, which uses baking powder, may have stemmed from that ‘revolution’. The podcast is well worth a listen by the way.

freshly harvested carrots, crinky and wobbly

Walnut carrot cake recipe

Walnuts and carrots also seems to be one of those combinations that comes back time and time again. Carrot cakes are nice and relatively easy to make as well and the walnuts just have to be added towards the end. I tend to eat mine without any further topping, but feel free to add some. The recipe is based on from the UK Delicious Magazine.

Feel like a bit of a change in your carrot cake repertoire? Try out the purple carrot carrot cake!

Carrot walnut cake - And on why carrots is used in cake
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Serves: 1 large carrot cake
 
Ingredients
  • 250g butter
  • 250g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 250g flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp spices (eg. cinnamon, clove, ginger)
  • 50g dried coconut
  • 75g raisins
  • 50g walnuts chopped in smaller pieces.
  • 120g grated carrot
Instructions
  1. It's a cake, so the order of adding ingredients isn't that important, as long as you don't overmix. Feel free to shuffle the instructions mentioned below aroud a little.
  2. Mix the butter & sugar with an electric mixer.
  3. Add the eggs & vanilla extract, mix through until homogeneous.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, spices and dried coconut and fold through.
  5. Finish by adding the raisins, walnuts and carrot.
  6. Bake in the oven at 180C for approx. 45 minutes. A tooth pick should come out clean.

 

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