carrot cake for the home stretch

March. We may have made it to the home stretch, but it sure ain't spring yet. As much as I want the return of sun to mean that we did indeed make it and that it is spring, well, a trip to my local farmers' market proves otherwise. Yes, we're almost there, but we still have a few weeks ahead of us of tired root vegetables and apples that have seen better days. 

It seems like I am not the only one with a case of the almost-spring blues. Sarah at the Yellow House describes this time of year as when we all throw our hands up and say "Enough with winter," yet the vegetables remind us that is is too soon to say enough. Melissa Clark bets that we've pretty much done all that can be done with root vegetables with the exception of Kimchi Radish Pickles. But to be honest, at this point I need a bit more than Kimchi Radish Pickles to make it to the end. 

Instead of fighting my almost-spring blues with something from my pantry - split peas or barley or the like - or by trying to re-imagine root vegetables, I'm taking the German route and going with cake. Nothing quite says "F. you winter" like a big piece of moist carrot cake with specs of walnuts and a rich cream cheese icing. Add some maple glazed walnuts on top and I might even momentarily forget what winter is.

Germans, including my German, love cake. They've even created a separate meal for it. Forget pastries or muffins, if you're having a cup of coffee in Germany sometime in the afternoon it better come with a generous slice of cake. Kaffee und Kuchen is an everyday afternoon affair which means that I'm living in a country where it is fine to eat cake before dinner. I am certain that a lot of children would be quite happy to know this as it is surely a sign that childhood dreams do come true, somewhere.

As cruel and cold and dark as February can be, it also means a birthday in my house. And that birthday man is German and very serious about cake in general and carrot cake in particular. 

Germans often go for lots of creamy cakes that look like wedding dresses. Layers of pink berries and white cream and maybe some extra marzipan for good measure. I, on the other hand, often always prefer a dense and gooey French flourless chocolate cake. It might not be quite as pretty, but it sticks to the point and is immensely satisfying. However, if I'm going for a layer cake then, like my German, I'm also going for the carrot cake with lots of cream cheese icing. Maybe we're both boring when it comes to cake, but perhaps our shared love of carrot cake just explains why we share so much more.

Cake stirs up a lot of emotions and carrot cake is no different. Walnuts or raisins? Pineapple or coconut? White icing or cream cheese frosting? Keeping with this tradition, I'm going to be opinionated here. First of all, to me a carrot cake with a frosting other than one with cream cheese is simply not a carrot cake. Period. Carrot cake and cream cheese icing belong together and who is anyone to break this pair up? Second, no raisins. Sorry. Raisins belong in raisin bread or in porridge or even in lots of other cakes, but not carrot cake. Walnuts, on the other hand, are non-negotiable. I want a carrot cake with walnuts and lots of them. Third, I already stated that my taste in cake veers towards boring which means that I want to keep things simple. Walnuts and cream cheese frosting are enough for me. Hold the pineapple and coconut please. I'm happy to welcome both in my Bircher Muesli, but not here. Not in this cake. 

This cake is dreamy and beautiful and represents all of my picky opinions about cake. I often bake with light spelt flour, but feel free to use all purpose or whole wheat or a mix. The cake certainly does not need the maple glazed walnuts, but they are a luxurious addition that gives the cake a few extra beauty points. 

Like I said, we've almost made it. Hooray! But because we're not quite there yet, I recommend baking some carrot cake. Like us, you might just need it, birthday or not. It took that winter edge off for me and made me even forget that I've had my fill of root vegetables. Maybe I'll make Melissa Clark's Kimchi Radish Pickles after all. A little bit of cake and March's produce is no longer looking so tired.     

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing and Maple Glazed Walnuts

yields 8-10 servings 


for the cake

2 cups light spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

1 cup (225 g) butter, just melted
1 1/3 cup unrefined sugar
4 eggs
1/4 cup yogurt

3 cups grated carrots, packed
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp freshly grated ginger

for the icing

12 ounces (350 g) cream cheese
1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
 1 3/4 cups icing sugar
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

for the maple glazed walnuts

1 cup walnuts, kept whole
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C / gas mark 4. Butter two cake pans (8 or 9 inch pans) and set aside. 

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.

In a small saucepan (or in the microwave, if you have one), melt the butter. Let cool slightly. Pour the butter into a large bowl and add the sugar. Mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat the ingredients together thoroughly. Add the yogurt and mix well. Add the flour mixture and beat until everything is well incorporated. Add the carrots and mix, add the walnuts and mix, add the grated ginger and mix.

Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter (both at room temperature) until completely smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the vanilla extract and then add the icing sugar gradually while beating until the icing is smooth and sweet.

To make the maple glazed walnuts, toast the walnuts in a clean skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant. Add the maple syrup, give the pan a good shake, and then cook at a low heat for a minute or two until the walnuts absorb the maple syrup. 

When the cake is completely cool, it is time to assemble. Place one cake layer on a plate or a cake stand. Spread about 1/2 a cup of frosting on the first layer and then layer the second cake on top. Use the rest of the icing to completely ice the rest of the cake. Scatter a single layer of the maple glazed walnuts on top.

Serve at room temperature; however, if you store the cake in the fridge it will keep for a few days. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.


Ira Kharchenko  – (March 11, 2013 at 4:24 PM)  

Awesome cake! So beautiful:)

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