Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Carrot Cake Bake Off

I get a little bit over excited sometimes and want to make everything in sight. This happened to me this week when I wanted to make a carrot cake. My head was in tatters. There were so many options and not enough people to feed excess cakes supplies to. I haven't got a 'go to' carrot cake recipe and after looking through my books I came across far too many to choose from. I mean really, how am I supposed to know which one is best if I don't make them all? What if there's a better one out there that I don't know about? Well, in my (slightly crazy) mind there was only one thing for it...yup I made them all.

I'm not crazy enough to make them all full sized so I narrowed it down to three recipes and made a three layer cake with each layer being a different carrot cake recipe. All of them used three eggs so I could just use one egg for each recipe and divide everything else accordingly. Super simple. This is definitely the way to go if you want to try out lots of recipe to find the best one.

So which recipes made it into the carrot cake bake off I hear you ask. Here goes:

Layer one on top is a Nigel Slater.
Layer two in the middle is a recipe from 'The Great British book of Baking'.
Layer three on the bottom is from 'The Hummingbird Bakery Book'.

So let the challenge commence! Here's my opinion on each one...

First up it's Nigel.

This was definitely the driest of the three but was still a strong contender. It wasn't quite as spiced as the other two with the only spice being cinnamon but it still had a lot of flavour with a lovely lemony undertone. It had a good amount of walnuts and carrots giving it a great texture and folding in the egg whites at the end made for a slightly airier result than the other two.

Next up it's layer two from 'The Great British book of Baking'.

This one was super yummy. I was a little worried when I was putting the mixture into the cake tin as it was really thick and heavy. It didn't rise much but it was lovely and moist and had a great texture with a good ratio of carrots and walnuts . Out of the three, I'd say that this one had the best flavour, presumably because of the variety of spices in it. (cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice and ginger)

I used the frosting from this recipe to frost the whole cake. The addition of orange zest and juice was a great touch and helped to cut through the sweetness making the overall balance of the cake just right.

And finally, it's the turn of the bottom layer from 'The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook'.

I have no idea what happened with this one but this one didn't turn out well for me. I don't know if it was my oven or if the timings were wrong but it wasn't cooked all the way through in the middle. (You can see in the picture it's oozing at the centre). Even the bits at the edge that were cooked weren't right. The only word I can use to describe it is mushy which is something I don't tend to look for in a cake! There was no texture to it and the flavour didn't really stand out against the others. I've still put the recipe for it below so if you want to give it a go then you can. I haven't really sold it though have I?

And the winner is...'The Great British Book of Baking'.
It was close between this one and the Nigel Slater recipe but I preferred the deeper, slightly spicier  flavour and the moister texture swung it for me. So for now this is my favourite carrot cake recipe. Until I find another one I want to try to see if it's better that is! 

I've included all the recipes here in their original quantities. As mentioned above, I used the frosting from 'The Great British Book of Baking'. (The original recipe only makes enough to fill and cover (top only, not sides) a two layer cake. The recipe below shows how much I increased the frosting layer by to fill and completely cover the three layer cake).

One...'The Nigel Slater' One
Serves 8-10


3 eggs
250g self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
200ml sunflower oil
250g light muscovado sugar
150g carrots
juice of half a lemon
150g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the Frosting

250g mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
grated zest of a medium orange
walnuts, to decorate


Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Lightly butter two 22cm cake tins and line with baking parchment.

Separate the eggs and then sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Beat the oil and sugar until well creamed, then introduce the the egg yolks one by one. Grate the carrots into the mixture, followed by the lemon juice and chopped walnuts.

Fold the flour into the mixture. Whisk the egg whites till light and stiff, then gently fold into the mixture using a large metal spoon. (a wooden one will knock the air out).

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, smooth the top gently and bake for 40-45 minutes. The cakes should be moist but not sticky. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for a good 10 minutes before turning them onto a wire cooling rack.

Note: For my one egg version I found that the cake was done after 30 minutes. It could even have done with a little less time in the oven as it was a little dry. Maybe it was just my oven but if you're making the full version I'd definitely check it after 30 minutes.

For the frosting, put the mascarpone, cream cheese and icing sugar into a electric mixer and beat till smooth and creamy. It should have no lumps. Mix in the orange zest.

When the cake is cool, sandwich the halves together with about a third of the frosting. Use the rest to cover the top and sides of the cake. Cover with the walnuts.

Two...'The Great British Book of Baking' One
Makes 1 large cake


225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
225g soft light brown muscovado sugar
grated zest of 1/2 an unwaxed orange
100g walnut pieces
3 medium free range eggs, beaten
150ml sunflower oil
250g grated carrots (about 3 medium carrots)

For the Filling

200g full fat cream cheese
50g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
grated zest of 1/2 an unwaxed orange
2 tsp orange juice


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 20.5cm round cake tins with butter and line the bases with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the sugar, orange zest and nuts followed by the beaten eggs, sunflower oil and grated carrots. When thoroughly combined, divide the mixture between the tins and spread it our evenly. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Turn them out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

For the filling and topping, beat together the ingredients until very smooth and creamy. In warm weather you may need to chill the icing until firm enough to spread. Spread almost half of the mixture onto one of the cakes. Top with the second cake and spread the remaining mixture over the top. The cake can be decorated with walnut pieces or left plain . Store in an airtight container in a cool spot.

Note: This is enough frosting to fill and cover only the TOP of the cake and not the sides. To fill and cover my three layer cake (top and sides), I used 300g of cream cheese and adjusted the other ingredients accordingly.

Three...'The Hummingbird Bakery' One
Makes 10-12 slices


300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
300g carrots, grated
100g walnuts, chopped, plus extra to decorate

For the Frosting

400g icing sugar
100g unsalted, at room temperature
250g cream cheese, cold


Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Base line three 20cm cake tins.

Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (I used a handheld electric whisk) and beat until everything is well mixed. Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well combined.

Stir in the carrots and walnuts by hand until evenly dispersed. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting, beat the icing sugar and butter together with an electric whisk on medium slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is fully incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium high speed and continue to beat until it is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overbeat as it can quickly become runny.

Put one cake on a cake stand and spread about one quarter of the mixture over it with a palette knife. Place the second cake on top and spread another quarter of the frosting over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Finish with walnuts and a light sprinkling of cinnamon. 

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