Summer is here, and we’re in the mood for some classic bakes. Ready the picnic basket with these three delicious carrot cake recipes…
Maybe it’s the fact that we’re all contemplating a British staycation once lockdown is over. But now that summer is in the air, all we’re thinking about is cake. Sweet slices of lemon drizzle, doorsteps of golden Victoria sponge, and, of course, melt-in-the-mouth carrot cake.
Everyone does carrot cake a bit differently: some like a dense, moist mixture, while others prefer a light, airy bake. Then there are the toppings – from lashings of sugary icing to thick layers of cream cheese.
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Whatever your preference, there’s no doubt that carrot cake is an all-round warm weather winner, whether you’re having a quick break from work in your garden or heading to the park for a picnic.
With that in mind, Stylist has three delicious carrot recipes to share for simple baking joy. Fans of a traditional cake will love Bread Ahead’s classic recipe, while Regula Ysewijn’s modern show-stopper uses cashew cream instead of cream cheese for a nuttier topping. We’ve also got a recipe from The Great British Bake Off star Kim-Joy Hewlett, whose carrot cake comes with a deliciously decadent salted caramel drizzle. Serve with a cup of tea or coffee for true baked bliss.
Classic carrot cake recipe
- 150g soft light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 150ml sunflower oil
- 150g plain flour
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 150g carrots, grated
- 50g shelled walnuts, chopped, plus 50 g extra, chopped and whole, to decorate
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 150g icing sugar, sifted
- 50g unsalted butter
- 125g cream cheese at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F/Gas 3). Grease and line a flat tray with raised sides (about 20cm x 25cm), or a round cake tin.
Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Don’t worry if the mixture looks slightly split.
Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed. Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts by hand until they are all evenly dispersed.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
When the cake is cold, spread the cream cheese frosting over it with a palette knife. Finish with walnuts and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
You could also bake this cake in two tins, then sandwich the layers together with cream cheese frosting.
For the frosting make sure the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature. Start by beating the butter until completely smooth.
Next add in the cream cheese and sifted icing sugar; you can also add a little squeeze of lemon juice for flavour. Beat until you have a smooth and creamy frosting. You can leave this in the fridge until you’re ready to ice your cake.
From Bread Ahead’s Online Baking E-Book (£5), out now
Carrot cake with cashew cream topping recipe
Regula Ysewijn says: “Carrot cake is loved by young and old. It has its origins in the Middle Ages, when sugar and honey were far too expensive to use lavishly.
I like to use wholemeal flour for this cake, because it gives the cake more body and it works well with the rest of the ingredients. Although carrot cake is often made with cream cheese icing or buttercream, I love it with this cashew nut topping because the nuts go beautifully with the carrots and spices in the cake. Feel free to use cream cheese icing or buttercream if you prefer.”
For the cake:
- 250 ml (9 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
- 225 g (8 oz) raw (demerara) sugar
- 4 eggs
- 300 g (10½ oz) wholemeal wheat flour or spelt flour
- grated zest of ½ orange
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 5 large cloves, ground
- pinch of pepper and sea salt
- 400 g (14 oz) carrots, grated
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 100 g (3½ oz) pecans or walnuts, broken
- butter, for greasing
- flour, for dusting
For the topping:
- 200 g (7 oz) cashews, soaked overnight in cold water or in hot water for 1–2 hours
- 2 tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
- pinch of sea salt
- 100 g (3½ oz) Greek yoghurt, skyr or coconut yoghurt
- unsalted pistachio nuts or marzipan carrots
- Two 18–20 cm (7–8 inch) round cake tins
Start with the topping. Drain the cashews and pat dry with paper towel. Place in a food processor or blender, add the syrup and blend until smooth. Add the salt and yoghurt and blend until smooth and creamy. Spoon into a small bowl and place in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and prepare the tins (this will ensure your cakes come out of the tins more easily after baking). Apply a thin layer of butter with a folded sheet of paper towel and divide it nicely around the edge of the baking tin.
Apply a layer of baking paper to the bottom of the baking tin: trace around the tin onto the baking paper, then cut out the circle. Stick the baking paper to the butter so that the paper stays in place. Dust the lined tin with flour, hold the tin above your workbench or sink and tap on the bottom to remove the excess flour.
For the cake, beat the oil and sugar together in an electric mixer for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add a teaspoon of flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from separating.
Add the orange zest, spices and salt, followed by the grated carrot. Mix well with a spatula. Mix in the remaining flour and the baking powder until the batter is well combined. Finally, stir in the nuts.
Divide the batter between the two tins. Firmly tap the tins on the bench to distribute the batter and remove any air bubbles.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 35–40 minutes, then test the cakes with a skewer – if it comes out clean, the cakes are ready.
Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling. If you’ve made the cakes a day ahead, place them in the fridge 1 hour before decorating.
Spread or pipe one-third of the topping over the bottom cake layer. Add the second cake layer and spread the rest of the topping over the cake.
Decorate with whole and chopped pistachio nuts or marzipan carrots. Place the cake in the refrigerator after assembly if you’re not serving it immediately.
From Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The History of British Baking, Savoury and Sweet by Regula Ysewijn (£25, Murdoch Books), out now
Spiced carrot and walnut cake with salted caramel recipe
Kim-Joy says: “Carrot cake is the kind of treat that is a favourite all year round. You can pretend it’s good for you because it contains a lot of carrots, but really it is way too tasty to be that healthy! I love this recipe because it’s fluffy, decadent and moist, and the raisins and walnuts add texture and flavour so that you absolutely wal nut be able to resist this!”
- unsalted butter, for greasing
- 275g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- grated zest of 1 medium orange
- 310ml (1¼ cups) vegetable oil
- 425g (2 cups plus 2 tbsp) light muscovado (soft brown) sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 255g (9oz) shelled eggs (about 5 medium)
- 320g (2 ∕³ cups) grated carrot
- 70g (½ cup) raisins
- 105g (1 cup) toasted walnuts, chopped
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 115g (½ cup) salted butter, at room temperature, chopped
- 600g (4¼ cups) icing (confectioners’) sugar
- 300g (1¼ cups) whole cream cheese
For the salted caramel (optional):
- 90ml (6 tbsp) water
- 240g (1¼ cups) caster or granulated sugar
- 225ml (1 cup) double (heavy) cream
- salt, to taste
- Three 18-cm (7-in) cake tins
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F/Gas mark 3). Grease cake tins, and line the bases with baking paper.
Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange zest together in a bowl.
Add the oil, muscovado sugar, salt and vanilla to a stand mixer (or use a handheld electric whisk) fitted with a balloon whisk attachment and mix on high speed until there are no sugar lumps left. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition.
With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the wet, adding a third at a time.
Fold in the carrot, raisins and walnuts by hand, then pour the batter into the prepared cake tins. Bake for 35–40 minutes until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cakes have shrunk away from the edges of the tins slightly.
When the cakes are baked, leave them to cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn out onto racks. Peel off the baking paper and leave to cool.
While the cakes are in the oven, make the salted caramel, if using. Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and wait (don’t stir) until the sugar turns an amber colour. You can swill the pan around to even out the colour.
When the sugar syrup has turned a deep amber colour, remove the pan from the heat, add the cream in one go and stir constantly with a balloon whisk. The caramel will bubble up, so be careful at this stage!
Return the pan to the stove over a low heat and continue stirring until all the sugar has dissolved and you have a smooth and creamy caramel. Pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle with a little salt to taste. Don’t add too much; it’s better to add too little than too much.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 30–45 minutes. It will thicken as it cools.
Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting. Place the butter in a stand mixer (or use a handheld electric whisk) fitted with a balloon whisk attachment and beat until smooth and softened.
Add half the icing sugar and beat until combined. Add the cream cheese and the rest of the sugar and whisk until combined. Don’t overmix, or the frosting will become too soft. Transfer the frosting to a large piping (pastry) bag and cut a large tip.
Make sure the cakes and caramel, if using, are cool before assembling. In between each cake layer, pipe the frosting and drizzle the caramel sauce, if using. Continue until you have 2 layers of frosting and caramel, if using, and have placed the third cake layer on top.
Pipe the frosting on top of the cake. Cover the sides with more frosting, or leave them naked, depending on how you are planning to decorate this cake.
Chill in the fridge, or freezer if you’re in a rush. Then it’s time to decorate!
From Baking with Kim-Joy: Cute And Creative Bakes To Make You Smile by Kim-Joy (£18, Quadrille), out now
Images: Ellis Parrinder; Bread Ahead; Regula Ysewijn
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.