The star of the show today is one of my favorites veggies - the wonderful, naturally sweet, carrot. The lovely carrot is a root vegetable and as a member of the parsley family related to the parsnip, celery and fennel. It is good to remember that smaller or organic carrots only require topping and tailing and, of course, a quick scrub. Plus the smaller ones pack a lot more flavor than the larger specimen that need to be peeled.
Carrots come in different colors too. There are, of course, the bright orange ones, then yellow and purple ones. The purple ones are said to be the “original carrots”, meaning that today´s orange carrots probably resulted from a cross between the purple and the yellow carrots. I love the prominent nutty taste of the purple variety, they are best used for a grated raw carrot salad for example.
Carrots can be used not only in soups, stews and salads but also roasted, baked, juiced and puréed. And, of course, they are an excellent choice for adding to muffins, cupcakes, cookies, breads, puddings and the most wonderful and widely beloved carrot cakes - this cake recipe is for a European-style Carrot Cake, call it a more minimalist take on the carrot cake, far removed from an American-style cream-cheese frosted version.
This recipe is one of my favorite cake recipes of all times, I love the combination of the grated carrot and the ground hazelnuts. The natural sweetness that this vegetable brings to any kind of baking is unsurpassed and just utterly delicious. The warm spices add a wonderful depth of flavor and warmness to this treat of a cake. But when adding fresh spices to this cake make sure to keep your cake batter low key, to retain as much carrot flavor as possible – a bit of Ceylon cinnamon, ground ginger and cloves, which I happen to think go well with carrots, should do it.
This is an exceptionally moist cake and keeps for a good few days.
Springtime Carrot Cake
Ingredients for the Carrot Cake
- 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) ground hazelnuts (you can substitute almonds or use half almonds and half hazelnuts)
- 4 eggs (L), free range or organic if possible, separated
- one pinch of fine sea salt
- 200 grams (1 1/2 cups) confectioner's sugar, divided in two portions of 100 grams (1/2 plus ¼ cup), sifted
- zest from an orange (organic or untreated)
- 2 tbsp Kirsch* (Kirschwasser)
- 25 grams (3 tbsp) potato starch
- 1/2 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground ginger
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1 package pure vanilla sugar (best homemade)
- 8 smallish to medium carrots, organic if possible, finely grated (about 2 cups when lightly packed)
- a bit of soft butter for greasing the baking pan
- a bit of flour, bread crumbs or additional ground nuts for the baking pan
* Kirsch or Kirschwasser is a colorless Brandy made from the fermented juice of cherries. But feel free to leave out the Kirsch entirely and use freshly squeezed orange juice instead.
Ingredients for the first Glaze
- some high quality apricot jam, warmed and then strained
Ingredients for the second Glaze
- confectioner' s sugar
- a bit of Kirsch and milk or leave out the Kirsch and use freshly squeeezed orange juice instead
- marzipan decorations (entirely optional)
- 1 tbsp ground unsalted pistachios, chopped (entirely optional, you can also decorate with chopped hazelnuts or almonds)
- a 23 centimeter (9 inch) spring form pan or other round cake pan
- some parchment paper (unbleached if possible) for lining the pan as well as a few strips to avoid drips while glazing the cake
- soft bristled brush
Preparation of the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 180° C (355°F).
- Butter your baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, butter that as well, Flour the pan and shake out the excess flour.
- Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground.
- In the bowl of your mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Then add 100 grams (1/2 plus ¼ cup of the sifted confectioner's sugar and continue to beat for a while until firm peaks form, set aside.
- In another bowl, also with a whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the other half of the confectioner's sugar, the orange zest and the Kirsch until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.
- To the ground hazelnuts add the starch, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and vanilla sugar.
- Switch to a spatula and add the nut mixture, alternating with the grated carrots, to the egg mixture.
- Fold in the egg white mixture until no white streaks remain but do not over mix.
- Carefully pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the sides of the pan and cool completely on a wire rack, then remove the bottom of the spring form pan.
- Transfer the cake to a cake platter for decorating.
- Before you glaze the cake, place a few strips of parchment paper under the cake to catch any drips.
Preparation of the first and second Glaze and Decoration (optional)
- In a small bowl, heat a few tablespoons of apricot jam, put it through a strainer and using a soft bristled brush, glaze the cooled cake.
- Let the apricot glaze set for a few minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk some confectioner's sugar together with one teaspoon of Kirsch or orange juice and a bit of milk. You need a thick but runny consistency.
- Spoon this mixture evenly over the cake.
- Decorate with little marzipan decoration and ground unsalted pistachios.
This Springtime Carrot Cake contains no flour and no butter, it is a very moist and nutty cake with no heavy frosting – the decoration that I chose here is also entirely optional, you could also leave this cake plain and serve it with a light dusting of confectioner´s sugar. Sometimes I chose to decorate this cake with tiny marzipan carrots but when I came across these marzipan fruits in a sweet shop, I thought that they would add a nice springtime touch to my carrot cake.
Carrot cake icing is one part of this fabulous cake that people seem to disagree on. I never really warmed to a tradition of a rich cream cheese frosting, beaten with butter and sugar. Although I enjoy some buttercream frosting every once in a sweet while, it adds a richness to a carrot cake which I happily trade in for a thin layer of homemade apricot jam and a glaze with confectioners´s sugar - sometimes less is just more - why not to let the sweet natural flavors of carrots and spices shine through.