Making The Perfect Carrot Cake

Carrots have been included in sweet recipes in Britain since mediaeval times. Because carrots provided a cheaper and more easily available alternative to other sweeteners, their use was encouraged during the Second World War, at the time of rationing. Carrot cake however, didn’t really take off in popularity until the last quarter of the twentieth century; now you’ll find it in every coffee shop and tea room.

Apart from the fact that it tastes delicious, there’s an air of wholesomeness about carrot cake, a feeling that not only is it not bad for you but it’s actually doing you good! And if that’s your reason for baking it, far be it from us to disillusion you! There are probably as many recipes for carrot cake as there are people who make it, but we’ll try to help you consider the options, to allow you to experiment, as well as share our favourite recipe.

How to Choose the Right Ingredients

  • Fat – the fat you use will determine the method – creaming or all-in-one – as well. Butter or margarine is one option but more usually oil is used. Olive oil is too heavy; a light vegetable oil – groundnut maybe – is the best choice.
  • Flour – it’s got to be wholemeal – organic stoneground if you like – for the healthy option. Self-raising is best, with baking powder and spices (cinnamon, mixed, nutmeg) sieved in. Most recipes call for some extra bicarbonate of soda to help the raising process as well.
  • Sugar – dark and brown for a lovely rich colour as well as that moist sweetness that is so associated with carrot cake. Weightwatchers UK use runny honey as an alternative – yes, there is a diet version of Carrot Cake!
  • Carrots – find the easiest way you can to grate them! If you have a food processor, use that, otherwise it’s a time-consuming job…and take care not to grate your fingers! When you put the grated carrot in the bowl you might fear you’re going to end up with a cake full of bits, but don’t worry: they soften as they cook and become unrecognisable.
  • Eggs – last but not least, the number of eggs – free-range large are best – you can use from 2 to 4 range. Add to that a pinch of salt to draw out flavour.

And Now… the Perfect Carrot Cake

These quantities make a 9” round cake

  • 350g (12½ oz) carrots
  • 56g (2oz) pecans
  • 110g (4oz) self-raising wholemeal flour
  • 110g (4oz) plain wholemeal flour
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 240ml (8floz) vegetable oil
  • 170g (6oz) soft brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup

Start off by grating the carrots and chopping the pecans. Put to one side. Sieve together self-raising flour and plain flour (both wholemeal) with cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and bicarbonate of soda. (Tip the bran bits left in the sieve into the mixture.)

Whisk together the vegetable oil, sugar,eggs and golden syrup. (Heat the spoon first and the syrup will slide off easily.)

Add this to the dry ingredients and mix until it’s nice and smooth. Stir in the carrots and pecans. Tip the mixture into a greased lined tin and cook at 160ºC for an hour, or until cooked.

Added Extras

The zest and juice of a lemon or orange add their own distinctive zing to the cake, or you might prefer to drop in a teaspoonful of vanilla essence. Think of what flavour topping you want and use the same for the cake.

Desiccated coconut adds a distinctive taste and texture to the cake, as do ground almonds. Less intrusively you can add chopped walnuts or pecans to the mix, using the same nuts to decorate the topping. Less usual, but if you particularly like them, you could include sultanas or raisins. So much choice and we haven’t even looked at topping yet!


Most recipes agree on the topping: a mixture of cream cheese and Icing Sugar, sometimes with a little unsalted butter. Where the recipes disagree is on proportions. It really comes down to how sweet or creamy you like your topping to be.

Include a flavouring of your choice, beat it all together, adding a little milk if it’s too stiff and you’ve got your topping ready to spread on the cooled cake. Decorate with nuts, zest or leave simple. Of course, you can use low-fat cheese or leave the cake unfrosted. It will still be delicious!

Ingredients for the topping

  • 200g (7oz) cream cheese
  • 56g (2oz) softened unsalted butter
  • 56g (2oz) sifted icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

For the topping, mix cream cheese, softened unsalted butter, sifted icing sugar and vanilla essence, until smooth. Allow the cake to cool and then add the topping. This cake will keep for a few days in an airtight container. That is, if you can resist it that long!

Reader’s Tips

We’re always happy to hear your results and suggestions. One of our readers, Giuseppe, has sent us his tips below:

“Well I tried it and I have to say that it was a big hit: the wholemeal flour, the spices, the brown sugar and the sweet carrots win over all my family and I as well. My only change I feel I can suggest is the use of coconut instead of nuts in the mixture and the use of a simple topping of cream, whipping or plain, instead of a cheesy one that in my opinion hides the delicate taste of this delicious cake. In order to preserve the delicate taste I also reduced the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon.”

Another reader says she loved this recipe – here’s her tip:

“Well done to you cake baker, the carrot cake recipe is perfect. I added lemon and lime to the topping and some lemon to the cake itself as you suggested matching the top with the cake and this worked really well”.

And Jana suggests “use a honey for a topping, result is great!”

Want to Try More?

If you fancy experimenting and baking cakes with different types of fruit (or even vegetables), take a look at feature on how to adapt a fruit cake to your own tastes.

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