This carrot cake recipe means a lot to me, allow me to explain why.
I had never even heard of carrot cake before arriving in Cape Town, much less eaten it. Arguably South Africa’s favourite cake, it is such a massive part of South African baking-lore you’d be forgiven for thinking that it had actually been invented here, but in spite of being on virtually every cake menu I was unconvinced. A cake made out of carrots? It just seemed wrong on so many levels. My taste-buds screamed, “Culinary heresy!” and for a long while I steadfast refused to even consider ordering this baked abomination. But like all sweet temptations, carrot cake was everywhere and it wasn’t long till I gave in and tried it for myself. Oh what a revelation, one slice and I was hooked! Moist and delicious with undertones of pecans and festive cinnamon, all offset by the sweet cream cheese frosting, I had been wrong; this was no aberration, this was baked genius.
And so my love affair with carrot cake began. I have since tried countless carrot cakes, some more delicious than others. However my absolute favourite was from the Tibetan Tea House just outside Simon’s Town. It was a long way to go for a slice of cake but it always felt worth the drive. I loved sitting on their peaceful verandah; sipping some green tea, admiring the exquisite Nepalese thangkas and tucking into the carrot cake. Uncomplicated, classic and without the unnecessary additions that seem to find their way into carrot cakes these days, this cake was a thing of simplistic beauty. We would make the journey so often for our slice of baked-Nirvana, and bought so many of those beautiful thangkas, the owner of the Tea House, Anna, kindly gave us the recipe. Sadly, shortly after she had entrusted us with her recipe, the Tibetan Tea House went vegan and the carrot cake disappeared from the menu altogether. This amazing cake was simply no more, except in my house where I still use her recipe to this very day.
We don’t drive out to the Tibetan Tea House as often anymore, however we still get to enjoy our carrot cake bliss; but now we do so from the comfort of our own verandah, sipping our own green tea, surrounded by some of the same exquisite Nepalese thangkas. I like to tell myself that Anna knew her recipe wasn’t going to survive the impending Vegan Cull and that she wanted us to continue enjoying the cake we loved so much, I like to think she was really just that nice. Buddha would be pleased.
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- 4 eggs
- 1.25 cups brown sugar
- 1.25 cups vegetable oil
- 2.5 cups plain flour
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 3 cups finely grated carrots
- 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts), keeping 12 halves aside for decoration
Cream Cheese Icing:
- 110g butter, soft
- 300g icing sugar, sifted
- 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Essence or Extract
- 250g Cream Cheese, at room temperature
Method: The Cake
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Beat the eggs and sugar until light.
- Add the oil and beat again until blended.
- Sift together the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt.
- Add to the egg mixture and combine.
- Fold in the carrots and the chopped nuts.
- Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes in two 23cm/9 inch baking tins (greased). After 35 minutes insert a wooden skewer and if it comes out clean, then cake is done. If not, bake for an additional 5 minutes.
- Allow to cool slightly and then remove from the baking tins. Leave to cool on a cake rack until it has cooled completely. It is essential that the cake is completely cool before you apply the icing.
Method: The Icing
- Make sure your butter and cream cheese are both very soft.
- Cream the butter and gradually add the sifted icing sugar.
- Add the vanilla.
- Little by little, add the cream cheese and mix until just combined.
Method: Assembling the cake
Spread a small amount of the icing on the top of the bottom half of the cake. Add the the top half of the cake and then start applying the icing from the top, working your way to the sides and around the entire cake. Top with the reserved pecans (see. picture above)
Note: Place the bottom half of the cake on strips of wax paper, surrounding the entire circumference of the cake. Once you have finished icing the cake, carefully remove the strips and you will be left with a neat “frosting edge” around the base of the cake.