I bet carrots are one of the few vegetables with which you’d happily, and without hesitation, bake a cake. Well, you’re not alone. Carrots have been used to make sweet treats since the Middle Ages in Europe, when sweeteners were rare and expensive commodities, and the modern carrot cake is, in fact, a descendent of medieval carrot puddings. The vegetable then had an upsurge in popularity during World War II, especially in England, after the Ministry of Food recommended carrot Christmas pudding by publishing leaflets featuring a recipe for one, among other carrottastic dishes, due to wartime food rationing. This all makes sense, of course, since carrots contain more sugar than any other vegetable, aside from sugar beets, and are relatively easy to come by.
Carrot cake is now as ubiquitous as say, chocolate or Victoria sponge, and Nigel Slater declares that it deserves to be in every patisserie. And why not? At its best, this popular dessert is moist, wholesome, and full of chewy goodness – you can thank shredded carrots, chopped nuts, or chunks of dried fruit for that, depending on the recipe you’re using – and often comes with a thick, decadent layer of frosting that makes the consumption process all the more worthwhile. So how does the carrot cake rank in the world of baked goods?
Carrot cake was voted as the favourite cake in the UK, according to a survey in the Radio Times in 2011, and in 2005, USA based Food Network named it (with a cream-cheese icing) as number five of the top five fad foods of the 1970s. Not too shabby considering it began its career as a humble substitute for something better. ■