Back to a little baking this week, and a cookie-fied version of one of the more recent additions to what I call the Classics Range.
Carrot cake is now ubiquitous. There isn’t a bakery on the high street, nor a supermarket in the suburbs that doesn’t have carrot cake on the shelves in one form or another.
Its origins are murky, though most sources agree that it originated in Switzerland in the early 1800s, and it’s still popular there today. Many Swiss birthday cakes are still based on the familiar recipe. And here in Britain, it has been popular since the Second World War, when vegetables were used in the baking of cakes due to rationing of sugar, butter and other more luxurious ingredients.
Using shredded or grated vegetables such as beetroot, courgette, marrows and parsnips helps add bulk and flavour and holds the all-important moistness that cakes require to be palatable.
Even now, in the trendier food magazines and websites, we see ‘retro’ recipes crop up with regularity – beetroot and chocolate or courgette and lime, and they are wonderful, different cakes, worthy of further research and experimentation.
However, the carrot cake is easily the winner in this race. Undergoing something of a renaissance in the 1970s, as the vegetarian boom swept the nation, the carrot cake appears to have found a permanent place in our hearts, vege or not. There’s a wonderful harmony in the recipe – the moist, chewy carrot shreds buried within that dense, sticky cake, loaded with warming bakery spices and sweet brown sugar.
Then there’s the traditional cream cheese topping, never cloyingly sweet, adding a slightly saline note to keep all the sugar and spice in check. There aren’t many cakes as good with a cup of dark, strong coffee as our friend the carrot.
So to this week’s recipe, which, as I mentioned, is a cookie with all the appeal of the classic carrot cake.
Big, squishy cookies, moist with fruit and nicely spicy, topped with a smooth cream-cheese icing. Here I must give credit for the original recipe, upon which I riffed, to Kate Doran, aka The Little Loaf.
Her website is worth visiting – she loves to bake, and her enthusiasm is contagious. I tinkered with the ingredients and quantities a little, but the basic idea was Kate’s. It’s too good not to share, and it’s also a good recipe for enlisting the assistance of the younger members of the family.
Fun can be had mixing messily, dolloping with gusto and getting icing all over the place. At the end of it, though, you’ll have the most amazing chewy cookies that echo back through time to those first Alpine origins.
For the cookies:
125g wholemeal flour
125g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
80g coconut oil, warmed gently
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 medium free-range eggs
150g grated carrot
50g Medjool dates, finely chopped
For the icing:
200g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g full-fat cream cheese
The seeds of 1 vanilla pod
Preheat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, cinnamon and mixed spice.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, vanilla extract, maple syrup and eggs, then stir into the dry ingredients until combined.
Fold in the grated carrot, the raisins and diced dates and mix to form a thick batter.
Scoop heaped tablespoons of the mixture onto the prepared tray, dab down a little with a wet finger, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly risen, firm to the touch and a nice warm golden colour.
Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
As the cookies cool down, make up the icing; beat the icing sugar and butter together in an electric mixer on medium-slow speed for at least 10 minutes, until the mixture is soft and smooth.
Add the cream cheese and vanilla seeds, and beat until completely incorporated.
Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the icing is light and fluffy, at least 10 minutes.
Pipe the icing onto the cooled cookies, or make up cookie sandwiches for a more substantial snack.