A few years ago when I dared to enter the Brighton Bake-off, I asked my husband what kind of cake he thought I should make. The answer was very fast: Carrot cake. His favourite.
Rather than go down the well trodden path of the traditional carrot cake, I decided to put my own spin on it, combining the autumnal flavours of parsnips and maple syrup, and topping with caramelised nuts.
As it turned out, the day itself was a heatwave with the sun roasting down upon the crowds lining the fields on picnic blankets and mingling under the white marque tents. Gorgeous weather as it was, after a few hours I hurried away for some shady respite for my pale skin. Little did I suspect what was in store…
Collecting my cake carrier at the end of the event, I was greeted by exclaims of excitement by the event organisers as a photographer hurried over. Surprise! I’d won first prize! I’m still very proud of my trophy (let’s just say, I’ve never had any illusions of winning any sports-based acolades) as baking is a passion of mine, with many a cake created for family and friends’ birthdays, baby showers and other events.
And SO, when our friend Francois turned 40 earlier this year, (and much to my husband’s excitement) it was time to roll out a recreation of this special recipe, funny enough, for the first time since winning the prize!
The birthday bash was a foodie’s heaven, with Francois and family hosting a delicious French dinner with an intimate gathering of friends laughing, eating and drinking in the candlelight. It was a memorable night and a good time by all, with the cake and local wine to finish! You can’t beat the company of good friends, fine food and a beautiful atmosphere.
The recipe: Carrot and parsnip cake with maple cream cheese frosting
- 230g self-raising flour
- 200g golden caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 250g grated carrots (organic are better…more flavoursome)
- 250g grated parsnips
- Handful of roughly chopped medjool / fresh dates
- 100g chopped pecan nuts
- 3 medium eggs
- 150ml sunflower oil
- Few tablespoons of maple syrup, to taste
- 2-3 tubs of Philadelphia cheese (must be this brand for high quality and FULL FAT)
- Approx 150g icing sugar (sugar to taste)
- 2-3 tbsp maple syrup
Caramelised nut topping:
- Few handfuls of pecan nuts and hazelnuts
- Few tbsp of white granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp butter
Part one: Bake
- Line a circular cake tin (I used one 20.5cm tin) by greasing with butter then cutting baking paper to size and sticking it to the inside, shiny side up. Turn the oven to 160 degrees celsius (fan) or 180 degrees celsius (non-fan).
- Grab a large bowl and sift together the dry ingredients (flour, golden caster sugar, pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder)
- Beat the eggs and sunflower oil in a separate bowl and then gradually add the mixture of dry ingredients. Add a tbsp or so of maple syrup to taste.
- Mix in chopped pecan nuts, then add the chopped dates, grated parsnips and carrots. The batter will be quite thick at this point, but keep going for a few minutes until you have a consistent mix!
- Pour the mixture into the cake tin and give it a few sharp taps on the table to even out the surface without knocking too much air out of the mix.
- Bake for 40 – 50 minutes. It should look slightly golden on top when it’s ready and when you insert a skewer into the middle it should come out clean. When in doubt, take it out, as a moist cake is better then a dry one!
Part two: Frost
- After 20 minutes, take the cake out the tin and cool on a wire rack. Leave it to cool – this may take a few hours so keep an eye on any hungry cats!
- Take a bread knife and slice through the centre (this will work if the cake is still warm, but is less risky when it’s cooler), creating two halves of the cake.
- In a bowl, spoon out all the Philladelphia cream cheese. Gently mix with a spoon to even out the lumps and bumps.
- Gradually sift icing sugar a into the cream cheese – you are aiming for a taste like cheesecake! You want a little bit of tartness so be careful to only add a few spoonfuls of sugar at a time and keep testing.
- At this point, you can pop your frosting into the fridge to firm it up or until you are ready to ice. When ready, take a large flat knife and generously spread onto the middle of the cake, then the top and sides.
- Drizzle a few spoonfuls of maple syrup over the top of the cake.
Part three: Finish
- Take your hazelnuts and pecan nuts, crushing and chopping for a range in sizes.
- Add to a frying pan on medium heat, along with the butter and sugar, stirring and coating all the nuts.
- After 5 – 10 minutes, the melted sugar and butter will start to colour and turn brown – this is the caramelisation process! Yum!
- Tip the nuts coated in the caramel onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. They will cool, clump together and harden.
- Once cool, take your caramelised nut fragments, and artfully decorate the top of your cake! Do this just before, or close as you can to serving.
- Serve with extra caramelised nuts on the side. Eat and enjoy a generous slice with fine friends and conversation!