If you’re from mainland Europe, like me, and you have ever spoken about WWII to a grandparent or similar elderly person, then there’s a fair chance that you have also heard the mandatory rant about wartime scarcity:
“TULIP BULBS. Nothing but tulip bulbs for months. Not even cooked, the Germans had taken all the firewood. Even the clogs they’d taken, but just for the hell of it. By the time the yanks arrived we were munching on doormats. Those were found to be the most tender AND nutritious of what belongings we had left. The cat, of course, had been eaten months before, in honour of your aunt Hannie’s christening. Or was it your aunt Margriet’s?…”
In the UK, they were doing much better. Sure, there was less to eat than usual, what with the rationing and all, but nothing too worrying. In fact, the worst of people’s worries here, or so it seems, was the scarcity of sugar and the consequential difficulty in baking cakes. However, jolly and optimistic as they are, the British refused to have their afternoon tea spoiled by a bunch of angry Europeans, and they invented carrot cake.
Carrots, or so I’ve read, have been used in confectionery since the Middle Ages, because they’re quite sweet and therefore a suitable substitute for sugar, which was traditionally difficult to come by. Thanks to the war, carrots were reinvented as a natural sweetener. Carrot cake has remained popular, even after the war, and it’s one of my favourites. The recipe, of course, is different from that used in the forties, with added sugar and other ingredients that were unavailable back in the days.
For one cake, to feed a whole bunch of people:
200 gr flour
175 gr sugar (dark muscovado, preferably)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
175 ml oil
200 gr grated carrot
zest of one lemon and of one orange
100 gr of chopped walnuts, 50 for the dough and 50 for decorating
For the icing:
150 gr cream cheese
75 gr butter
50 gr icing sugar
lemon and orange zest
Chuck all the dry ingredients (but not the walnuts; only those in the top of the ingredients list) for the cake in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and mix with the oil. Stir through the flour mixture. Then add the grated carrot, the chopped walnuts and the zest of half a lemon and half an orange and fold it all in until it is mixed properly. Grease a springform cake tin, pour in the dough and bake for 45-60 minutes, 175°C.
Roast the rest of the chopped walnuts in a frying pan. Keep stirring or you’ll burn them. Once they’re getting nice and hot, add a couple of teaspoons of icing sugar and one more of normal sugar. Keep stirring and once the sugar goes soft, turn off the heat. When the walnuts are coated in sugar, take them out of the pan and leave them on a plate to cool.
Now make the icing. Before applying the icing to the cake, make sure it’s completely cool. Leave the butter out of the fridge for a while before using it, it needs to be soft. Put the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and zest of half a lemon and zest of half an orange in a bowl, beat with a mixer. Then apply generously to the cake. As finishing touch, sprinkle over the walnuts.