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Another afternoon-tea kind of post – which is ironic, considering that, as a good northerner, I still consider ‘tea’ to be the meal you have at 6pm, usually involving potatoes and gravy. Still, I’m quite happy to adopt any custom that includes additional consumption of cake, so have embraced afternoon tea with gusto.
This week, Granny came for tea – not the potatoes and gravy kind – which was a good excuse to have another crack at the Best Carrot Cake Ever. I made this at the very earliest beginnings of my forays in the kitchen, and hideously undercooked it. I couldn’t quite believe that any cake would need an hour and a quarter in the oven, so only put it in for 40 minutes (I know this because I made myself some optimistic notes, which have now been scribbled out). Several banana breads later, I’m a little wiser: fruit and veg stuff always seems to need an age to cook.
But not quite as long, seemingly, as I gave this second-time-unlucky carrot cake – because this time, I slightly overcooked it. The preparation went well, at least. Grating the carrots is a long and wrist-hurting job, but once that’s done the rest is just mixing. The ingredients are unusual: no eggs and no milk for a start. Raisins, brown sugar and olive oil are added to the carrots – and let me tell you, the brown puddly mess this makes looks like nothing so much as some sort of Satanic dog food.
Then flour, baking powder, maple syrup and orange juice thankfully return the mixture to an edible-looking state. It’s bright orange and raisiny, and, thanks to the syrup and orange juice, smells delicious. Put it all in a tin (I went for a loaf tin, but any shape would do) and it’s ready for the oven.
The recipe calls for lemon icing to go on top. My attempts at lemon icing have all tasted far too lemony to me – I seem to lose the icing sugar entirely somewhere in the mixing – but perhaps that’s what it’s supposed to be like. It went well with the spices in this cake, I think, but it would overpower something blander-tasting like sponge cake. I certainly wouldn’t be able to eat it on its own. Not that this stopped the Other Half, who enthusiastically spread the remainder on toast before I could stop him (‘Wow!’ he exclaimed from the kitchen, ‘Every bite of this is like a citrus blast to the face!’).
Out of the oven, the cake proved drier than I would’ve liked: it should be moist and crumbly, like ginger cake, and it was more like bread in texture. I reckon fifteen minutes less in the oven would’ve done it (clearly I need to make more notes on the recipe). The taste, though, is very moreish – fruity and sharp. Based on our extensive too-dry-cake experience, warming up a slice before eating it should improve it a hundred-fold.
Deliciousness: The taste was good, but the texture was wrong. Carrot cake 0, over-enthusiastic fan oven 1. I’d make it again, though.
Complexity: Apart from the mystery of the cooking time, it wasn’t at all hard.
Washing-up pile: Five larger items, plus utensils.
Casualties: Several grated fingers. Grating carrots is hard…
Banana bread, says Nigella, ‘is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try’. I would add that banana bread is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking and in possession of a moderate quantity of gone-off fruit should try: it’s hard to plan to make this, since you have to wait till your bananas are too ripe to eat, and most of the time I tend to eat my bananas in whatever state I find them. I am an equal-opportunities fruit consumer.
Anyway, I wasn’t quite the banana-eating machine I anticipated this week, so we did indeed have a moderate quantity of gone-off fruit. And I am hesitant about baking. And since it counts as bread, not cake, I didn’t feel too decadent making it for Saturday breakfast. Boxes ticked: onwards!
I should say that I’ve made Nigella’s banana bread twice, and it turned out pretty well both times. In the interests of mapping unchartered loaf tin territory, however, I used Sophie Dahl’s recipe in her Voluptuous Delights cookbook: the basic ingredients were mostly the same, but present in different quantities and put together in a different order. Mashing the bananas is an oddly satisfying task, although I did run into problems when it turned out my bananas weren’t as ripe as I thought – devious little things! Hiding their edibleness under smelly black skins! – and needed a few minutes of extra-vigorous mashing.
The finished loaf, though a bit too browned by my burn-happy oven, was soft and exceedingly tasty. Especially good still warm from the oven and sliced with butter.
Incidentally, delicious and wholesome this may be, but dressy it is not; if, however, you need to produce a masterpiece and black bananas are all you have, I accidentally discovered how to snazz banana bread up when I had to use a too-big loaf tin. It makes a shallower loaf that can then be cut into small squares. Put the squares into individual cupcake cases and dust with icing sugar, and suddenly it looks all fancy.
The verdict, then:
Deliciousness – Top marks. We devoured about half of it within fifteen minutes.
Complexity – minimal, except the irritating task of lining the loaf-tin with greaseproof paper (essential if you want it to emerge from the tin in one piece). You can buy loaf-tin liners these days, so I’m going to investigate. Origami first thing in the morning is not my forte. It takes a whole hour in the oven, too, so have something to nibble on if you’re making it for breakfast. I was about ready to eat my own face by the time it was done.
Washing-up pile – ten items (medium). It would’ve been less had I not kept forgetting I’d already got out a fork.
Casualties – one. I managed to bean myself on the head with the emergency cheese grater when getting the teaspoon measurer from the top of the cupboard. The grater has now been thrown away. When would we need emergency cheese, anyway?