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Take the Cake - February 2017

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Take the Cake - February 2017

by Ron Skaar

The most primitive people in the world began to cook cakes, shortly after they figured out how to make flour. On the first day of spring, ancient Celts rolled cakes down a hill hoping to persuade the sun to keep rotating. Further east, the Chinese offered up round cakes at harvest time in honor of their moon goddess.

Ancient Greeks used beer as a leavening agent, frying fritters in olive oil and cheesecakes using goat’s milk. Romans enriched basic bread dough with butter, eggs and honey to produce a sweet cake. The term cake is of Viking origin, stemming from the Old Norse word “kaka”. 

Cakes were baked for special occasions because they were made with the finest and most expensive ingredients. In the 14th century, Chaucer writes of one such cake made with 13 kilograms of flour plus butter, cream, eggs, spices, currants and honey. Sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs were created during the Renaissance in Spain.

Early cakes in England were essentially bread formed into flat round shapes which were turned over once while baking. By the 18th century yeast had fallen into disuse as a raising agent in favor of beaten eggs. Once enough air had been beaten into the egg mixture, it was poured into elaborate molds or sometimes baked in two tin hoops set on a flat sheet.

Baking ingredients became more affordable and readily available during the Industrial Revolution when modern leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder were invented. They provided lift and a moist texture to butter or oil based layer cakes. Many ingredients and flavorings were added to create banana bread, devils food,  chiffon and carrot cakes.

Sugar and other sweeteners were difficult and expensive to come by in Britain so carrots had long been used in baking as a sweet substitute. Carrot puddings were enjoyed since the middle ages throughout Europe. Recipes for steamed carrot pudding and for carrots baked in pastry, like pumpkin pie date back as far as the 16th century.

George Washington was served a carrot tea cake at his favorite tavern in Manhattan. Carrots were used for moisture and sweetness in cakes and by the late 1800’s carrot pudding began to be baked in loaf pans. When luxury foods were rationed during the First World War carrots again became a staple in baking.

After World War II an enterprising American businessman hired a bakery to use the overload of canned carrots produced for the military. Those first carrot cakes were a novelty. In the 1960’s the practice of using a cream cheese frosting for the cake was introduced. America’s love for carrot cake caught on during the health conscious ‘70s. 

The accompanying recipe creates an ultra moist and feather light cake where the buttermilk helps to soften and set the color of the carrots.  

Email me if you would like the recipe for the Candied Carrot Coins in photo: ronskaar@comcast.net

Photo by Jon Russo

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Cake

Nonstick vegetable spray

1 lb. carrots, peeled and coarsely grated

1 cup buttermilk

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

¾ tsp. baking soda

4 large eggs, room temp

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed

2 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup canola oil

Frosting

10 oz. cream cheese, room temp

½ cup (1stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9” cake pans with nonstick spay and line bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Combine carrots and buttermilk in a bowl. Whisk flour, spices, baking powder, soda and salt in bowl. In electric mixer beat eggs with the sugars and vanilla extract until pale and thick. Reduce speed and gradually stream in oil. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with carrot mixture; mix until smooth. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Bake cakes, rotating pans halfway thru until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack, run a knife around sides of cake and let cool completely.

Using an electric mixer on high speed beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in powdered sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Place one cake on platter and spread ¾ cup frosting over top. Place remaining cake on top and spread remaining frosting over top and sides.

Optional: add ½ cup golden raisins and 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts if desired.