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Nourishments-Carrot Cake Is A Lifelong, Year 'Round Favorite



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Carrot Cake Is A Lifelong,

Year ‘Round Favorite

By Nancy K. Crevier

I’m not surprised that my grandma’s carrot cake was the best ever at any social affair in town. The finely shredded — and possibly pureed — carrots that were wedded to the plump raisins and walnuts in the batter came from my grandpa’s garden. I don’t know if it was the soil or the variety, but the carrots that we pulled were like candy from the earth.

Trailing along with my grandpa when he harvested the carrots, it was a delight to swab a newly unearthed carrot across the dew-moistened grass, and bite into the tender taper. The flavor was a burst of unparalleled, clean sweetness.

Like sugar beets, carrots are high in natural sugars. Carrot puddings of Medieval European society counted on that natural sweetness, and during war time in England, carrot cake was popularized, since it required far less of the rationed sugar than other cakes.

It took awhile, according to various histories of this wholesome cake, for it to gain a foothold in America. It was not until the 1960s that carrot cake regularly appeared in cookbooks and on menus. (I have always been under the impression that my grandma had been making hers for quite a long time before that, and that her mother also baked a mean carrot cake. Perhaps she was just ahead of her time.) Since then, numerous variations of carrot cake have been popularized.

Carrot cakes made with baby food carrots, pureed carrots, grated carrots, or mashed or chopped carrots are combined with various other ingredients. Some recipes call for raisins or walnuts. Some recipes add pecans and pineapple. Coconut is not unheard of in carrot cake recipes, nor is the addition of chocolate chips or dried cherries. The cake is sweetened with brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup, or honey — or sometimes a combination of more than one, in just enough quantity to complement the carrots.

Whole wheat flour makes a denser cake than one made with white flour, but the more pronounced flavor of whole wheat flour seems to be an ideal partner for carrot cake. Cinnamon is the traditional spice, but ginger, all spice and nutmeg sometimes make their ways into recipes, as well. The zest of lemon or orange enlivens the flavor in other recipes.

Carrot cakes are baked in loaf pans, bundt pans, spring form pans, square pans, round pans, and tube pans, each style reflective of the family recipe, it seems. My grandma favored a square pan, if my memory serves me well.

As varied as the cake recipe itself is the frosting. Hands down, a cream cheese based frosting is the favorite, but there are as many takes on that as there are carrot cake recipes. Purists, of course, will demand their cake sans frosting of any kind.

Being that carrots are the main ingredient in carrot cake, it seems reasonable to assume that it falls into the “health food” category. Would that it did. According to fatsecret.com, 1/10th of a 9-inch carrot cake contains 326 calories, with 45 percent of the calories coming from fat. Of course, this number will vary greatly, depending on the recipe, and the frosting. I’d say it is safe to say that at least 400 calories will be consumed in a slice of carrot cake. However, you will get 6 percent of your Daily Value of iron, 5 percent of calcium, and a whopping 1 percent of your Daily Value of vitamin C in that slice. It’s a start, right? And I do like to think that the carrots, along with the nuts and raisins in grandma’s cake, made it a better choice than a cake made from artificially flavored and sweetened cake mix.

Alas, I wish I could share my grandma’s carrot cake recipe, but so far as I know, it has faded from the annals of our family history. It remains only a delicious memory upon my taste buds.

And I wish I could share my second favorite carrot cake recipe, one that an old friend developed and that we tweaked together. That cake has appeared at holiday parties, bar and bas mitzvahs, weddings, and on the breakfast table, disguised as French toast. We swore never to share the recipe. I’ve lost touch with her, but I trust she continues to uphold her end of the bargain.

I don’t feel too badly, though. Half the fun of cooking is trying something new: so, Google away. I’m sure the carrot cake of your dreams is out there. And think of the tasty trail to finding it!

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