Carrot cake with orange blossom icing

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2012
Grrr, I’ve had so much trouble getting this post up. Sometimes Blogger totally misbehaves when I’m trying to add text and it drives me crazy! Anyway, enough of my moaning and back to the serious business of cake. 
This is a pretty reliable carrot cake recipe that produces a handsome round cake. It can also be scaled down to make a generous batch of muffins or mini loaf cakes.
The great thing about this cake is it’s packed full of sweet seasonal carrots and juicy sultanas, which make it surprising moist. I use the smallest amount of orange blossom essence in the icing, but you could use a little grated orange zest instead.
I hope you like the piccies I’ve done to go with this recipe – I’ve been watching way too much Downton Abbey 😉
You will need:
For the cake
300g soft light brown sugar
3 free range eggs
300ml sunflower oil or vegetable oil
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract
300g carrots, grated
1 small handful of dried sultanas
100g shelled walnuts, chopped, (plus extra to decorate)

For the icing:
300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold
½ tsp orange blossom essence

1.) Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3. Line and grease a round 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
2.) Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a mixer. Using a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk), beat until all the ingredients are well mixed. Next, sieve in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until all the ingredients are combined.
3.) Add the grated carrots and walnuts, stir together and then pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin. Bake in the preheated oven for around 1hr 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. When the tin is cool enough to touch, remove the cake and place it on a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake has cooled you can make your icing. This process is best done in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment, but you can use a handheld electric mixer too. Just lightly hold a tea towel over the bowl when mixing to prevent covering yourself with icing sugar.
4.) Sieve the icing sugar and add into a mixing bowl along with the butter. Beat together until the mixture is well combined.
5.) Add the cream cheese and ½ tsp of orange blossom essence (this must be exact or your icing will be too runny) and beat on a medium/high speed for about 4/5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
6.) Ice your cake using a palette knife and decorate with a mixture of whole and crushed walnuts.

Forced rhubarb, mascarpone and ginger semifreddo

Forced Rhubarb:  available January – Feb/March

I really like rhubarb but hadn’t ever tried the ‘forced’ variety before, so I eagerly bought a big bagful when I spotted it in my local fruit and veg shop.

Forced rhubarb, as the name suggests, it is literally forced to grow. The plants are grown in long sheds where they are subjected to heat and darkness so that the young shoots grow quickly in a desperate search for light. Apparently, it was originally cultivated to fill a gap in the vegetable calendar when there wasn’t much else available.

I wanted to try something a bit different from the usual rhubarb crumble (yawn), so decided to have a go at making a semifreddo. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

The ginger is the first of the flavours to come through, followed by the rhubarb – it’s almost like they politely take it in turns to tickle your taste buds.

The rhubarb flavour is a lot stronger in the sauce and balances the richness of the mascarpone cheese well.

PS: fellow Brightonians, I got my rhubarb from Taj in Western Road.

You will need
For stewing the rhubarb
200g forced rhubarb
Juice and zest of 1 large orange 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
2 pieces of stem ginger (about the size and thickness of a 2p piece), finely chopped

For the semifreddo:
4 eggs, separated
500g mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

1.) Roughly chop your rhubarb and place in a saucepan with the orange juice, orange zest, 100g caster sugar and chopped ginger. Then add enough water to the pan to just about cover your rhubarb.
2.) Bring to the boil and simmer for about 7 minutes until the rhubarb is soft.
3.) Sieve the rhubarb over a clean bowl.  Set the juice aside and pop it in the fridge when it’s cooled.
4.) Next, whip the egg whites into soft peaks with a pinch of salt.
5.) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla for a few minutes and then add the mascarpone cheese.
6.) Whisk the cheese and egg yolk mixture for a couple of minutes until smooth, then stir in your stewed rhubarb (not the juice).  Add one tablespoon of the egg whites and stir in with a metal spoon.
7.) Carefully add the cheese and rhubarb mixture to the egg whites and stir gently. Take care not to knock the air from the beaten egg whites.
8.) Line a freezer-proof container with cling film and pour in the mixture. Freeze for around 4 hours (or overnight).
9.) Remove the semifreddo from the freezer and leave to stand for around 5 mins while you make the sauce.
10.) For the sauce, pour the chilled rhubarb juice into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook down until it thickens.
11.) Carefully lift out the semifreddo using the cling film, place it upside down on a serving plate and remove the cling film.
12.) To serve, cut even portions of the semifreddo and drizzle each the sauce. To finish, sprinkle with crushed amaretto biscuits (optional).

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2014

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