Why Drum N Bass? Because this afternoons bake-a-thon is sponsored by my good friend Richie’s superlative new album. Don’t believe me? Get over to itunes and download Captain Slackship’s Mezzanine Allstars right now . Best 7.50 you will ever spend. I dare you not to groove around….
Why a cake? Because I absolutely love and adore making cakes. It’s a science, an art form and there is nothing better for de-stressing after a hard day than creaming butter and sugar by hand (no kitchen gadgets here – took us 6 months to work up the courage to buy a blender!) I also love the preciseness of the process. Baking is totally different from cooking. To be successful you need to be exacting with your measurements, temperatures, ingredients etc. This resonates very strongly for me as a trained scientist. It is the scientific method in my kitchen and I am the lead scientist.
There is also the satisfaction of producing something beautiful and edible from a few, rather bland, everyday ingredients. The irony is that I am not mad about eating cakes in particular. Luckily YM comes into his own here. Blessed with a really sweet tooth and having been brought up on good, traditional Yorkshire baking (his Mum can make magic with her trusty Aga) he is a more than willing tester of all things flour-based.
So today’s adventures in baking will be a frosted carrot cake. Again, this is one of mum’s tried and tested recipes and, for me, one that has a strong association with Eid celebrations when I was growing up. Eid-al-Fitr is a Muslim holiday that is celebrated after Ramadan. It is known as ‘Big Eid’ (there is another but it’s not as much of a big deal) and lasts for three days. Three days of eating. Eating. Eating, eating and more eating whilst dressed in your best party salwar kameez. And like any family at Christmas, ours too had its traditions.
The first thing you need to do is actually ascertain when Eid is. Since Muslims work on a lunar calendar, the last night of Ramadan would be spent driving around our little village squinting up at the sky. If there was a new moon that meant it would be Eid the next day, if it was still an old moon that meant we had one more day of fasting. Of course, this was officially decided by the Big Beards in Mecca but being allowed to stay up late and then go for a night time drive when the whole village is sleeping is always a thrill for a young kid (that hasn’t become immune to these innocent joys by exposure to Xboxes and Facebook). Anyway, once we received confirmation by the radio we would all spring into frantic, hasty action.
It is traditional at Eid to have an ‘open house’. This basically means you prepare a buffet type feast and invite everyone you know to drop in. The whole day is spent with visitors flooding in and out, lots of eating and of course, everyone dressed to impress. As a kid, this meant all your friends would come over for an extended play session. Whilst all the parents sat in the living room with plates of kebabs and gulab jamans perched precariously on their knees, we had a free for all out in the garden. Imagine a day when your parents are too busy to nag you for climbing trees in your best clothes, you can eat as much cake as you like without anyone telling you off and people bring you presents. It’s like a birthday party! Many memorable stories have come about because of our Eid open house. One year I ate so many Fox’s Glacier Mints I was sick behind the shed (and to this day I still turn green when I see them). Another year we managed to crack open someone’s head on our tyre swing. And the best part – our folks were happily oblivious to it all.
My family traditionally holds its open house on the first day of Eid. When you don’t actually get confirmation until about 9pm the night before this can always cause a certain amount of stress. Supermarkets and bakeries stay open late to allow for folk to get their last minute shopping in. My maw, because she is such a star, had the reputation of putting on one of the best spreads in the village, even though this meant cooking all night without any sleep (which begs the question – why didn’t we ever just do it on the second day?). Lamb shami kebabs, chicken tikka pieces, samosas with various fillings, homemade coriander and tamarind chutney, pulao rice, lentil curry, meat curry and for pudding, kheer and carrot cake. All homemade by my maw and every scrap devoured by the time we shut the house around midnight the next night.
Mum’s carrot cake was a recipe she found in the Australian Woman’s Weekly (an amazing resource for cooks) that has been tweaked and perfected over the many years she has been making it. This cake has been the showstopper at every Eid, charity bake sale, dinner party etc. I can think of. It is a moist, fruity, creamy delight that makes the tastebuds weep for joy. There have been physical altercations in my family over who gets to lick the bowl after the batter has been made (and until my brother reached puberty and very quickly got bigger than me – I usually won.) So today, in recognition of my mother’s efforts for the family open house every year, I am going to try and re-create her famous Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese frosting.
You will need the following ingredients:
For the cake:
- 325ml of vegetable oil
- 300g granulated sugar (yup – still using vanilla sugar)
- 3 medium eggs
- 385g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking soda (I can’t get this in Mexico unless I go to a pharmacy so I am going to use baking powder)
- 210g grated carrot
- Half a tsp salt
- 3 tsps cinnamon powder
- 120g chopped walnuts (I don’t have any so I am going to use chopped pecans)
- 250g (1 tin) of crushed pineapple in juice
For the frosting:
- 1 packet of soft cream cheese (250g) – get a packet of Philadelphia
- 120g icing sugar
- vanilla extract