When it comes to choosing a wedding cake, the carrot cake is fast gaining in popularity

Having evolved from a medieval pudding, carrots form the bulk of this ‘wholesome’ cake

20 January 2022 - 08:00
By Hilary Biller
The modern carrot cake started life as a medieval carrot pudding in Europe.
Image: 123RF/natavkusidey The modern carrot cake started life as a medieval carrot pudding in Europe.

Carrot cake has been on my mind of late because I was honoured to be asked to put together a wedding cake with the vegetable confectionery forming the sturdy base of what was a three-tier cake for my godson and his bride-to-be’s wedding that took place last Saturday.

I was interested to discover that the modern carrot cake started life as a medieval carrot pudding in Europe, the orange tubers having originated in modern-day Iran and Afghanistan. Carrots were then imported to the Americas by European settlers and only in the 20th century did the carrot pudding evolve into a ‘healthy’ alternative as a cake. The pudding was originally made in an era when sugar as we know it today was non-existent, so carrots were used as the sweetening agent.

Like so many originals, it’s finding that perfect recipe that makes each slice memorable

It is said the popularity of the cake was revived because of food rationing during WWII as the carrots bulk up the cake beautifully, meaning less flour is required and oil is used instead of butter.

Like so many originals, it’s finding that perfect recipe that makes each slice memorable, so that’s how I spent the week before the wedding — baking and grating what felt like a mountain of carrots.

It does feel a little sinful to be writing about cake in the first month of a New Year when many, like me, had good intentions to cut back on the good things in life after way too many spoils over the festive season, but this baking stint felt more like an important job involving lots of testing and tasting imperative to the success of the cake.

The good news is that carrots are in season, plentiful and cheap, so perhaps it is the best time to put a carrot cake to the test with my recipe. I hope it becomes one of those cakes that you make over and over again.


Makes: 1 large cake


400ml soft brown sugar

4 large eggs

350ml oil such as sunflower or canola

500ml (2 cups) cake wheat flour

10ml (2 tsp) bicarbonate of soda

10ml (2 tsp) mixed spice

5ml (1 tsp) salt

4 x 250ml (4 cups) grated carrot

100g walnuts or pecan nuts, chopped and toasted in a dry non-stick pan (see tips)

125ml (1/2 cup) desiccated coconut, toasted in a dry non-stick pan (see tips)

1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

1 x 400g can of crushed pineapple, well drained

90ml (6 tbsp) sultanas or raisins

Cream cheese icing:

150g butter, softened but not melting

500ml (2 cups) icing sugar

150g thick cream cheese (not cottage cheese)

A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

25ml whiskey, optional or 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

A couple of tips before you start:

  • Toasting the nuts and desiccated coconut — done in a dry non-stick pan while stirring over low to medium heat until just golden brown — is certainly worth the effort for the intensity of flavour of the two ingredients. Take care as it can burn easily.
  • Adding the freshness of citrus — finely grated orange rind and the juice — gives the cake that zing of the freshness of citrus.
  • Adding a tot of whiskey to the icing adds a delicious caramelly/toffee undertone to the icing.
  • ­The cake improves in flavour if made the day before it is eaten — if you can wait that long.


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the sugar and eggs until light in colour and foamy. Add the oil and beat again until well mixed.
  2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and salt. Fold into the egg mixture.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the cooled toasted nuts and coconut. Combine the apple, orange zest and juice and add to the mixture with the drained pineapple and sultanas. Mix through with a wooden spoon so ingredients are well blended.
  4. Line the base of  a deep 23cm springform pan and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake at 180°C for 60-80 minutes. Ensure the cake is cooked through, particularly in the middle. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan then carefully remove from the pan and cool completely on a cooling rack.
  5. When cold, cut the cake in half horizontally using a bread knife or if tall enough into three layers.
  6. For the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together until light in colour and well blended. Add the cream cheese and beat again until smooth then add the whiskey or lemon juice. If very soft, add extra sifted icing sugar until you have a spreadable consistency.
  7. Use the icing to sandwich the cakes together and spread the remainder over the top. If desired, sprinkle over chopped nuts or garnish with orange zest.