Winter is leaving. And with it, are sweet, red carrots that’ll soon be gone from the markets. So a whole wheat carrot cake is my way of bidding the season adieu. Sated from eating gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa, cooked with carrots, cardamom, sugar, ghee and dry fruit) all winter, I craved a different kind of carrot dessert. The idea of a spiced whole wheat carrot and coconut cake appealed to me. I wanted a fragrant, moist and satisfying cake.
The red carrot is an iconic winter vegetable, much celebrated in India. So much so , that carrot or gajar halwa features on the dessert menu of most if not all winter weddings, especially in North India. You may have carrot halwa with vanilla ice cream or with rabdi – a thick and creamy milk pudding, carrot halwa stuffed crepes or even a carrot halwa cheesecake! Jams, pickles and murabba (carrots candied in spice-infused sugar syrup) are made in homes all over India during the cold season. At this time of the year, it’s common to see people buying kilos of large, red carrots as markets are flooded with them. Their naturally high sugar levels make them excellent for dessert. Because of this, I often cut the sugar in my red carrot based dessert recipes (which is a good thing I think).
Coming back to my whole wheat carrot cake, you will notice that while I have used fresh carrots, I’ve gone for packaged desiccated coconut. I soaked the coconut in hot milk for an hour prior to starting on the batter. Both the milk and milk-saturated coconut add a pleasant moistness to the cake. I also add the ground spices to the infusion to let them seep deep into the milk mixture. This cake has no butter or oil, yet the crumb is not dry and dense. The juicy carrots and the milky coconut compensate quite marvelously.
I used honey instead of sugar, just because I wanted a mild sweetness. Cakes with honey tend to brown faster. So while baking if you feel that it’s browning rather rapidly, cover it with foil after the first 10 minutes to prevent it from burning.
Soft, Indian, whole wheat flour or atta is my choice of flour in this recipe. Any, relatively soft whole wheat flour (not bread flour) will work equally well. Two teaspoons of baking powder,(may seem like a lot but isn’t) helps aerate the cake but don’t expect a lofty cake. Rather, what you’ll get is a firm but tender and dewy cake, with the gentle crunch of carrots and coconut. There is a warm, gentle and fragrant heat built by the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg which makes this whole wheat carrot cake wholesome and homey.
I rarely ice my cakes. One, because I’m quite shoddy at it and two, because I really do not care for a heap of butter and sugar on top that may overpower the intrinsic flavours of a cake. But I am guilty in this case of using a thick, glaze-like frosting. Thinner than frosting that can be piped but thicker than a glaze, my topping is a quick mix of cream cheese, vanilla, some icing sugar and a few drops of lemon juice. Tangy yet sweet, it contrasts wonderfully with the hit of the spices. This lightly sweet icing has a faint lemony echo which seems to ‘complete’ or round off the flavours of the cake. It’s something creamy to compliment the crunchy titbits of carrots and coconut.
Whole Wheat Carrot And Coconut Cake
- 125 g whole wheat flour
- 120 g red carrots, grated
- 70 g dessiccated coconut
- 250 ml hot milk
- 90 g honey
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp powdered cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp powdered cardamom
- 1/4 tsp powdered nutmeg
For the glaze:
- 90 g cream cheese, at room temperature
- 75 g icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2-3 tsp lemon juice
- 1 handful walnuts, roughly crushed into small chunks
- Preheat the oven to 176℃, lightly grease a 9-inch round cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
- Pour the hot milk into a large bowl, swirl in the honey and ground spices, mix in the desiccated coconut, cover and let it steep for an hour.
- Sift the flour with salt and baking powder in another bowl.
- After an hour, add the beaten egg to the milk mixture, followed by the grated carrots and mix.
- Finally, gently fold in the sifted flour till just combined, pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 min or till a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Turn out the cake onto a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
- Meanwhile, make the topping by mixing together the cream cheese (softened, at room temperature), icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until smooth and glossy. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Generously slather and spread the frosting on the cake, sprinkle crushed walnuts all over, and serve.