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Carrots to start

That’s right, folks, it’s time to talk breakfast again. And we all know what “talk” means around here, don’t we? It means SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO MY OPINION. As long as we’re clear. I’m not about to tell you it’s the most important meal of the day: that would be clichéed and glib. But really now. Kinda is. For me, anyway. (And also for you.) It’s delicious, important and an opportunity for a fantastically satisfying feed.

Have I mentioned how much I love carrots? I have one nearly every day, usually around 3:00 pm. If any of my coworkers had to nominate a habit of mine that most annoyed them, it would probably be the long, drawn-out crunching that takes place between 3:00 and 3:30 at my desk every day. They’re slightly sweet, totally juicy, and I love them. It makes my little bunny rabbit heart flutter to know there are some growing in my veggie patch right now, although it may be a race between winter and the carrots. If you’re just starting out learning to love veggies, I recommend reaching for the carrot: you can chop them into sticks and dip them in things, you can shred them and smuggle them into your sandwich or wrap, you can finely grate them and pop them in a quiche, frittata, omelette, spaghetti sauce, whatever. You can juice them: I love carrot juice but it’s hard to come by unless you have a juice at home (and a vast supply of carrots on hand).

Wikipedia tells me that we currently eat the domesticated version of Daucus carota, which was coincidentally my nickname in year 6; they’re loaded with beta-carotene and fibre (I couldn’t tell you why beta-carotene is good for you…something to do with cells?) (also, you probably don’t need/want me to tell you why fibre is good for you); but apart from that, they’re bright, tasty, juicy, crunchy and I love them. I have heard in legend and in song that purple, black and white varieties exist, and that thought keeps me going when insomnia gets the better of me.

So imagine — just picture it — my delight at realising a way of having carrots at breakfast. I know, right? Two of my favourite things: carrots and breakfast. And if I could work out a way to get some oats in there, well…jump back, Loretta.

Knobbly! Brown! All the things I love in cake.

BAM. Carrot cake. Yes. Rendered healthy and breakfasty through the judicious addition of oats, dates and plenty of spices. I give you The Queen of Carrot Flowers Cakes.

What I Put In

  • 25g butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 9-10 dried dates, finely chopped
  • generous splash of vanilla essence
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • allspice
  • generous pinch of salt
  • 2 carrots
  • 5 cm stick of ginger, quite thick: loads of ginger!
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ cup of oats, soaked in 1¼ cups of hot water
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

How I Put It In And Such

  1. Put the oats and water aside to soak for as long as possible. Add the chopped dates.
  2. Finely grate the carrot, ginger and lemon zest.
  3. Cream the butter with the jam and brown sugar; add the eggs, whipping cheerfully, and the vanilla. Add the spices and salt to taste.
  4. Add the grated carrot, ginger and zest and mix well.
  5. When the oats are plumped up and cool — if the water is too hot, it will cook the eggs — add to the mix.
  6. Juice the lemon into the mix and stir well. Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda and stir until just mixed.
  7. Pour batter into a greased loaf tin and bake at 180°C for around 40 minutes. Test with a skewer to see if it’s ready.
  8. Let it cool in the tray for 5 minutes or so and then tip onto a rack to cool.

The Queen of Carrot Cakes. Now, let’s not kid ourselves: this is still a cake. It isn’t health food and it doesn’t count towards your 5-to-7-per-day thing. But it is delicious and the oats, ginger and carrot make it less unhealthy than it could be. Still, don’t forget. Cake is a sometimes food. But sometimes I like a robust, moist, chewy, vegetabley cake served with yoghurt and fruit.

Figs, stewed quince, carrot cake. Yes. Yes, please.

Variations: Next time, I will add more brown sugar. It’s just that side of not-quite-sweet enough. If I had some, I would throw in some chunkily-chopped glacé ginger and maybe some candied citrus peel. Nuts, if that’s where you like to park your car, lightly toasted and finely chopped; you could substitute limes for lemon, and turn it more towards the savoury/pfefferneussen family by adding plenty more spices and a generous spray of pepper. There is loads of potential here.

I have heard (over and over) that cooking is art but baking is science: I’m not sure I’m convinced. I think both cooking and baking are science, but I think they’re also art. In this context, I suspect that “art” is shorthand for “gut feeling”, which, if we’re honest, is a combination of “guess-and-check” and “experience”. I tend to cook by feel. I used to be far more delicate about cooking from recipes, especially for cakes and biscuits and the like. However, it’s worth mentioning that I have produced a lot of duds with this approach. I’m not good at gauging sweetness and raising agents: my principal complaint about store-bought cakes and such is that they’re usually too sweet and fluffy, so I err on the side of less when I’m cooking at home. But through experience, I’m getting there, and my guesswork baking is getting better.

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