One of my co-workers, a nice lady called Heleen, mentioned that she had a great recipe for carrot cake. That got my attention as I was looking for a dessert recipe with vegetables. She lent me a book from Slow Food Editore full of recipes from Italian trattorie (simple restaurants that serve traditional food). I liked the book so much that I ordered my own copy in Italian (to make sure that nothing would be ‘lost in translation’. The recipe for carrot cake is from Trattoria all’Isolo from the great city of Verona.
Baking is more of an exact science than cooking in general, as the margins of error are smaller. That is why good recipes for baking always include measurements in grams. This recipe mentioned “il succo di 4 arance” (the juice of 4 oranges), which is not a precise measure at all.
This is what happened when I made the carrot cake for the first time, following the recipe exactly. My oranges were apparently bigger or more juicy than those used in Verona, and thus the batter ended up too thin and the cake ended up being too moist and not completely cooked through. I could still tell that it had a wonderful flavor, and so I thought it would be worth fixing the issue. I asked Heleen about it, and she said she didn’t actually use 4 oranges but just how much she thought felt right.
The second time around that is what I did too, and the result was a delicious cake. It has a wonderful flavor and texture, which is nicely moist and not dry at all like so many cakes. It is also gluten free. I have measured the amount of orange juice I used, so you can make it first time right. I also reduced the amount of sugar a bit as I thought the first cake was too sweet.
Although this cake is called Torta di carote in Italian (carrot cake), it also includes almonds and so I’m calling it a carrot and almond cake. The recipe in the book does not include five spice, which was suggested by Heleen. It works very well with the cake, but you could also omit it or substitute with something else. I bet fresh ginger juice would also be nice. If you can’t buy five spice, you can make your own. It is usually a mixture of cinnamon, star anise, pepper, cloves, and fennel seed. Here’s my version of this wonderful cake. Thanks, Heleen!
300 grams carrots
250 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
135 grams egg whites (4 egg whites)
65 grams egg yolks (4 egg yolks)
200 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
125 grams granulated sugar
125 grams cane sugar
1 Tbsp honey
pinch of salt
1 tsp five spice
butter for greasing the pan
This is great with an amber colored passito, for instance a Passito di Pantelleria. Passito is an Italian dessert wine made from dried grapes, often moscato (not to be confused with the light fizzy Moscato d’Asti). If passito has an amber color, this usually means that it has a nutty flavor and that goes well with this cake. Vin Santo may also work if it is sweet enough; many Vin Santo are not (unless you reduce the amount of sugar in the cake).
Mackerel ceviche is easy to make and delicious.