Spiced Orange and Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot cakes have never been part of my habitual baking repertoire. I was recently asked by a colleague if I could make a couple of cakes to celebrate his promotion. He asked if one of them could be a carrot cake, and naturally I obliged. I think I’ve made one carrot cake in the past, and it was enjoyable. It’s never the cake that I would naturally gravitate towards if I had a choice. So I wanted to develop a recipe that appealed more than the retro carrot classic. To start I consulted this Lorraine Pascale recipe for a three-layer cake and adapted it in a few ways to suit.

I had such rave reviews for this cake. I had a slice and I have to say I bumped it straight into my favourites. It’s easy to make, although it takes a bit of dedicated time, keeps very well for a week or so, is very moist and light and looks decorative on a stand.

Apart from general small tweaks, the key digressions from the original recipe are:

– using two-thirds of the recipe stipulations to make a two layer cake. I have to admit I’m surprised that a three layer cake using these quantities is feasible! The two layer version was super tall and fluffy. Three would have been absurdly enormous!

– using wholemeal self-raising flour instead of white self-raising flours. You can buy wholemeal flours in major supermarkets nowadays and this is the perfect recipe for it. It enhances the rich colour of the cake and adds a more natural flavour. It also makes the cake slightly healthy, doesn’t it?

– Using “Canola” oil to make the cake instead of vegetable oil (as I’ve read it’s slightly better for you).

– Adding a dash of orange extract to the mixture to enhance the orange flavour of the cake.

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Cake Frosting
350ml Canola or rapeseed oil 200g icing sugar
6 medium eggs, I used my favourite Burford Browns 40g unsalted butter
350g soft dark brown sugar, or a mix of 175g soft light brown sugar and 175g soft dark brown sugar zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
350g wholemeal self-raising flour half tsp vanilla extract
5 large carrots, grated coarsely 115g full fat cream cheese
zest of 3 large oranges walnuts, halved, to decorate
2 tsp/10g bicarbonate of soda candied peels or orange and lemon jelly slices, to decorate
1 tbsp/15g mixed spice
half tsp/2.5g orange extract
half tsp/2.5g vanilla extract, I used Nielsen Massey

 

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees or 160 degrees fan. Butter and line two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.

2) Add the oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, orange extract, carrots and orange zest and whisk in a free-standing mixer until everything is well mixed and a dark caramel colour with the carrot visible.

3) Sift the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice into the wet mixture. Whisk again until everything is well mixed and no lumps are visible.

4) Pour into the tins evenly. The mixture should be quite runny and pour easily from your mixing bowl.

5) Bake for 40 minutes. The cakes will have a rich brown top when fully cooked. Leave to cool in the tins and turn out onto a wire rack after 10 minutes or so.

6) For the frosting, sift the icing sugar and whisk together with the butter, lemon zest and vanilla in a free-standing mixer. Add the cream cheese and whisk on high speed for 2 minutes or so until the mixture is fluffy.

7) If necessary leave the frosting in the fridge for half an hour to firm up.

8) Slice the top off one cake (your least favourite one!) so that the top is flat. Add a generous amount of frosting (just under half) and place your second layer on top.

9) Add the rest of the frosting to the top of the cake and pile up as necessary. Make a few swirly patterns with your palette knife. Decorate with your halved walnuts, candied peel or jelly slices.

Give it a go at the weekend and keep it in an airtight tin over the week to have a sneaky slice with a cup of tea, use it as a celebration cake or even adapt it for cupcakes. I’m a carrot cake convert after using this recipe!

 

 

Recent Stationery Acquisitions

Happy Sunday! It’s a rainy day in London today and I am using the opportunity to indulge in indoorsy pursuits. This includes making a beef bone broth which has been on the go for a few hours now and has a few still to go! More on that another time.

It’s about time for an update on the masses of stationery I have acquired in the last few weeks. I’ve always got my eye on little things that I would like to add to my collection or to make my life a bit easier. At the moment these are mostly writing implements, inks, woodcased pencils, washi tapes, etc. I have a little stack of notebooks waiting to be used so I’ve got a few more brands on the wishlist for the future.

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I used a solitary evening after work to use some of my paper collection to make homemade envelopes. This was a surprisingly easy task. I picked up a few envelope sizes from a nearby paper shop and proceeded to pull the glued sections apart to create an envelope template. I drew around them with a 2H pencil (to leave very light lines), cut them out, glued the edges, hid them away in a heavy book for a few hours to glue solidly, and attached some old luggage labels and black card for addresses. I posted them all out to friends and family and they were hugely well received. It’s great to devote effort to something and share it with others. One of my friends is sending me a letter back, I can’t wait!

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Here is part of my collection of all time favourite papers. A good friend actually gave this to me for my Secret Santa gift last year having picked a ream up from a pop-up shop in Paris called Petit Pan, and needless to say it went down a storm. The papers have a fine Japanese quality about them, both in their delicacy and design. They make beautiful envelopes. I actually hate using the paper a little bit because I can’t bear to take a pair of scissors to them. I also bought a Palomino Blackwing Pearl pencil, which is described as similar to a 4B grade pencil, some Midori Origami Memo paper (you can write a reasonable sized note and fold it into various origami shapes, I picked hexagons) and some craft-style Midori labels. The Midori Kraft envelopes were a great little find in a lucky dip bag that I ordered from The Journal Shop.

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Receiving the lucky dip bag was a bit like Christmas Day!

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Here’s one of the Midori Origami Memo hexagons all made up and unfolded again. They’re affably tiny when folded up. It’s a bit of fun.

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This was a little haul from various sources including a Palomino Blackwing, Iconic pastel double-ended pens, Coccoina glue stick, little “Write On!” stamp, vintage “Hello My Name Is” labels, and some Louise Fili Tutti-Frutti coloured pencils. I used the Coccoina glue stick for my homemade envelopes and it is as effective as one could hope from a glue stick, with a pleasing almond-like sweet scent. The Iconic double-ended pens have been a useful addition to my every-day collection, although the fineliner end is a little incompatible with the pastel palette as they are quite difficult to see on paper. I’m loving the “Write On!” stamp inked up on my Lion stamp pad for adding to notes, my envelopes and letters.  I haven’t had an opportunity to use the Tutti-Frutti pencils yet, I will report back.

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A very practical addition is a Seeso Graphics vintage A5 pouch. It’s a gorgeous black pouch for your everyday items that you need to keep together in your bag. I promptly added my Moleskine notebook and writing implements of choice for the week (Iconic lime green pastel double-ended pen, Palomino Blackwing 602, a washi tape of course, my brass sharpener, Muji eraser, grey fine-point Sharpie, turquoise Faber-Castell Broadpen 1554 and Lamy Safari with Diamine Bilberry). It’s helped me feel organised and encourages me to carefully select the tools I want to carry around with me for the week rather than bringing a bit of everything. It also looks professional, which helps create a useful first impression (before I bring out a pencil with a pencil cap attached anyway!).

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These are said pencil caps by Iconic. In short they are like pen lids, except for pencils. Why would one need such a thing you ask. Well, if you like to keep your pencils sharp, then the chances are you will break the tip in your pencil case, or leave marks on whatever it comes into contact with. Both problems are eradicated with these little beauties! Plus they add a bit of whimsical character to the pouch.

My other acquisitions include:

– Diamine Claret Ink 30ml bottle (currently in my Kaweco Sport)

– Rhodia dotpad, Orange, A5

– Tomboy Mono 100, H grade

– Diamine Bilberry Ink 30 ml bottle

– Monami 0.7 153 stick in blue and orange

I’ll be posting my stationery wishlist soon to share with you what I am going to be investing in in the near future. Have you used any of the above or got any tips for the wishlist?

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Vietnamese Salad and Lime Marinated Salmon with Crispy Skin

I have found the weather in London over the last week or so to be uncomfortably muggy. There’s no pleasing Londoners sometimes. Winter never seems to end and then when summer does come the heat is too hot.

Summer calls for light meals and, for me, a seemingly unconscious move towards healthier and simpler forms of food. Tonight’s Monday night meal was a Vietnamese salad and lime marinated salmon with crispy skin. I have never made this dish before and I found it a frenzy of freshness, texture and bright, joyful colour. The pleasing crunch of the vegetables is complemented in each mouthful with the softness and mild citrus flavour of the salmon. Also, given that this dish is basically guilt-free, eating it in large quantities is allowed.

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I think that the salad is really made by the inclusion of mint. I overlook mint in much of my cooking apart from in the old favourites; blitzing into sauce for lamb or adding handfuls to Pimms. It’s great to use it in a dish where it is really at the forefront rather than an accompaniment. Secondly, I continually tasted the dressing for flavour, and leaving it for 30 – 40 minutes to mellow seemed to take the edge off the strong flavours of fish sauce and raw garlic.

This recipe makes more than enough for 2.

Ingredients

Dressing

25ml (approximately 1 and a half tablespoons) of fish sauce

4 limes, juice only

25ml vegetable or sunflower oil

25ml white wine vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely or crushed and chopped finely

Salt and pepper

Salad

1 red onion, sliced finely

2 carrots, sliced finely or grated

Half a small red cabbage and half a small white cabbage, sliced finely

Bunch of coriander, chopped roughly

Bunch of mint, chopped roughly

Generous handful of raw beansprouts

Salmon

2 salmon fillets, undressed and unflavoured

3 limes, juiced and rinds kept to marinade along with the salmon

1) Marinade your salmon in the lime juice and nest the rinds among the two fillets. Keep in the fridge until needed.

2) Make the dressing to give it time to sit and mellow. Add all the dressing ingredients to a deep bowl, stir and keep cool. I recommend tasting the dressing as you go to add more of what pleases your palate. I added more lime juice and a little extra red chilli.

3) Slice all your vegetables finely and layer in a deep salad bowl. Mix thoroughly to distribute the vegetables evenly.

4) After about 30 or 40 minutes, pour the dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly to cover all the vegetables with the dressing.

5) Serve with a fillet of salmon that has been marinated for at least 2 hours in lime juice. I oven bake the salmon fillet for about 17 minutes at 170 degrees fan, and grill it (skin side up) for a minute or so after cooking to crisp up the skin. For the carb lovers among us, some coconut rice would go nicely with this dish.

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Lucky me, I’ve got enough left for my lunch tomorrow. I’m going to team it with some shredded chicken breast.

Rome

I have had a short hiatus from London and recently spent a few days in Rome. I had never been to Rome before, and found that whenever I mentioned it to other people, they responded with adoring but vague comments such as “I love Rome” or “Ohhhhh Rome”. On questioning why they love Rome, so I could do similar things and hopefully come away with a similar appreciation, I found that very few people could articulate any particular reasons. Categories were spoken about wistfully – “the food… the buildings… the squares…”. So I decided that there was some kind of Rome bug that I would catch there and which would presumably render me babbling whenever anyone asks why I loved Rome in the future.

For the record, I really did love Rome. I found it incredibly relaxed, civilised, full of beauty and history. We stayed in the Trastevere neighbourhood, which I would highly recommend for its winding streets, ochre coloured buildings, hidden piazzas and lively atmosphere. Although I love to walk in London and definitely believe it is a city where you come across hidden gems, I feel that London is also an easy place to nip from place to place in a very nodal fashion, rather than taking the time to discover the “in-between” places and spaces. Rome is a highly walkable city and I felt that every journey on foot was more than just a journey, that everywhere seemed to be a destination in itself. It would be a shame to hide yourself underground travelling between sites with all these Roman treasures everywhere. We did hop on a couple of buses purely for practicality (one day upon deciding to go to the Colosseum we walked quite a long way in the wrong direction) which weren’t too crowded, were welcomingly cool and inexpensive.

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Here was my whistlestop itinerary:

Day 1) Trastevere walk, Passeggiata del Giancolo park, walk along the Tiber, inadvertent walking into a Greece austerity protest, Aperol Spritzes and dinner in Trastevere.

Day 2) Out by 6.30am, Vatican Museums, walk and lunch in Centro Storico, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain (under restoration!), Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese, dinner at Campo di Fiori, walk around Trastevere at night with caramel cream gelato.

Day 3) Lie in, Porto Portese flea market, walk around Testaccio neighbourhood, Victor Emmanuel Monument, walk around the Colosseum (outside only), Aventine Hill for sunset, late dinner in Trastevere.

Day 4) Out by 7am for St Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, late lunch in Trastevere of panini and arancini.

I’m going to make some of the most memorable parts of my trip the subject of their own posts in the near future. Particularly a review of a restaurant we tried in Trastevere, discovering my love of Aperol Spritzes (I’ve since made these since returning to Greenwich and I have officially adopted these as my Summer Drink 2015), my Rome menus, and my top few experiences.

An Evening at Wimbledon

Wimbledon is underway. I hail from south-west London about 15 minutes away from Wimbledon, so I’ve always been relatively close to the action for such a major sporting event. I do appreciate sport, and living with a boy has made me enjoy different types of sport much more than I would of my own accord. There’s something about tennis though which I feel has broad appeal; it is a civilised game with headline names and celebrated venues. Wimbledon is particularly full of tradition across the spectrum of wealth, whether it’s Lanson champagne and Debenture annual tickets, or the queue at 5am and a bag full of sausage rolls. Unsurprisingly I fall into the latter category.

I’ve been to Wimbledon every year since 2010. The usual routine is a 4.45am taxi to the Queue, haul ourselves to the end, marvel that people camping are already packing up their tents, and buy the Guardian and use the associated blanket to spread out on the grass and possibly catch 40 winks. This assumes that the weather is splendid, and to be fair, every year apart from one has been sunny, clear, and a little cold. Getting your queue card and seeing that you’ve made the first 5000 is relieving and allows for a more relaxed queuing experience.

However, this year I’ve chosen to dedicate my annual leave to various international jaunts so instead I’m using my evenings to catch some of the action.

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather is blissful at the moment. I picked up a bag of goodies from Whole Foods in Fulham (sorry bank account), including some fresh lemonade, baguette, cheeses, plump cherries and ice cold watermelon slices. Worth it!

It’s £18 for a ground pass after 5pm for the first few days. If you’re going under a ground pass ticket, the first couple of days are the best to go because this entry gives you access to courts 3-18, and as a knockout tournament, this is when the majority of matches on these courts are played. The price of a ground pass decreases as the Championships progress to reflect that you’re less likely to see as much the longer the tournament continues. We gained entry at about 6pm and proceeded straight to the famous Order of Play board to strategise. The majority of matches were underway, and the big names had played earlier in the afternoon. We caught Richard Gasquet on Court 18 in a close match against the Australian Luke Saville, a highly charged match between Maria Erakovic and Yulia Putintseva on Court 19, and Marsel Ilhan versus the towering Jerzy Janowicz on Court 5. I have to say, when you have access to the Hill (the Mound now?), a picnic and good company, the fact that you’re not watching the headliners doesn’t matter. Every court has world class tennis and an excitement around it. Every court we approached was full to the brim.

Oh watermelon. How I adore thee. Ice cold, crunchy, juicy and pink. I’m convinced everyone was looking at me enviously. It may have just been the slurping.

If you’re planning on joining the Queue of an evening during this year’s Wimbledon Championships, I would advise getting there no later than 5pm, and earlier if you can on a day where big names like Mr Murray are playing. Bring a picnic full of your favourite food and drink to save pennies on the familiar food-van type meals on offer inside the grounds, and make sure you’re stocked up with cash. Although you’ll spend much of the day sweltering, don’t forget a jumper as it can get cool in the shade. Don’t waste any time in the shop – get to those courts. I think even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s difficult not to get carried way with the jovial atmosphere. I’ll be visiting again this week and then keeping up with it on the television box and at the various live sites around central London. I’m aware that Murray is looking on good form, but personally I’d love it if Federer had it in him for a win!