...Well, I am interpreting Johanna's challenge in a very broad sense: "where I live" is the United States, and so here I am, baking an All-American dessert, Carrot Cake!
Many food history sources suggest that the popularity of carrot cake began during World War II, when sweeteners were scarce and expensive and strictly rationed. Carrots were relatively abundant (often home-grown in victory gardens) and substituted as sweeteners in desserts.
Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, has been quoted as saying, "Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie." Indeed, the addition of carrots, and the replacement of butter with oil is helpful in convincing oneself that carrot cake is a healthy dessert. Carrot cake reached its height of popularity in the US during the health food craze of the 60s and 70s, providing company to other foods like granola! Today, carrot cake remains a popular American dessert and a diner staple.
This carrot cake recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine. It has an exuberant ingredient list- apart from the freshly grated carrots that give the cake its name, it contains two ingredients that, in the US, are synonymous with the term "tropical": pineapple and coconut. Crushed pineapple is readily available in supermarkets, but I suppose gently cooked fresh pineapple would work as well. The recipe calls for sweetened coconut flakes that are sold in the baking aisle of US supermarkets, but I had our Indian-style dry coconut shreds at hand, so I just used those instead. Cinnamom is added to the batter to provide a hint of spice. Pecan bits add some more richness and texture. Carrot cake is usually made with oil instead of butter, and here the oil is reduced to 3 tablespoons, which is very reasonable if you consider that it makes a large cake yielding 20 servings or so (other recipes for carrot cake call for 1-2 cups of oil). With all the carrot and pineapple, this cake will invariably be quite dense, and not as fluffy and airy as other cakes. It is, however, very moist and tasty.
Another hallmark of the carrot cake is a tangy cream cheese icing (or frosting, as it is called in the US). Usually, the "icing on the cake" is my least favorite bit- I find classic buttercream icing unbearably greasy and achingly sweet. But the combination of zesty cream cheese (and a little butter) with sugar was worth a try. The original recipe called for 3 cups (!!!) of powdered sugar, and I reduced it way down to a cup and a quarter. This resulted in an icing that was plenty sweet, but where the taste of the cream cheese was not drowned by the sugar. You can buy powdered sugar (also called icing sugar or confectioner's sugar) but I use it so infrequently that I just make my own, by blitzing granulated sugar in a clean spice grinder.
Carrot Cake(adapted from this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, April 2007, makes one large sheet cake)
1.5 C AP Flour
1 C granulated Sugar
1 t Salt
2 t Baking soda
2 t Cinnamon powder
1/2 C desiccated Coconut shreds (or sweetened coconut flakes)
1/3 C chopped toasted Pecans (or walnuts)
2 large Eggs
3 T canola Oil (or vegetable oil or peanut oil)
1.5 C drained canned crushed Pineapple
2 C fresh grated Carrots
1 cup (8 oz/ 1 packet) reduced-fat Cream Cheese, softened
3 T usalted Butter, softened
1 t Vanilla extract
1.25 C powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with oil (or two smaller ones) and set aside.
3. Dry ingredients: Sift flour into a bowl. Add granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon powder, coconut, pecans.
4. Wet ingredients: Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add oil and mix well.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir gently.
6. Stir in carrots and pineapple. Pour batter into the baking dish.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is done: this is usually apparent from three signs- (a) a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean (b) when you press a finger gently on the cake, the surface springs back, (c) the cake leaves the sides of the pan. The cake will be quite dense, so don't expect it to rise very high.
8. When the cake is completely cool, it is ready to be iced. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and sugar and mix well. Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Optional: If you have Way Too Much Time on your hands, as I did when I made this cake, you could decorate it :) I used some extra shreds of carrot and black poppy seeds to add a dash of color to the snow white icing.
This recipe is a keeper! The cake was moist and tasty, and the combination with the icing was fantastic! Plus, the generous size of the cake is perfect for bringing it along to picnics and pot-luck parties as a "blast from the past" dessert. I will definitely be making it again.
For all the little kids and all the big kids who are returning to school this week, here's wishing you a wonderful fall semester and a great school year!
For dozens of interesting specialty desserts from all over the world, check out Johanna's delicious round-up.