Before there was carrot cake there was carrot pudding. In medieval Europe, it was not unusual to see the addition of carrots, parsnips, zucchinis and other naturally sweet vegetables in desserts as a substitute for sugar or other sweeteners that were difficult to acquire. These carrot puddings were often times cooked in a pastry shell like a tart. The carrots cooked and pressed through a strainer rendered a dish with a texture and appearance something akin to a pumpkin pie.
Carrots gained a real foothold in British baking during World War II. With the enforcement of food rationing brought on by severe shortages, the British government began to cast about for alternative foodstuffs hitting upon the carrot. The British Ministry of Food began to spread literature upon the healthy attributes of the carrot, at the same time the Ministry of Agriculture upped the commercial carrot output. Suddenly there was an unprecedented surplus of carrots in the UK. In an effort to encourage carrot consumption the Food Ministry launched something called the “See in the Dark Campaign.”
“Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham
During the 1940 Blitzkrieg, German planes oftentimes struck under the cover of darkness. In an effort to cut down on their casualties, the British began to enforce city-wide blackouts. The British Royal Air Force was not passive in these raids, however. With the new development of a secret radar system, they had the ability to pinpoint and attack German planes before they even hit the English channel. One of the most successful pilots to use the radar system was John Cunningham, dubbed “Cat’s Eyes Cunningham” because of his impressive number of kills -20 in total, 19 of which were at night.
Remember the Food Ministry and their surplus of carrots? Seizing their opportunity, the Ministry began to spread the word via newspapers that carrots were responsible for the ace shooting of fighter pilots like Cunningham. The Royal Air Force, in an effort to protect their secret technology, went along with the campaign hoping that it might at least stall Germans in their technological advances. Soon apocryphal stories began to surface, reporting an increase in German fighter pilot’s carrot consumption.
Whether or not the Germans bought into the deception remains a mystery, however, the British public did. Believing that it would help them see better during the blackouts British citizens began getting creative with carrots. Encouraged by the Food Ministry to start Victory Gardens and bombarded by advertisements featuring characters like “Dr. Carrot” who in a strange twist of fate wore glasses, British citizens were inspired to put the root into almost anything. In the absence of sugar, wives were recommended to use carrots as a sweetener in their desserts. The Ministry’s widely distributed “War Cookery Leaflets” featured recipes for carrot marmalade, carrot pudding, carrot cake, and even carrot flan.
“Carrots help you see in the Dark!” was a common saying at the time. And though carrots don’t actually lend the eater any kind of superhuman eyesight, they are full of beta carotene which does help maintain eye health.
The Carrot Cake in America
When rationing no longer demanded an excess of vegetable fillers in food, cakes went back to their sugary roots. In the 1960’s one particular development transported the carrot cake from humble obscurity to one of the most popular cakes in America. This elevation came in the form of the cream cheese icing we commonly associate with carrot cake today. Though recipes for the pairing can be traced back to the 1930s, it was the Philidelphia Cream Cheese company that popularized the idea and made it a standard in the American household by distributing recipes that utilized cream cheese. One of the most popular being the cream cheese carrot cake combo.
When the organic movement swept through America in the 1970s, carrot cake was transfigured yet again. Considered a “health” food at the time, suddenly, carrot cake was associated with alternative lifestyles and hippies.
From fodder for governmental propaganda campaigns to a healthy alternative to dessert, carrot cake has somehow always managed to hang on to its place in the culinary world. Against all odds, this vegetable has managed to show us time and again that we need it in cake form. It’s the dessert the world deserves but not always the one it needs. Carrot cake has waited patiently because it could take it. A silent guardian. A watchful protector. Hold on a second, Batman?!
Here’s a recipe for an extremely indulgent cream cheese filled carrot cake, in a healthy loaf shape!
“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.”
“Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham’s Carrot Cake
For the Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup olive oil
For the Cream Cheese Filling
6 ounces cream cheese
1 stick butter, unsalted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup crushed toasted walnuts (optional)
This recipe is versatile as well as delicious. If the loaf shape isn’t what you’re after, this recipe makes enough for two 9″ cake rounds. Grease and flour your mini loaf pans, and bring your oven up to 325℉.
For the Cream Cheese Filling
Combine cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until thoroughly incorporated. Using either a hand mixer, or one of the standing varieties, beat until fluffy. Add in the sifted powdered sugar and mix again until smooth. Set aside.
For the Cake Batter
In a bowl combine all dry ingredients, whisk to combine, then add in your shredded carrot. Stir the mixture again until the carrots are evenly coated.
In another smaller bowl, combine oil, eggs, and sugar and briskly whisk together. Using a large spatula, incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.
Using a quarter cup, or a portion scoop pour batter into the bottom of 12 of the mini loaf cavities. Using enough to just cover the bottom of the pan, about an 1/8 of a cup. Spreading out the batter evenly over the bottom, add a generous tablespoon of the cream cheese filling. Cover thoroughly with batter, filling the loafs 3 quarters of the way from the top. Reserve the left over cream cheese icing for the glaze.
Bake the loaves for 30-40 minutes, turning half way through the baking time.
For the Assembly
When baked through, remove the loaves from the oven and allow to cool for several minutes. Using an offset spatula dislodge the carrot cake from the sides of the pan and remove. Setting them on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Transfer the remaining icing into a small sauce pan and heat the icing until it reaches a pourable consistency. When the loaves are cooled, pour the warm glaze over the top and decorate with crushed toasted walnuts.
Looks healthy to me!