Rose Prince's Baking Club: olive oil and carrot cake

Date:22-05-2013 07:58:03 read:29

Rose Prince's Baking Club: olive oil and carrot cake

Our weekly column shows you the way to beautiful bread and consummate cake. Today: extra virgin olive oil and carrot cake.

Carrot cakes with a dollop of mascarpone icing
Root cause: carrot cakes with a dollop of mascarpone icing  Photo: Andrew Crowley

One of the many reasons to dislike the use of margarine in baking is that it deodorises a cake. Because its flavour is removed during processing, it has none to contribute. Butter, on the other hand, forms the bedrock of my enjoyment of a cake. It is hard to define the flavour note it lends, except to suggest somewhat ostentatiously that, on occasion, I believe I can taste the grassy meadows where cows might graze.

So the heart sinks when I see vegetable oil in the ingredients list of a cake recipe. I don't want to eat a cake made with refined, de-aromatised rapeseed, palm or sunflower oil. Why these oils are categorised as "vegetable" has always baffled me. The supposition is that the labelling laws were written by the oil refiners themselves, in order to make their products sound more appetising. The word "vegetable" conjures lovely green things or sweet new season carrots.

In Delia Smith's new book about cake, Delia's Cakes (Hodder, £25) the monarch herself recommends a smidgen of vegetable oil in cakes, saying that spreadable butters (which contain vegetable oil) are the answer to cake making because they can be used straight from the fridge, and so lessen the probability of curdling. In magisterial style, she writes: "We think we now have the final word on this."

I'm not moved. There's no excuse not to use proper butter. Beat it for long enough and add the egg little by little and the cake batter will not curdle. You can even use it straight from the fridge if you soften it by bashing between two sheets of greaseproof paper.

Carrot cake is typically made with vegetable oil, which is why I have never really liked it much. So I tried making it with healthy unrefined oil. The first attempt was with cold pressed rapeseed oil, but the flavour of this, so good for roasting potatoes or meat, was too strong. Extra virgin olive oil made a wonderfully fruity cake, however, and there were even characteristic likenesses between the grassiness of olive oil and butter. I think the Baking Club has made a discovery.


240g/8 ½ oz extra virgin olive oil

300g/10 ½ oz soft brown sugar

200g/7oz grated carrot, squeezed to remove juice

1 inch of ginger root, peeled and grated

1 tsp ground cinnamon

4 eggs, beaten

120g/4oz walnuts, finely chopped

90g/3 ¼ oz ground almonds

150g/5 ½ oz raisins

175g/6 oz plain flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

For the icing

240g/8oz mascarpone cheese

90g/3 ½ oz softened butter

150g/5 ½ oz icing sugar, sifted

To decorate

Dried safflower petals (optional). These are available from Fortnum & Mason. You can also use fresh marigold petals.

Butter two cake tins (20-22cm/6-7in), then line the base with baking parchment. Butter again, then dust with plain flour; or use 8 small cases (pictured).

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Beat olive oil and sugar together then add the other ingredients, one by one, until well blended. Divide the mixture between tins or cases; bake for 30 minutes or until the cakes feel springy when pressed. Cool in the tins.

Blend the icing ingredients together. When the cakes are completely cool, spread half the icing on one and then sandwich the two cakes together. Spread the remaining icing on the surface, then scatter over the petals.

Your letters

K Baynes queries the quality of cupcake cases. "Until a couple of years ago I did not have a problem with cupcake cases, but now once the cakes cool the cases pull away. Have you any ideas why this might be happening?" I asked David Trumper of Jane Asher Sugarcraft, who explained all. "She's right – this happens because many modern cases are not made with good-quality paper. Cupcake cases should be made with thick greaseproof paper so they look good but do not have an oily appearance. Squires makes the best, but other good brands are PME and Culpitt." I can personally recommend Jane Asher's shop, which sells more than 50 types of cupcake case, and all sorts of cake decorating equipment.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013