I may be done making holiday treats, but I'm not done baking.
Carrot cake, with its spicy crunch, is less cloying than cookies and bars. Kitchen lore has it that today's carrot cakes are inspired by older recipes that used carrots as sweeteners in lieu of expensive sugar.
Right now, our local carrots are actually sweeter than when first harvested. Properly stored, their carbohydrates have converted into natural sugars. You can find local carrots in our natural food co-ops and at winter farmers markets.
This carrot loaf cake is cozy, comforting and chock-full of toasted ground nuts. I like cashews for their mild, creamy flavor; almonds and pecans will work nicely, too. You could add raisins or shredded coconut, but I like to let the honeyed earthiness of the carrots come through, warmly spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. There's no need for hefty cream cheese frosting, so I opt for a citrusy glaze, which is far easier and less messy.
You can vary the texture by either grating the carrots by hand for a rough, nubby loaf or by using a fine grater or food processor for a smoother, more refined texture.
It's delicious right out of the pan, but even better when wrapped tightly in plastic and enjoyed the next day. This allows time for the spices to meld together as the loaf becomes denser. When wrapped it will keep about five days in the refrigerator; it also freezes well.
Light and moist, this cake is made without oil and is gluten-free. You could call it healthy; I call it perfect with afternoon tea.
Serves 10 to 12.
Note: The glaze is delicious but optional. From Beth Dooley.
• Butter for greasing the loaf pan
• 1 1/2 c. (1/2 lb.) unsalted, toasted cashews, plus a few extra for garnish
• 1/4 c. brown sugar
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/8 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
• 2 tsp. grated orange zest
• 4 eggs
• 1/3 c. sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 2 c. finely grated or ground carrots, about 10 oz.
Glaze (see Note):
• 1/8 cup fresh orange juice
• 1/8 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and generously grease the sides with butter.
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind together the cashews and brown sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Add the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest and pulse together.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until thick. Beat in the sugar, then the vanilla. Alternate beating in the carrots and the cashew mixture.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Toss a few extra cashews over the top of the cake. Bake until the cake is firm to the touch and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. (A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake will come out clean.) Remove the cake from the oven and set on a rack to cool.
While cake is baking, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan, whisk together the orange juice and powdered sugar. Set over medium heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture reduces by about half. Drizzle the glaze over the cake while the cake is still warm.
Cool cake to room temperature before removing from the pan. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight before slicing.
Beth Dooley is author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.