I've loved carrot cake for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, carrot cake with a lemon glaze was a staple in our house at practically every celebration, and was just as important a Christmas tradition as fruitcake.
As the story goes, my maternal grandmother started making a particular recipe of carrot cake back in the ’50s, based on something she saw in a magazine. Over the years, she tweaked it until it was perfect, and then passed it on to my mother who passed it on to me.
Until a few years ago, that recipe had never been written down and was just passed on verbally. I rectified that because, unlike my grandmother and mother, I am not very good without written recipes and instructions. As times changed, and more people started making carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, we also jumped on that bandwagon. But the lemon glaze still remains our favourite.
In my opinion, carrot cake tastes best in the winter when those thick, reddish carrots are in season. They are moist and their sweetness is perfect for the cake. However, come spring, you can still find them if you look hard enough and take the trouble to pick out your carrots individually at the sabziwaala.
I confess that, although I prefer to buy my vegetables from the cool and comfortable confines of the modern supermarket, I am willing to make a concession for carrots. If it means good cake, I am willing to make the sacrifice and brave the heat.
Your favourite cake is now a cookie; it’s still loaded with flavour but comes with an extra side of bite-sized cuteness
There are times when a whole cake, even if it is just a loaf cake, is a bit too much, and it is far more sensible to bake a smaller treat that won’t have you going to town on the sweet stuff. Additionally, if you’re throwing a party (socially distanced, of course) or a high-tea, it is nice to have a two to three bite cake, and this means carrot cake cookies!
Now, it’s important to note that these are cakey cookies, as opposed to the soft gooey ones. Furthermore, unlike regular carrot cake, which is usually oil-based, these are made with butter, to give them more structure before and after baking.
However, there is absolutely no compromise on texture and flavour. They still have the moisture from the carrots, the brown sugar and an extra egg yolk (which I like to add to all my cookie dough batters) and also the wonderful taste that is produced by the co-mingling of the carrots with the cinnamon.
To give these cookies a festive feel, I used an offset spatula to roughly slather on some cream cheese frosting and then coloured parts of the same frosting to make small carrots on the top. The result is something I would be quite happy with putting on a high tea table or at an Easter brunch.
Carrot cake cookies with cream cheese frosting
For the cookie dough
213g flour ½ teaspoon baking soda ¼ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon cornflour ¼ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 115g butter (soft but still cold) 106g caster sugar 55g brown sugar 1 egg 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon vanilla essence or extract 118g finely grated carrots 55g chopped walnuts
For the cream cheese frosting:
142g cream cheese 85g softened butter 180g icing sugar (sifted) ½ teaspoon vanilla essence or extract Few drops of orange and leaf-green gel food colour
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and set aside.
To make the cookie dough, first gather up the grated carrots in a small square of cheesecloth and squeeze thoroughly to get rid of all the juice, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cornflour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, mix well using a spoon or a whisk, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer, combine butter, caster sugar and brown sugar.
Cream the butter and sugars with a hand-held electric mixer or with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla essence and mix well to combine. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Then add the grated carrots, followed by the rest of dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
Use a spatula to fold in the walnuts. Scoop out the dough with a 1.5 tablespoon cookie scoop (or you can just use a tablespoon) and drop on to the baking trays. Flatten the dough slightly with wet fingers and bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies should still be quite soft on the top.
Transfer the baked cookies on to wire racks to cool slightly and then store slightly warm cookies in an air-tight container; this will ensure that the cookies remain moist.
To make the cream cheese frosting, use a hand-held electric mixer or a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, to cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the sifted icing sugar and mix well for at least two minutes. Finally, add the vanilla essence and the cream cheese and mix until just combined.
To decorate the cookies, use a small offset spatula to swirl the cream cheese frosting. You don’t have to be very neat or precise as these cookies look quite nice when they are ‘rustic.’
Put about three tablespoons each of the cream cheese frosting in two separate bowls and use a drop or two of the gel food colours to make orange and green frosting. Using paper cones, piping bags fitted with small plain round tips, or even a freezer bag with its corner cut off, pipe some ‘carrots’ and ‘leaves’ on the cookies; store in the fridge in an air-tight container.
The writer is a professional chef and holds a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, March 21st, 2021