I long thought that carrot cake was an American invention, until I found out that an early version was made by Venetian Jews in the original ghetto. This modest disc is not much to look at - apart from a glorious golden-ness - but it is divine to eat. Only those with less austere eating habits will care to dollop alongside each damply crumbling wedge of cake my Italianate nod to the American cream-cheese frosting – a soft, rum-flavoured mascarpone cream.
3 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium carrots (approx. 200-250g/7-9oz)
75g/3oz golden sultanas
60ml/2¼fl oz rum
150g/5oz caster sugar
125ml/4½fl oz regular olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 free-range eggs
250g/9oz ground almonds
½ tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
½ lemon, finely grated zest and juice
For the carrot cake, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line the base of a 23cm/9in round springform cake tin with re-usable non-stick silicone liner or baking parchment and grease the sides with olive oil.
Toast the pine nuts by browning in a dry frying pan; the oven alone is not enough to scorch out the paleness. Set aside.
Grate the carrots in a processor (for ease) or with a coarse grater, then sit them on a double layer of kitchen paper and wrap them, to soak up excess liquid. Set aside.
Put the golden sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 3 minutes.
Whisk the sugar and oil until creamily and airily mixed.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs and, when well whisked, fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, golden sultanas (with any rum that clings to them) and, finally, the lemon zest and juice.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very shallow in the tin.
Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake and put it into the oven for 30–40 minutes, or until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out sticky but more or less clean.
Remove from the oven and let the cake sit in its tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then unspring and leave it on the rack to cool.
For the mascarpone cream, mix the mascarpone with the icing sugar and rum.
To serve, transfer the cake to a plate. Put the mascarpone cream in a bowl to spoon alongside the cake, for those who want.
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