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Monday, 16 May 2011

7 Days of Baking: Day 1 - Wright's Carrot Cake

First in the range of Wright's ready-made cake mixtures is their Carrot cake. The moment you open the pack, you can smell all those spices (unspecified, but I certainly detect a note of cinnamon) that add to the rich flavour of a good carrot cake. It's almost tempting to just eat the powder by the spoonful (or, God forbid, try snorting it).

Or maybe that's just me.

In my younger days, the mere thought of a carrot cake was repellent. Cakes were meant to be sweet and full of sugar, sugar and more sugar. Carrot was a root vegetable normally served up with Sunday lunch. How could it possibly become a component in a cake? I cannot recall when I first tried carrot cake, but I think I was swayed by an unfeasibly thick layer of exceptionally tempting icing and possibly a little carrot-shaped/-coloured sugary treat stuck on top. Good icing goes a long way toward masking potentially weird cake flavours.

However, the cake itself - soft, moist, redolent with spices - was a revelation and, now, the only thing I object to in a carrot cake is the addition of walnuts. I mean, really? Does it need that crunch? That bitter, nutty note?

Icing will sometimes fix even that, though.

But anyway. Here we have the opening salvo of Wright's attempts to make baking simple. Everything from wonderful, sweet cakes to amazing savoury breads, supplied as 500g of ready-made mixture, requiring only the addition of fluids and a small amount of effort in mixing/kneading. The only way it could possibly be easier is if you buy the things ready-baked.

Gentlemen readers, stand by to impress the hell out of your friends and colleagues with your baking ninja skills.

Ingredients:
  • Wright's Carrot Cake Mix
  • Water
  • Cooking Oil
Preparation Time: About an hour

Tools Required:
  • Medium/Large Bowl (for the mixing)
  • Whisk (or electric mixer, if you're lazier than I am, also for the mixing)
  • Baking Tin (2lb loaf size - paper liners optional)
  • Measuring Implements (jug for the water, tablespoons or similar for oil)
  • Cooling Rack

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 140-160degrees (160-180 if not using a fan-assisted oven). Measure out 200ml of water and 60ml of cooking oil into the bowl, then add the Wright's cake mix. Since 500g is rather a lot, you might have better results by adding it gradually and stirring each portion in, rather than dumping in the whole 500g, but each to their own. The larger the bowl, the easier it will be to mix either way... The instructions reckon only a couple of minutes mixing with a hand whisk, but I was at it for about 5 minutes, just to be sure I got rid of as many lumps and clumps as I could. It's certainly easier with a whisk than with a fork, which would be my usual mixing tool, so I'm glad I now have a decent whisk (good old Lakeland!).

To make the baking tin ready, either add a paper liner or grease the inside thoroughly with butter. After my dry run with the Ginger cake, I'm using paper liners - they save on effort in washing up afterward - but the cakes seem to come out easily enough with buttering.

Pour the batter into the tin - it's thin enough that it'll settle evenly - and place into the oven for 50 minutes to an hour. I have a timer that gives me 10- and 5-minute countdown warnings, so I set it for an hour and checked at the sound of each alarm.

When it looks ready, remove the tin from the oven and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes to cool, then tip out the loaf onto a cooling rack for a few minutes.

The Results:
A whole fifty-five minutes after placing the tin into the oven, I extracted the finished loaf... and what a loaf it is. The crust is golden, the inside is light, fluffy, moist and, twenty minutes out of the oven, still tantalisingly warm. The dried carrot pieces are little crumbs, rather than the long gratings you might find in a ready-baked cake, but this just means you'll never have a strip of carrot hanging out of your gob after taking a bite out of a Wright's carrot cake. The spiciness of the finished loaf is far more subtle in its aroma than it was in powder or batter form, but this is complemented by a smoother, more balanced flavour, and a cake that's free from any of the stodginess or gumminess of a carrot cake that's been sitting on the shelves of a supermarket, wrapped in cellophane for who knows how long.

I have to say, also, that using a new loaf tin (£9 from John Lewis, rather than my quickie purchase from a local pound shop) and the paper line has done wonders. My dry-run ginger cake rose well only in the centre. The outside edges, while still light and fluffy inside, barely rose above the original level of the batter and so were a little denser than the middle, and had a harder, drier crust. This one, however, rose evenly and just looked fantastic as soon as it came out of the oven. Just goes to show that you get what you pay for, even when it comes to metal loaf tins! Baking for five minutes shy of an hour left the loaf with a soft crust, but one which is firm enough, and suggests a loaf baked to perfection - not too sticky, not too dry.
Photobucket Photobucket

Alternatives: 
It doesn't take a genius to realise that these mixtures can be embellished, with the addition of fruit or - if you really must - nuts. Or that you don't actually have to use a 2lb loaf tin. Take a similar capacity circular tin, chop the result in half laterally, and you have a 2-tier cake that can be filled with a jam/marmalade or icing, and possibly even coated with icing if you really want to show off. The possibilities of these things are almost infinite - which I'm hoping to demonstrate to some extent as I continue this series...

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