Carrot cake was not well known in Mexico until a few decades ago, just as Easter chocolate eggs and bunnies made their way into Mexican culture sometime in the 20th century, mainly from the USA. Nowadays, carrot cake is served year-round, but to me, it feels particularly special during the Easter season. My recipe is an adaptation from the many ones found in home magazines for classic carrot cake (no fruit, no nuts, no spices other than cinnamon), just plain, moist and tasty, and I use a lot less sugar in my version of the cream cheese icing than most recipes. Finally, not mandatory, but to add a festive touch, I like to top these delightful treats with a marzipan carrot.
Classic Carrot Cake Squares
Ingredients (for two dozen)
2 cups all-purpose wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil, plus a little more for greasing
3 cups (approx. 3 medium) carrots; washed, peeled, ends removed, and shredded
½ lb (227 g) cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
2-3 cups icing (powdered) sugar, to taste
1/3 lb (150 g) almond marzipan paste
Green, yellow, and red food colouring
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Lightly grease one 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) baking pan, then line with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon (photo below, left). Place eggs, oil and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and set the sifted dry ingredients and shredded carrots on the side (photo below, right):
Preferably using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and oil until very uniform and creamy, then add carrots (photo below, left). Reduce speed and incorporate dry ingredients (photo below, right):
Mix just until the batter looks uniform and there are no powdery clumps. Pour batter into prepared pan:
Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the pan, and the cake looks golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, make the decorations, and prepare the icing.
For the decorations, start with commercial almond marzipan paste:
Divide in half into two small mixing bowls; add a few drops of green food colouring to one bowl, and to the other, a few drops of yellow and one drop of red:
Mix each portion, to obtain uniformly coloured green and orange pastes:
Divide portions and roll into 48 equal-sized balls, 24 green and 24 orange. To make a marzipan carrot, take one ball of each colour. Make the carrot top: roll green ball into a string, then curl into a letter “S”, pinching the bottom edge and the centre of the top curve together; cut the centre of the bottom curve, to form a forked shape with three prongs; score each prong lengthwise with a toothpick, so they look like leaves. For the carrot root: roll the orange ball into a tapered cylinder, narrower on one end; score shallow lines crosswise with a toothpick, at a few points. Finish the carrot: stick together the wide end of the carrot root and the base of the carrot top:
Repeat with the rest of the balls, to make 24 marzipan carrot decorations:
The decorations may be made in advance, and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two.
While the cake is cooling down, place cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a clean large mixing bowl (photo below, left). Beat vigorously, preferably with an electric mixer, until creamy; continue beating while incorporating the icing sugar (I used 2 cups), scraping the edge with a spatula (photo below, centre). Continue beating until very smooth and fluffy (photo below, right):
To assemble squares, the icing may be spread over the whole cake in the mould, then cut into a 4-row X 6-column grid, and each square topped with one marzipan carrot. However, I prefer to slice the cake first, trimming around the edges of the mould, then remove the twenty four squares from the mould, and apply icing and a carrot decoration to each separate square, for a fancier finish:
These squares are the perfect sweet ending for a family Easter meal, particularly when shared, and paired with a strong cup of coffee: