I've had this post sitting in drafts for a while, (in fact all the dishes from our Christmas parties are ready to go!), and when I saw Nigella make it in an episode of Kitchen, I really thought it was time I actually blogged it. You can find the recipe here, or if you just want to watch Nigella do it, some kind soul has uploaded the clip to YouTube.
I must admit, when I first saw the recipe for Venetian carrot cake in the A Dream of Hearth and Home chapter of Kitchen, I wasn't particularly keen to make it. One reason for this is that it is proudly labelled as both gluten-free and dairy-free. Not to be dismissive of those with food intolerances, which I know are difficult to manage, but I'm always a little wary when a recipe's major selling point is something other than its taste. You know, we see packets and recipes all the time, earnestly labelled: "gluten free!", "low fat!", "only 4 ingredients!"
The story of the cake, however, was more intriguing. Unlike the carrot cake that we know here in Australia, topped with thick cream cheese icing, this carrot cake is more of a thin Italian-style torta, originally made by Jewish people from the Venetian ghetto. I had a friend coming to the Christmas party who happens to be Jewish, coeliac and lactose-intolerant. There couldn't have been a more perfect opportunity to try this cake.
The cake is based on almond meal, an ingredient which I adore. The fragrance of fresh almond meal is heavenly!
Grated carrots are the other main ingredient... grated by hand. Feel the power!
The grating is the most labour-intensive part of the process; everything else just needs a light stir. The stirred mixture doesn't look too appealing but smells lovely, thanks to the almond meal and rum-soaked sultanas. (Nigella's mixture was a deep golden colour; perhaps due to the expensive imported Italian eggs she uses. Mine were plain old supermarket free-range).
The mixture was also a bit loose for my liking; I think next time I may make it in a food processor to get a smoother texture. (Obviously I'd stir the sultanas and grated carrot in afterwards!)
I baked the mixture in mini muffin tins, for ease of sharing (across two parties). They took about half the time stated in the recipe.
Nigella serves the cake with a lime-mascarpone cream (clearly no longer dairy free that way), but I was already making another batch of mini cakes with a cream-cheese icing for the party, so I left them plain. And I think they look quite pretty with the scattering of pine nuts on top anyway!
This cake was really delicious; incredibly moist and fragrant. From the picture in the book, I'd assumed the cake would be dry, like some other Italian torte I've tried, but it was more similar to a flourless orange cake in texture. We had quite a few leftovers, so I packed some away for my friend to take home. Her mum happens to be coeliac as well, and she raved about them! This cake is so great that I'd recommend making it anytime, for anyone, even if dietary restrictions aren't a concern. Hehe, and after seeing Nigella inhale a huge wodge of her full-sized cake on her program, I totally want to make a full-sized cake with the mascarpone cream and serve it as afternoon tea, or dessert for a dinner party.