I am indebted to Barrett for the inspiration in this cake. I wrote him last week about the "how can I use up carrots and heat the apartment" problem mentioned in an earlier post. One of my original ideas was to make a carrot cake. "Indian... carrots... I'm thinking you need to add some spices to that carrot cake. Of course, I'd suggest cardamom and star anise because I always suggest cardamom and star anise," he wrote. Intriguing. I wasn't daring enough to add cardamom to the mix (maybe next time) but I have to say that the addition of a bit of dried ginger and star anise to the usual cinnamon was pure genius. I love carrot cake anyway, but this was even more complex and spicy and a very fitting dessert after an Indian dinner. Dense, sweet and complicated with a little sour cream taste to the sugary frosting. Mmmm...think I'll go grab one of the leftover pieces before finishing this post...
I encountered two problems in creating this recipe. The first was the fact that 90% of the recipes for carrot cake call for "one cup of vegetable oil". Ick. I had always thought that carrot cake was a moderately healthy sweet, but apparently not. As I've never made a carrot cake I really wanted to find a recipe to use as a base for my version and it took me a while to find one that only called for half a cup of melted butter. (As an aside, why is it that melted butter seems so much more unhealthy than solid butter? I wouldn't turn a hair if a recipe called for half a cup of butter, but put the word "melted" in there and suddenly it seems somewhat distasteful. And of course vegetable oil - which is probably healthier than butter - seems even worse...)
Problem number two was how to incorporate the star anise without turning the finished product into an uncomfortably crunchy one. I eventually plumped for the idea of steeping the carrots in milk and star anise; if anyone out there in blogland can come up with a better idea I'd be interested to hear it.
Star of India Carrot Cake
12 ounces/1.25 cups/3 large carrots, grated
1 cup milk
4-5 pieces of star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup crystal brown sugar (in France, it is called sucre roux)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup melted butter
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
For the frosting:
6 wedges of Laughing Cow cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
Pour the milk over the grated carrots and stir in the star anise and cinnamon stick. Allow to steep for several hours (or overnight) in the fridge. Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Mix all the dry ingredients together very well. (This is more important that usual in this recipe as once you add the grated carrot everything will become much more difficult to stir properly.) Lightly beat the eggs. Strain the carrots, reserving the milk. Add the eggs, melted butter, grated carrot, raisins (if any) and half a cup of the milk to the flour mixture, reserving the rest of the milk. Beat well and pour into two buttered and floured 22cm/9" square cake pans or one slightly larger pan (if you like your cake thicker). Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Because this is a very dense cake, I found it did not want to leave the pan easily and so I frosted it in the pan.
Once the cake(s) has/have cooled, make the frosting: whip the Laughing Cow cheese with 2 cups of powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of the reserved carrot milk. Keep adding powdered sugar and/or milk until you obtain a consistency you like. Decorate the frosted cake(s) with a few pieces of star anise.
The star anise is just detectable in the cake, but stands out and compliments the cake in the frosting. This is a lovely chewy cake with a bit of a tangy spicy frosting and keeps very well on the counter with a bit of aluminum foil to cover it. I didn't think of adding the raisins until it was too late, but they would be an excellent addition and add just a little more sweet chewiness!
A note on the frosting: I used Laughing Cow cheese because cream cheese is very hard to come by in Paris. If you have a favorite cream cheese frosting recipe, by all means use it. And if it includes any liquid (which it probably will), substitute the carrot milk!