Back when I was still in high school, I had a summer job as a tour guide. It was an old jute-weaving mill which still had a few bits of original machinery, so we got a lot of people who liked to spend their free time looking at steam engines. You get the picture. It was actually quite a fun job, as you got all manner of people coming through the door. It was varied too, as we also expected to help out in the coffee shop, which meant serving, cleaning and making the cakes. One of our top sellers was a carrot cake, with a dark, soft, dense texture which was made extra-moist by using olive oil in place of butter.
I’ve made my own version of that cake over the years, feeling that the combination of carrots, nuts, sultanas and oil must be somehow good for you. At some point I started to make it with a muffin tray rather than as a large cake, as this seemed more practical, and also makes it a lot easier to take one to work for the afternoon snack. It’s funny how you start to get used to decent baked goods from your own kitchen, and at some point prefer them over the stuff you can buy. These cakes might have sugar and olive oil in them, but that must be infinitely preferable to something stuffed with transfats and corn syrup. Ah, the benefits of being virtuous!
Make 12 large or 18 normal muffins:
• 150ml olive oil (use a light oil, without a strong flavour)
• 90g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 4 tablespoons milk
• 225g carrots, coarsely grated
• 25g sunflower seeds
• 50g sultanas
• 25g flaked almonds, crushed
• 150g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F), and line a muffin tray with paper cases. Set to one side.
Place the oil, sugar and egg in a bowl, and mix until combined. The mixture will emulsify and thicken slightly.
Add the carrots, milk, sunflower seeds, sultanas and almonds, and stir well.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Add to the carrot mixture, and stir until just combined, being careful not to over-mix.
Put spoonfuls of the batter into the muffin trays. Be generous, as they won’t rise too much. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the muffins have risen and spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven, allow to cook slighting in the tray (10 minutes) then transfer to a rack and allow to cool completely.
If you want to make cream cheese frosting for these muffins: combine 125g full fat cream cheese and 30g softened butter until smooth. Add 125g sifted icing sugar and mix until smooth. Finally, add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and whip until fluffy. If the frosting is too runny, add more cream cheese (bizarrely, if you add more icing sugar, it will get thinner and thinner!).
Worth making? These are great if you need small cakes for a picnic or informal get-together, and make a change from plain cupcakes as they contain relatively little sugar. The olive oil also keeps them moist, so they keep well for a few days in a sealed container.