CARROT is the starter cake of the baking world, the gateway cake to Victoria sponge addiction. It’s the cake parents choose in the slim hope that it’s a vehicle for funnelling vegetables into their children – the ‘healthy option’, next to banana.

I’ve been making carrot cakes for decades, well into triple figures I’m sure, because I used to supply several London coffee shops with cakes, brownies and other baked goods. Carrot was never off the menu, a solid best seller.

It’s infinitely changeable too – you can make it as a muffin, a loaf or in the round, with cream-cheese frosting or just a maple syrup glaze. Add nuts, or leave them out. Add pineapple (like Pret does) for extra moisture, or keep it pure and simple.

While everyone was making banana bread during lockdown, my thoughts turned to rum cake … that dreamy, treacly, dense and dark fruit cake that sings in the key of rum – deeply alcoholic but perfectly in tune. The problem with rum cake is that you need to start preparations at least 10 months before you make it, as the dried fruit needs to steep in dark rum for maximum effect.

I often switch out soft dark brown or muscovado sugar for the caster sugar specified in sweet baking, where I think the extra, treacle and molasses flavour will work – it’s especially good in chocolate or coffee cakes and brownies too.

Looking in the lockdown larder I found sultanas, dark rum and soft dark brown sugar, which led me to the vegetable drawer and onwards in a very delicious direction indeed: Caribbean-inspired carrot and rum cake.

 

Ingredients

Makes one 900g loaf (8 generous slices) or 8 muffins

170g vegetable oil

85g caster sugar

85g soft dark brown or Muscovado sugar

3 medium, free-range eggs

1 teaspoon Vanilla bean paste or essence

170g self-raising flour

2 heaped teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

80g sultanas or raisins, soaked in 20ml dark rum preferably overnight but for at least an hour (you can substitute water instead)

170g grated carrot

50g crushed walnuts

To serve 30ml dark rum, 45ml Maple syrup and crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt

Method

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, vanilla and sugars until well combined. Add the flour, salt, bicarb and cinnamon and stir in. Add the grated carrot, soaked sultanas (and rum) and walnuts, and mix well.

Pour into a lined 2lb (900g) loaf tin and bake at 170C for 45-50 minutes (a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean).

If you’re making muffins, line the muffin tin with muffin papers and use a ladle to divide the mixture between them. Bake at 170C for 18-20 minutes.

 

To serve, combine the rum and maple syrup, warm the cake, drizzle  with the sauce and put  a dollop of crème fraiche on the side. If you want to be more fancy, caramelise some walnuts* for extra dazzle.

* Melt 3 tablespoons of caster sugar in a dry frying pan over medium heat when it starts to colour, add 50g walnuts and toss well to coat. Tip onto a lined baking sheet to cool.