‘Sturdy’ is not a terribly complimentary adjective when applied to a person’s figure or a cake. It implies something quite solid. But occasionally ‘sturdy’ is just what you need. As autumn comes nipping at our heels with chilly mornings and shorter days our thoughts turn to more substantial comfort food like stews and puddings. In other words dishes that are altogether more sustaining.
Personally speaking, I need comforting at this time of the year. I am filled with a mixture of sadness and anger when I see the heaps of pumpkins amassed in supermarket entrances awaiting their ritual carving. An estimated 10m pumpkins are grown in the UK every year, 95% of which are hollowed out to create ghoulish lanterns (source: The Guardian 23/10/19). The majority of these will be discarded at the beginning of November.
A sturdy pioneer cake…
I really wanted to recreate a historic recipe but it seems carrot cake in it’s recognisable guise is a relatively modern invention (you can read about the history of carrot cake here). Then I came across a recipe for an Honest Sheep Wagon Carrot Cake in Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book of the Year (sub titled A Book of Days: Recipes & Relief for the Reluctant Cook and the Harried Housekeeper*) published in 1977. Bracken describes her version as ‘a sturdy pioneer cake’ which she made to celebrate the birthday (4th October 1822) of a good honest man, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 19th president of the USA from 1877 to 1881.
As Bracken’s recipe contains minimal fat and no eggs there is no denying this is a robust cake but is not unpleasant for it. If you switch the butter in the original recipe for walnut oil you also have a cake which should suit anyone following a vegan diet.
I wanted my cake to be a pinch lighter so I have used both eggs and fat in my version. You can find Bracken’s slightly amended version a the end of this post.
Golden Pumpkin Cake with Nutmeg, Raisins and Pecans
- 200ml water
- 225g grated pumpkin (prepared weight)
- 100g raisins
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- 300g plain flour
- 1½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground mace or cinnamon
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs
- 225g golden caster sugar
- 180g sunflower oil
- 100g pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 200g golden icing sugar
- Pinch of turmeric
- 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
- 8 pecans or walnuts and gold sprinkles for decoration (optional)
- Place the water, pumpkin, raisins, lemon zest and turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and the raisins plump (the water should have been absorbed by the fruit). Leave to cool for about an hour (or this could be done the day before as Bracken recommends in her recipe).
- Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin or grease a bundt tin. Preheat the oven to 170℃.
- Sieve the flour, spices, raising agents and salt into a bowl.
- Put the eggs and caster sugar in the bowl of a food mixer then beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time until the mixture is light and well mixed. Beat in the cooled pumpkin mixture followed by the sieved flour and spices (ensuring you have the mixer on a very low speed for this bit!). Finally fold in the pecans.
- Spoon into the prepared tin then bake for 50-75 mins. A skewer should come out clean when inserted into the cake. If it looks like it’s getting too brown cover the cake loosely with a piece of foil or baking parchment.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before turning out. The cake needs to be completely cool before icing.
- To make the icing, sieve the golden icing sugar and a pinch of turmeric into a bowl. The idea is to enhance the golden hue of the icing sugar rather than produce something that is fluorescent yellow! Add some lemon juice (start with 1 tbsp) then blend together. You need the icing to be thick enough to stick to the cake but soft enough to drip down the sides. Spoon over the cooled caked then allow to run down the sides. Decorate the top with the extra pecans and gold sprinkles if desired.
Peg Bracken’s Honest Sheep Wagon Carrot Cake
- 250g sugar
- 320ml water
- 150g raisins
- 2 tbsp walnut oil (the original recipe contains 20g of butter)
- 200g grated pumpkin (prepared weight)
- 1 tsp each cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (I ditched the cloves when I made this cake as I’m not a huge lover of this spice in large quantities)
Simmer it all together for five minutes then cover and rest it for 12 hours or overnight. Why it gets so tired is one of those little mysteries. But do it. Then add:
- 125g chopped walnuts
- 335g plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda**
- 2 tsp baking powder**
and mix it all up. Bake in two oiled loaf tins at 140℃ for two hours. Cool then wrap in foil. A good-tasting, rich looking, moist, sturdy pioneer cake, this is and good for every meal including breakfast.
*I know it sounds like an anti cookbook but most of the recipes are decent and it’s an entertaining read. Bracken had a brilliant way with words. You can read more about her here.
** Personally, I think this is too much raising agent so would be tempted to reduce the amount of baking powder by 1 tsp.