Chinese Five Spice cake. Chinese Five-Spice brings together all five flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, umami and salty. The spice blend's star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia, and cloves add depth to this wholemeal carrot cake.
Carrot and Chinese Five Spice Cake
So this is the year of the fire monkey. What will it bring? What won't it bring? We're in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations at the moment and as red envelopes of money are exchanged, fortune cookies opened and prosperity wished upon others, I thought I'd bake a cake.
No, perhaps not the most Chinese of desserts, but I've added the classic spice blend, Chinese Five Spice, to turn it into a cake that is at once unusual, yet an edible memory. Normally paired with savoury meat dishes, this spice is actually quite versatile with so many flavours.
The faint liquorice aromas from the star anise and fennel pair well with the nutty, treacly flavour of the wholemeal flour. This all marries well with the Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia, and cloves of the spice blend, making a cake that excites all senses - from sweet to umami.
The carrot brings moisture and I've drastically reduced the sugar of the cake, since it was going to be covered in a tangy, rich orange buttercream. Carrot cakes can be heavy with oil, so I've replaced half of the oil with yogurt to make it lighter.
Changes are afoot. There's an awakening that is gathering pace. Our broken food system is being analysed from all directions and the facts that once just were accepted are now being challenged.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver are adding celebrity voice and massive power to the heightening debate about food waste. Wonky veg are returning to our fridges.
Food Assemblies and farm co-operatives are springing up everywhere. Food banks are at breaking point. Organic is the new normal.
I did Veganuary this year (going vegan for January) and I felt my own awakening when watching films like Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy. Something is wrong. We put convenience and gluttony over the welfare of animals and ourselves.
But to me, wherever you stand on meat, dairy, eggs or vegetables, organic goods, carbs, palm oil or sugar it's important that we talk about it, and even more importantly, listen - whether you agree or not.
As Michael Pollan so perfectly stated:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
“Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food."
It feels like, collectively, we've hit the point where we can't blindly accept the products on the shelves that are put before us. Change is in the wind and at last it is beginning to blow in the right direction.
Carrot Chinese Five Spice Cake with Orange Icing
- 2 medium carrots grated
- 2 ¼ cups (250g) wholemeal flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice mix
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs [vegan: 3 tablespoons flax eggs mixed with 9 tablespoons of water and let sit for 5 minutes]
- ¾ cup (145g) sugar
- ½ cup (120ml) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (120g) plain Greek yogurt [vegan: use dairy free yogurt]
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Orange Icing
- 1 ¼ cups (250g) powdered icing sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter softened [vegan: use vegan butter]
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 9” round cake and line the bottom with baking parchment.
- Peel and grate the raw carrot. Set aside.
- Sift the flour, bicarb of soda, baking powder, Chinese five spice blend and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the carrot.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs (or flax eggs), sugar, oil, yogurt and vanilla together with an electric mixer.
- Fold the wet ingredients into the dry gently.
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin.
For the Orange Icing:
- Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the other ingredients and mix until smooth.
- Store in the fridge until ready to use. Frost the completely cooled cake.