May my many-armed gods have mercy on my soul for I have messed with one of Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. Her classic recipe for carrot cardamom cake, to be specific. I believe this recipe was first published in her cookbook World-of-the-East: Vegetarian Cooking but I have never read that book. I heard about her recipe some years ago when my friend Pradnya posted about it—on Facebook or Instagram—and found it on some website that looked like it hadn’t been updated since 1995. I can’t find that site anymore but it lingers elsewhere on the web. I was drawn to the recipe because in the headnotes Jaffrey refers to it as being halfway between carrot cake and gajar/carrot halwa (one of the few things that makes life worth living) but without the hassle of having to stir gajar halwa for hours. Now, it’s a different matter that courtesy a friend—the late, great Sue Darlow—I have a recipe for a pressure cooker gajar halwa that is barely any hassle, but the thought of a carrot cake that could scratch my gajar halwa itch was enticing. And so I made Jaffrey’s recipe. And it was good; perhaps the best carrot cake I’d had. But it did not scratch my gajar halwa itch. Despite the fact that I am an indifferent baker I resolved to try to figure out how to make it scratch my itch and to my great surprise I hit upon it on the first try. Now you too can have your life changed for the better. You’re welcome.
Now please note that the above folly aside, I’m not actually claiming that I’ve improved Jaffrey’s recipe—I am not so bold or disrespectful or deluded. No, I have merely transformed it into something closer to what I was looking for when I found her recipe. Her recipe is still the foundation and most of the superstructure of this recipe. But I have made a couple of significant alterations (doubling the amount of carrot and tripling the cardamom) and one crucial addition (condensed milk). It makes for a far denser and stickier cake. It won’t entirely quell the craving for gajar halwa that falls on every displaced Delhi’ite in the winter but it will please you (even if you’re not a displaced Delhi’ite).
- 2 tspns vegetable oil [1.5 in the original]
- 1 cup unbleached white flour plus a tblspn or so more for dusting the baking tin
- 1 tspn baking soda
- 1/4 tspn salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 tspn ground cardamom seeds [1/4 tspn in the original]
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup ghee
- 1 lb carrots, peeled and shredded; about 3 densely packed cups [1.5 cups grated carrots in the original]
- 1 can (14 oz or 397 gm) sweetened condensed milk NOT evaporated milk [not in the original]
- 4 tblspns pine nuts [2 tblspns pistachios and blanched almonds in the original]
- 3 tblspns golden raisins [2 tblspns in the original]
- Heat your oven to 350f.
- Massage a baking tin that’s 9 inches round and 3 inches or so tall with the vegetable oil and dust lightly with the flour.
- Sift the cup of flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.
- Beat the eggs in a large glass bowl with a hand mixer on medium for a minute or so.
- Add the sugar, the ghee and the ground cardamom seed and continue to beat on medium for 2 minutes or so.
- Add the flour and fold in gently.
- Add the shredded carrots and fold in gently.
- Add the condensed milk and stir to combine thoroughly.
- Add the pine nuts and raisins and stir to distribute evenly.
- Pour into the prepared tin and place in the middle of the oven.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Place the tin on a rack for an hour or till cooled. Run a knife along the sides, invert and hope for the best.
- I shred the carrots instead of grating them because my cheap food processor didn’t come with a grating attachment. And I’m not insane enough to grate 1 lb of carrots by hand.
- I use a spring form pan. It’s a sticky cake and spring form makes it easier to release, invert and gently peel the bottom off. Perhaps it would be better still with a round of parchment on the bottom of a regular pan—like I said, I’m an indifferent baker.
- Cashews, pistachios or almonds would be the more traditional gajar halwa nut choices. However, my kids are allergic to cashews and pistachios and pine nuts are what I always have on hand. The pine nut is also a more unassuming nut and doesn’t try to get in front of the carrot.
- This will keep well covered for almost a week, if you can make it last that long.
- A thick slice of this is just excellent with either a cup of tea or some vanilla ice cream.