The History of Carrot Cake

History of Carrot Cake

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Carrot Cake History 

Origin of carrot cake (also pudding)  (more on carrot puddings history here) (world records)

Cake is a term with a long history, the word is of Viking origin from the old Norse - "Kaka". Cake denotes a baked flour confection sweetened with sugar and honey; it iscarrot cake mixed with eggs and often, but not invariably, with milk and fat and it has a porous texture from the mixture rising during cooking. The distinctions between bread, bun and biscuit are blurred as techniques for baking and leavening developed and eating patterns changed.  Some Roman breads were enriched with eggs and butter and much have reached a cake-like consistency although still named as breads.

According to food historians, our modern carrot cake most likely descended from Medieval carrot puddings enjoyed by people in Europe. No one really knows where carrot cake came from, It looks like it did evolve from the Carrot Pudding of medieval times, during the middle ages sugar and other sweeteners were difficult or expensive to come by in Britain and carrots had long been used as sugar substitutes. Carrot Pudding history hereFood timeline's Carrot Cake history here.

Carrot cake and its precursors took several forms including baked in pastry, like pumpkin pie steamed and served with sauce, like plum pudding baked in pans and served with icing, like cake.

Recipes for carrot pudding can be found as far back as the10th century Arabian cookery book -  T'Khabis al-jazar (Carrots): - A carrot pudding. Then in  1591 A Booke of Cookrye, John Evelyn's 'Discourse of Sallets' in 1699,  Receipts (recipes) of Pastry and Cookery For the Use of his Scholars, By Ed. Kidder (1720-1740) and Hannah Glasse's 'Art of Cookery' of 1747, but no reference to carrot cake until the 19th century:

In her New York Cookbook (1992), Molly O'Neill says that George Washington was served a carrot tea cake at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. The date: November 25, 1783. The occasion: British Evacuation Day. She offers an adaptation of that early recipe, which was printed in The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook (1975) by Mary Donovan, Amy Hatrack, and Frances Schull. It is quite close to the carrot cakes of today.

"George Washington's carrot tea cake

 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 3/4 cup canola oil 2 cups sugar 4 eggs 2 cups grated carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs and carrots, and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan 2 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to finish cooling."

Carrot Cake Recipes Through the Ages 

The Art of French Cookery, 1827, A B Beauvilliers.The Cook's Dictionary, 1830, Richard Dolby

Top right recipe also appeared (word for word!!) in "The Household Encyclopedia",1858, By An association of heads of families and men of science.

German national cookery for American kitchens, Henrietta  Davidis,1904, included a recipe for Mohrentorte.

See Carrot Pudding recipes through the ages here - carrot puddings.

The confusion occurs because the term "cake" is fairly recent, probably 13th C and it could be that many puddings were in fact cakes - solid pudding. This is a typical example from the late 17th century.  

"Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets" - John Evelyn 1699

"26. Pudding of Carrot. Pare off some of the Crust of Manchet-Bread, and grate of half as much of the rest as there is of the Root, which must also be grated: Then take half a Pint of fresh Cream or New Milk, half a Pound of fresh Butter, six new laid Eggs (taking out three of the Whites) mash and mingle them well with the Cream and Butter: Then put in the grated Bread and Carrot, with near half a Pound of Sugar; and a little Salt; some grated Nutmeg and beaten Spice; and pour all into a convenient Dish or Pan, butter'd, to keep the Ingredients from sticking and burning; set it in a quick Oven for about an Hour, and so have you a Composition for any Root-Pudding."

The Food timeline gives a lot more here.

A few Americans claim to have "invented" carrot cake in the early 20thC using recipes from "back home", usually Germany, Russia, Poland etc. My mother was Polish and recalls her grandma teaching her about adding carrots (and other stuff, based on availability) to cakes. So I suspect the eastern Europeans have had it from the 19thC at least. Of course country folk passed on these recipes through word of mouth so documentary evidence is sketchy.

According to Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”, the first appearance of the term “carrot cake” in an American source came from “The Neighborhood Cook Book” by the council of Jewish Women, published in Portland, Oregon in 1912 -

One-half pound sugar, one-half pound almonds, blanched and chopped, one-half pound carrots, boiled only till they can be grated, juice and grated rind of one lemon, four eggs. Cream the yolks and sugar; whites beaten to snow, added last; add three or four bitter almonds; beat for one half hour before adding whites of eggs. Butter spring form and sprinkle with grated zweibach. Bake in a moderate oven one and one-quarter hours, till loosed from pan.

Richard Auffrey's blog "The Passionate Foodie"  shows research which pre-dates the above 'first US reference' (blog here)

Through my research of some newspaper archives, I found several sources concerning carrot cake that predate the publication of this cookbook in December 1912.

First, The Detroit Times, December 19, 1908, had an article about doctors in London living on a diet of carrots, including "carrot cake." This is indicative that American readers were at least familiar with carrot cake, though the article is discussing London.

Second, the Norwich Bulletin, November 19, 1909, has an advertisement for the Haile Club restaurant, in Connecticut, which mentions "carrot cake" on their menu. So, we then see that at least one American restaurant was serving carrot cake, and there isn't any indication that this is a unique occurrence. There isn't any explanation of "carrot cake" either, so they seem to assume that readers would understand what they meant.

Third, The San Francisco Call, February 25, 1912, has a letter from a woman seeking a recipe for a "good carrot cake."

And finally, and most significantly, there is a reference which provides a carrot cake recipe. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1912, printed a recipe for "Crocus Carrot Cake," which was sourced from the Ladies Home Journal. I'm not sure why "crocus" is used in the name as that plant has nothing to do with the recipe. Though this recipe appears to be simultaneous with the The Neighborhood Cook Book, the original recipe appeared in the Ladies Home Journal, November 1912, predating the recipe from The Neighborhood Cook Book.

A recipe for “War Cake” found in an anonymous cookbook from the 1940s in the New-York Historical Society Library’s Manuscript collection. It boasts: “no butter, no eggs, no milk, delicious.”  Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society Library's Manuscript collection.

Recipe for “War Cake”

2 cups castor sugar

2 cups hot water

2 Tbsp lard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 package seedless raisins.

Boil all together. After cold, add 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water. Bake about one hour in a slow oven (300-325°F).

world war two carrot cake - usa

The Germans have a long tradition of cakes, torts etc and I would guess that would be a strong candidate for a likely origin. If anyone knows more do please contact the curator. click here

When did the cream cheese icing appear? The earliest American print references to frosting carrot cake with cream cheese are from 1960's:  Some eastern European cultures, have cream cheese cakes and it could well have developed from this, and a lot earlier.

Mary Berry's (UK) Carrot and Banana Cake recipe.

Singapore Deep Fried Carrot Cake here

Carrot Cake Porridge

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cooking time: 5 minutes serves two

INGREDIENTS: 80g whole rolled oats; 400ml sweetened almond milk; Pinch of finely grated nutmeg;1 large carrot, peeled and grated;1 tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)

METHOD:  Put the oats, almond milk and nutmeg into a pan and simmer the porridge over a medium – high heat for three to four minutes, stirring frequently. Stir through the grated carrot and sultanas and cook for a further minute. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with a little more nutmeg, if you like, and enjoy immediately.

Another variation - Carrot Pancakes

Carrot cake pancake recipe

Yields 14-16

Ingredients: •1-1/2 cups flour •1/3 cup brown sugar •1/2 teaspoon salt •1 teaspoon baking powder •1 teaspoon baking soda •1 teaspoon cinnamon •1/2 teaspoon nutmeg •1/4 teaspoon ground ginger •2 eggs •1-1/2 cups whole milk •3 tablespoons melted butter •1 teaspoon vanilla •2 large carrots, peeled, grated and pressed between stacks of paper towels •1/2 cup raisins •1/2 cup walnuts

Directions: 1.Preheat a grilled or large skillet, spray with cooking spray. 2.In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. 3.In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, whole milk, melted butter and vanilla. 4.Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. 5.Stir in the carrots, raisins and walnuts. 6.Pour 1/4 cup batter onto a hot griddle. 7.Cook until the edges start to look dry, and the underside is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until cooked through.

Purple Carrot Cake Recipe  - "A healthy version of regular carrot cake: just as moist, still huge on flavour but with reduced sugar, less oil and full of surprising health benefits to help fight the winter blues!" - MadAboutMacarons blog -  here

Chinese New Year white carrot "cake"

Makes one 9x2 inch round cake

1.5 kg (about 3 big ones) WHITE carrots (ONLY WHITE carrots give the right taste!) 300g rice flour (may use all-purpose flour, but never tried it though) 25 Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked overnight in water 10 dried scallops, soaked to soften overnight --OR-- 6 Chinese sausages, chopped into small pieces **a handful of dried shrimps, soaked overnight (OPTIONAL) 8g five spices powder 2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp chicken powder 1 tbsp white pepper 2 slices of ginger 2 tbsp oil 1 tbsp oil

(NB: all the above dried seafood (eg. Chinese mushroom, shrimps, scallops and Chinese sausages can be found in Chinese seafood stores, in Chinatown definitely)

(1) if using scallops, spread the soaked scallops into shreds. (if using Chinese sausages instead, chop into small pieces)

(2) Chop all soaked, softened and drained mushrooms, Chinese sausages, shrimps (if using) into small pieces. set aside.

(3) shred white carrots, set aside. (Shredding is the part which takes most of the time)

(4) Heat wok [or a large skillet] HOT with 2 tbsp oil. Fry chopped mushrooms, sausages, shrimps or/and scallops shreds for 1/2 min. Dish up and set aside.

(5) Add 1 more tbsp oil, fry ginger a bit. Then add shredded carrots, toss constantly for about 3 mins. (DON'T REMOVE ANY WATER left)

(6) Add spice, salt, chicken powder, white pepper, toss until evenly distributed.

(7) TURN OFF HEAT. Add rice flour on top, now use a chopsticks to toss and mix flour evenly with carrots (about 2 mins).

(8) Remove carrots flour mixture onto a greased 9x2 inch deep round cake pan.

(9) Clean wok or large skillet, boil a wok/skillet of water. Steam the pan of carrots on a round wire rack on LOW-HEAT/FIRE for 45 mins. (can use a large bamboo steamer if u have)

(10) Slice into pieces and serve hot!! OR cool on wire rack before covering with plastic firm and put in fridge.


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