Kumquat was a small vegetarian restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand, in the late '70s and early '80s. It did a roaring lunchtime trade; I myself ate there almost every day and got to know the owners David and Chris and many of the staff very well. I used to exhibit photographs there. Like Bennett & Luck in Highbury (which I often bang on about), Kumquat had its own signature dishes, the most famous of which was its carrot cake. And they NEVER divulged their secret recipe!
One day I happened across a recipe in a magazine and thought I'd give it a try. It was good. In fact, I thought it tasted just as good as Kumquat's. So I baked another and took it in for David and Chris to try after they'd closed for the day.
They tasted it and a look passed between them. Finally Chris spoke. "Where did you find the recipe?" she asked. When I told her I'd found it in an old copy of The New Zealand Woman's Weekly, her lips pursed. "Ah," she said.
I've kept their secret until now. I've also lost the recipe.
Numerous times I've scoured the internet for it without success. And so I decided to recreate it. How, you ask? Well, there are some features I do remember. It involved 3 cups of grated carrot and 1 cup of oil, and it used demerara sugar. So I searched for recipes using these ingredients in exactly those proportions, and I found one at bettycrocker.com.
I noticed theirs involved walnuts. I'm not sure if Kumquat's did or not, though equally I don't not remember there being walnuts, if you know what I mean. You'll see I've altered the spicing a bit and I'm using wholemeal flour - stoneground in this case.
Kumquat only ever filled their carrot cakes; they never iced them. The filling I suggest here gives you just enough to do that. It also uses far less icing sugar than most frostings, so it's very soft in texture - almost too soft to ice a cake with, though you could double the quantities and spread it quite thinly if you were determined to have your cake iced...or look around for a more suitable icing. You could even give it a dusting of icing sugar instead.
Makes 10 - 12 slices, though it's much easier to cut it into 8 VERY generous (almost too generous) slices.
For the cake:
3 tightly packed cups of grated carrot
1 cup of walnut pieces
butter or oil to grease 2 x 20cm cake tins
flour to dust the tins
1 1/2 cups demerara sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (I use sunflower)
1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups wholemeal flour
For the filling:
100g cream cheese
1/2 a teaspoon vanilla extract
50g icing sugar
I like to prep the carrot first. If you have a food processor, use it; I think it gives the cake a better texture. If the walnut pieces are particularly big, I lightly chop or crush them at this stage.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Lightly grease and flour two 20cm cake tins.
Whisk the eggs into the sugar.
Then whisk in the oil.
Next add the spices, the baking soda, and the salt.
Add the flour and beat thoroughly. Despite the whisk in the picture, it's probably easiest to swap to a wooden spoon for this.
Add the nuts and the carrot.
Beat until everything is blended in.
Divide equally between the two tins and pop them into the oven.
Cook for 30 - 35 minutes before testing the centre with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, they're ready. My oven runs slow, so mine took 50 minutes.
Let them cool in their tins for 10 minutes before gently removing and transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
If you can, store them in cake tins for 2 - 3 days putting them together.
To make the filling, beat the butter and cream cheese with the vanilla extract.
Incorporate the icing sugar a bit at a time.
Spread it evenly on the underside of one of the cakes, then place the other on top.
From this point on, store the cake in the fridge.
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: