These old-fashioned carrot cakes are adapted from a 1940s wartime British Ministry of Food recipe, and amazingly do not require eggs, butter or dairy.
Each bite is light, moist and packed with juicy plump sultanas, crunchy walnuts, and sweet, spicy cinnamon, carrot flavours.
This moreish vegan carrot cake recipe is ideal for spring and summer picnics, but especially great for an Easter time treat.
Decorate these cute vegan carrot cakes with a delicious and easy orange buttercream, a sprinkle of fresh orange zest, and top with a crunchy walnut. The perfect Easter treat and also wonderful for picnics.
Quick history of carrot cakes
Carrot cake has a long and interesting history. It is believed that the origins of carrot cake can be traced back to medieval times when honey was the main sweetener, and carrots were often used to provide extra sweetness. However, early carrots were more likely to be purple, white, or yellow in color, and they were smaller and thinner than the ordinary orange carrots readily available today.
The modern carrot cake recipe that we know today is thought to have originated in Britain during the 19th century, where it became a popular dessert due to its rich, moist texture and delicious flavor.
During the 1940s, carrot cake became a popular baked item promoted by the Ministry of Food. Carrots were a popular ingredient because they provided natural sweetness, reducing the amount of sugar required in the recipe, and the cake could be made without using rationed eggs.
During the 1960s, carrot cake became very popular in the United States, where it was often served with a cream cheese frosting. Americans love carrot cake so much that they even have a National Carrot Cake Day held each year on the 3rd February.
Another special day and a great excuse to enjoy carrot cake is International Carrot Day which is held on the 4th April.
Wartime carrot cake
This delicious carrot cake recipe has a rich history dating back to the 1940s when it was originally supplied by the British Ministry of Food during wartime.
I've adapted the recipe by adding more cinnamon, more sultanas, more carrot, and a little more milk for extra moisture. To enhance the flavor, I've also included a dash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.
The original recipe didn't include frosting, but I've found that my orange buttercream icing perfectly complements the moist and fluffy texture of the cupcakes. To keep the recipe budget-friendly, I substituted vegan cream cheese with Stork baking spread, which results in a frosting that is just as creamy and delicious.
To finish, I sprinkle fresh orange zest on top of the frosting for a pop of tangy flavor, and a crunchy walnut for added texture.
British Ministry of Food
The British Ministry of Food was a government department that was created during World War II in the United Kingdom to oversee food rationing and ensure the equitable distribution of food to the population.
The Ministry was established in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war, and was responsible for a range of tasks related to food supply, including the procurement and distribution of food, the establishment of rationing systems, the promotion of food production and preservation, and the management of food imports and exports.
The Ministry of Food played a critical role in ensuring that the British population had access to adequate food supplies during the war, despite the significant challenges posed by wartime shortages and disruptions to supply chains.
During the war Britain experienced a shortage of eggs which led the government to introduce rationing of eggs limiting individuals to one egg per week. As a result many traditional favourite recipes were adapted to not require eggs.
Vinegar and baking powder can replace eggs in cake baking
One popular egg replacement was the combination of vinegar and baking powder [baking soda].
During baking vinegar reacts with the baking powder to produce carbon dioxide gas bubbles that cause the cake to rise beautifully with a fluffy and light texture. And best of all the baked cake does not taste of vinegar!
Doctor Carrot was a fictional character created by the British Ministry of Food during World War II to encourage people to eat more vegetables, especially carrots. The character was portrayed as a cartoon doctor wearing a white coat and stethoscope, with a carrot for a head. He was often depicted promoting the health benefits of carrots, and encouraging people to incorporate them into their diets.
The Ministry of Food used various advertising campaigns to promote the consumption of vegetables, including posters featuring Doctor Carrot, as well as recipes that included carrots as a main ingredient. The campaign was highly successful, and carrots became one of the most widely consumed vegetables in the UK during the war years.
The idea behind Doctor Carrot was to make healthy eating more fun and accessible, especially during a time when food was rationed and scarce. By creating a playful character that people could relate to, the Ministry of Food hoped to inspire people to try new and unusual foods, and to discover the health benefits of eating a varied and balanced diet.
Today, Doctor Carrot remains a nostalgic symbol of the wartime effort to promote healthy eating and to encourage people to make the most of limited food resources.
Carrots are a versatile and budget-friendly vegetable, especially in the UK around Easter time when supermarkets strive with rival supermarkets in their 'Easter Veg Wars' to offer the cheapest prices on vegetables. So why not take advantage of the abundance of cheap carrots and make a batch of delicious, homemade carrot cakes?
Grated or shredded fresh carrots can be easily frozen for later use, making them a convenient ingredient to have on hand. Just defrost what you need and you're ready to whip up some tasty carrot cakes whenever you like!
More tasty plant-based carrot recipes:
Enjoy the versatility of these vegan carrot cupcakes! While the recipe includes walnuts and sultanas, feel free to substitute them with any nuts you have on hand or omit them altogether. Similarly, you can use your preferred dried fruit to customize the cupcakes to your liking.
How to prepare old-fashioned carrot cakes with an orange buttercream frosting
Preparing these vegan carrot cakes is super simple and quick. The buttercream frosting is even speedier, as it's an all-in-one method that only requires a short few minutes of blasting with an electric hand whisk. Of course, the frosting can be done by hand with a mixing spoon, which will take more effort!
First, sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl, stir through the salt. Next add the margarine.
Using your fingertips, rub the margarine into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. [If you're in the US, this is known as the cutting in method and can also be done with two tableware [cutlery] knives, if preferred.]
Next, add the grated carrot, sultanas, broken walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon powder to the mixing bowl. Stir well.
In a separate small bowl, mix the plant milk, white vinegar, and vanilla together. Pour the liquid into the mixing bowl and stir everything together.
Divide the cake mixture between 12 cupcake cases.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen, firm to the touch and a skewer popped in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
To prepare the buttercream frosting, first add the margarine, powdered [icing] sugar, and orange juice to a bowl.
Next, use an electric hand whisk and mix for 1-2 minutes. Or whisk with a mixing spoon until thick, airy and creamy.
Add a dollop of orange buttercream frosting to each cupcake, sprinkle with orange zest if liked, and finish with a walnut.
Carrot cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. However, if you want to store the cupcakes for a longer period, you can refrigerate them for about 4 days. Wrap the cakes in kitchen/aluminum foil or food wrap to maintain the cupcakes freshness for longer.
Unfrosted carrot cupcakes can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw the cakes at room temperature for a few hours before frosting.
Of course, feel free to use whatever nut you prefer.
Absolutely not. If you have an allergy, or just not that keen on nuts, or maybe you just don't have any to hand, then simply omit the nuts.
The nuts do add a nice texture and flavour to the cupcakes so if seeds are fine for your dietary needs, then adding some sunflower or pumpkin seeds is a great option.
Yes. If you have dried raisins, currants, cranberries, blueberries, or goji berries but no sultanas then just use the dried fruit that you do have. There's no need to go out and purchase sultanas if you have a good substitute available, unless you want to of course!
Indulge in the perfect blend of juicy sultanas, crunchy walnuts, sweet grated carrots, and warm cinnamon in every bite. Top it off with a zesty orange buttercream frosting and a sprinkle of fresh orange zest, and you'll savor a delicious and moreish treat.
Old-Fashioned Carrot Cakes [vegan cupcakes]
- cupcake/muffin baking tray [to fit 12 cupcake cases]
- cupcake or fairy cake cases
- wire rack or similar
- eclectic hand whisk optional, to prepare buttercream
- citrus zester optional, needed if adding an orange zest garnish
- 225 grams plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 115 grams soft brown sugar [light brown sugar]
- 115 grams vegan margarine [or vegan butter] [use one suitable for baking such as Stork]
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
- 90 grams carrots [grated/shredded]
- 60 grams sultanas [or raisins]
- 50 grams walnuts [broken up]
- 1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar [distilled/ordinary white vinegar]
- 7 tablespoons oat milk [or your usual milk] [tablespoons measurements are 1 tablespoon equals 15 millilitres]
- 85 grams vegan margarine [or vegan butter]
- 225 grams icing sugar [powdered sugar]
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice [freshly squeezed or use concentrated/fresh orange juice]
- zest of 1 medium orange and a few walnuts for sprinkling over finished cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180C / 356 Fahrenheit / Gas 4.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the salt and stir everything together.
- Add the margarine and using your fingertips rub the margarine into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. [If your in the US this technique is known as the cutting in method and can be done with two tableware [cutlery] knifes if preferred.]
- Next add the grated carrot, brown sugar, cinnamon powder, walnuts, and sultanas. Give it all a good mix.
- In a separate small cup or jug stir together the milk, vinegar and vanilla.
- Stir the liquid into the cake mixture until all combined.
- Divide the cake mix between 12 cupcake cases. Level out the tops of the cakes, but only just a little so that they are not too uneven.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes [on the middle oven shelf] until the cakes have risen, feel firm and a skewer popped in the middle of the cake comes out clean. [I used an electric oven for these cakes and they were baked after 23 minutes but different ovens will result in different baking times. Fan ovens tend to bake faster so perhaps check your cakes at the 20 minutes mark.]
- After a few minutes remove the cupcakes from the cupcake tray and cool the cakes on a wire rack.
- Sieve the powdered [icing] sugar into a bowl.
- Break the margarine into chunks and add to the bowl along with the orange juice.
- Mix with an electric hand whisk for 1-2 minutes, or whisk with a mixing spoon until creamy, airy and thick.
- Add a dollop of frosting to each cupcake. Sprinkle orange zest over and finish with a walnut.
- Nutritional data is provided for guidance only, and it's not a strict calculation as ingredients may vary.
- Stork baking margarine was used for both the carrot cupcakes and the buttercream frosting.
- This buttercream frosting is a great alternative to cream cheese frosting, as it has a similar taste.
- Any leftover frosting can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- For optimal freshness, store carrot cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, or wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- These carrot cakes are the freshest on days 1 and 2.
- For extra freshness, wrap the cakes in parchment/greaseproof paper, kitchen foil, or food wrap.
- Unfrosted carrot cakes can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- Instead of walnuts, you can use your preferred nuts. Chopped mixed nuts are often less expensive and work well in carrot cake.
- If preferred, sultanas can be replaced with raisins, currants, or other small dried fruits such as cranberries, goji berries, or blueberries.
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