Plate of carrot cake

The Carrot Cake Chronicles

It’s always a pleasure to discover a new recipe but cooking from a tried and road tested, well-worn recipe that has been passed down from friends or family is unbeatable.  My mother-in-law still laments a cake that got away, one she remembers fondly from her childhood.  The recipe keeper was her aged aunt, sadly she never managed to commit the faithful reproduction of the recipe to paper.

To keep recipes alive in Thailand there’s a funeral custom of writing a book of the deceased’s favourite food and recipes, this book is given to loved ones at the funeral.  The book of recipes ensures their memory lives on and brings comfort and sustenance in the form of food, to those who’ve been left behind.  Such is the power of food and memory and how closely the two are linked to our well-being.

As we travel through life we gather these recipes.  Sometimes this handwritten set of ingredients and instructions, generally found on scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes, lasts longer than the relationship itself.  Whatever the outcome of the friendship, they’re a culinary reminder of our past, and as these recipes become a regular guest at our own tables over the years they become an integral part of ourselves too; forming memories for our own families and new friends.  The recipe gets passed on again and again, taking on a new life of its own.

I have a very dear old friend called Donna, who is a fabulous passer-down of recipes.  I’ve talked about her lots of time on this blog, but for good reason, she’s the kind of friend who if she drops in unexpectedly, you don’t care that the house is a disaster, or that your outfit looks like something Mr Tumble would turn his red hooter up at – this happens a lot, I work at home in an old, very often cold, house.  We all, or I hope we all, have friends like this.  The kind of friends for who the phrase ‘those who matter don’t care, those who care don’t matter’ was written for.

Donna and me

The one recipe I most associate with Donna is carrot cake.  Donna’s in-law’s migrated to America many moons ago and on their trips back to Blighty would bring recipes for cookies, pancakes and cakes that were unheard of here.  This food seemed glamorous, sophisticated, something unknown.  I fell in love with the carrot cake from the first bite; moist and spicy with a thick cream cheese icing, or should I say ‘frosting’.  At one point, years later, Donna and I were even baking it and selling it in a calamitous, chaotic business venture that didn’t last too long, mainly because we were calamitous and chaotic.  I recall kneeling by Donna’s bedside one afternoon, when a migraine had knocked her off her feet, whispering to her to give me the recipe, scribbling it down in a notebook,  so I could bake it that night for the orders in the morning.


Donna got the recipe from her mother-in-law, who had procured it from her sister Mattie in America.  26 years ago Mattie’s daughter Alison wrote it down.  It’s this recipe, written in her 13-year old hand that’s used today; you can see for yourself – it’s worn, splattered in ingredients and looking a bit worse for wear – much like myself a great deal of the time,  but like the cake, and if I may be as sentimental to say, the friendship too, it’s a keeper.


Donna’s Carrot Cake

What you will need

  • 2 cups Demerara sugar
  • 2 cups Self raising flour
  • 1 1/2 cup Sunflower / vegetable oil
  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 3 cups Carrot (Grated finely)
  • 1 cup Walnuts (Chopped, reserving some for the cake topping)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 150g Cream cheese - such as Philadelphia
  • 300g Icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Lime juice
  • Zest of an orange (Optional)


I've stayed true to Donna's original cake recipe but have altered the icing recipe omitting the butter for a simple cream cheese and icing sugar mix instead.


To make the cake
Step 1 Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 Fan / Gas 4 and grease and line a 9 x 13 tin
Step 2 Mix the Demerara sugar and oil together and add the eggs one at a time, beating between the addition of each egg
Step 3 Add the flour, cinnamon, salt and nuts - reserving a handful of the chopped walnuts to decorate the cake
Step 4 Stir in the grated carrot
Step 5 Bake for around an hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Turn out of the tin and leave until completely cool
To make the icing
Step 6 Soften the cream cheese and sift the icing sugar, stir to combine and add a little lime juice to taste
Step 7 Spread over the cake and grate some orange peel (optional) and scatter the remaining walnut pieces


  • This is my favourite recipe ever too, no carrot cake compares! It looks delicious 🙂 Next up it’s grandad’s beans (if we ever manage to get that secret recipe)!

    • Sarah Scott (Author)

      No other carrot cake compares Avena! You have to get that recipe – If anyone can, Mima can! x

  • Now that looks like a mighty fine carrot cake… I love that thailand tradition too, what a wonderful idea! 🙂

    • Sarah Scott (Author)

      It is the finest carrot cake ever! Yes, I really like that tradition too, so personal, and practical too..

  • I love this SO much!!! <3 I can't think of a more fitting tradition than sharing favourite recipes, I'm just glad we get to share all your delicious ones on here!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Sarah Scott (Author)

      Oh thank you Imogen! Sharing recipes has to be one of life’s pleasures. And your family has so many excellent ones .. x

  • When we pick our carrots, this is being made as quick as possible. I’m a huge carrot cake fan and it brings back alot of childhood memories with sweet vanilla icing. Just thinking about it causes a smile.. 🙂

    • Sarah Scott (Author)

      Yes, it’s a real winner BUT grating carrots by hand on the small side of the grater is no picnic! I look like I’ve been bare knuckle boxing! 🙂

  • Brilliant, this looks like awesome cake-age.

  • Wonderful post, can totally relate. I have a recipe binder passed down by my grandmother and even though one of the few recipes it contains is for a ham and pasta salad it’s still one of my most treasured belongings. Now desperate to try cooking that cake, it looks perfect.

    • Sarah Scott (Author)

      Treasure indeed Chloe. The cake is really, really good! Hard work grating those carrots though, but worth it..

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