Written by Claire Goodwin

Food

A VE Day cake hurray

To celebrate 70 years since the end of WWII in Europe, we asked Claire Goodwin to create something special but with a nod to the resourcefulness of wartime cooks. She didn’t disappoint, with a carrot and date traybake with honey and lemon topping.

Claire's carrot & date cake

When Standard Issue asked me to write a recipe for VE Day, I was a bit stumped. I thought, in order to represent the magnitude of this event, I must make a cake or pie with the same ingredients and methods of those wartime days.

I then realised that I hadn’t a clue where to get powdered egg (nor did I relish the thought of it). I also wrestled with myself about making a cake with the barest minimum of sugar and fruit and butter – because I didn’t need to.

So, how does one make a cake when butter, sugar, milk and eggs are in meagre supply? Well if you want cake, you have to use your noggin. Here is a little guide.

Sweeteners

Carrots are full of sugar. When you cook them, they become sweeter. Therefore they were often used in cakes as a replacement or complement to the minimal amount of sugar that was available. Cooked apples and other fruits – available for some due to the government campaign encouraging women to ‘grow their own’ – were used in a similar way.

Raw sugar such as honey was also used where available, and was more available due to some being able to keep bees and harvest their own.

Some women added dried fruit, which could be bought with an individual’s point allowance, given alongside the rationed basics.

Jams and chutneys made from homegrown fruits also became a go-to ingredient for baking.

Butter and milk

Butter and milk were scarce in wartime England. Milk was rationed and powdered milk became a staple for families, though this was also in short supply. There was little surplus to be used on the frivolity of cake.

Butter was scarce – 50g per week per adult – and even if there was a small amount in the household, it was too scant an amount for cake once it had been used for other necessities. Margarine was available in slightly larger quantities, but again, decisions had to be made about how this could be used. Oil was more available, and this therefore became a staple replacement for butter when baking.

Eggs

Eggs are difficult to replace in baking as they do so many wonderful jobs. The rich proteins in the egg whites bind the ingredients together and help to create the lift, or rise, in the cake. The fat-rich yolk adds to the lipid content of the batter, giving it a more luxurious taste. Therefore, in order to supplement some of the reduced egg content – this more often than not being powdered egg, not fresh – bakers would have to improvise with other items more readily available in their store cupboards. Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar were two items commonly used, as the chemical reaction would help the cake to rise.

So, when you’re making, then eating this delicious cake, raise a cup of tea to the men who fought and the women who kept the country going.

Carrot & date cakeFor the cake

350g dark brown sugar
175ml sunflower oil
175ml rapeseed oil
6 eggs, beaten
300g carrots
200g dates
zest of 1 lemon
350g self-raising flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

For the topping

2 tablespoons lemon juice
175g icing sugar
Squeezy honey

Bake in

14” x 7” traybake tin (you can get a pack of three at Wilko for £1)

Method

1. Heat the oven to 180°C.

2. Wrap the carrots in tin foil and place in the oven for 25 minutes or until soft (leave the oven on when finished for the cake).

3. Mash the carrots.

4. Finely chop the dates and place in a small bowl. Pour in 75ml boiling water, cover with cling film and shake so all the dates have come into contact with the water.

5. Grease the tray with margarine and line with a piece of greaseproof paper.

6. Mix the sugar, oils and eggs together in a bowl.

7. Add the carrots, dates and lemon zest.

8. Sieve in all the dry ingredients.

9. Mix together so that the batter is even.

10. Pour into the tray and smooth out evenly.

11. Place the traybake on a rigid oven tray and cook in oven for 40-50 minutes. Check the cake at around 35 minutes to ensure it isn’t burning on the top. If it is darkening, place some foil over the top.

12. Remove from oven when it is firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.

13. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tray.

14. Tip onto a rack, remove the paper and allow to cool.

15. Mix the lemon juice with the icing sugar.

16. Drizzle on top of the cake.

17. Drizzle honey on top of the cake.

18. Cut into squares and be everyone’s best buddy.

@bake_therapist

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Written by Claire Goodwin

Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK