Halwa Carrot Cake

I came up with this cake a few years ago for a friend from Pakistan who said he was missing carrot halwa (gajar ka halwa), and who also loves carrot cake. So, for his birthday I decided to try and combine the two… After a few test runs, and a lot of texting my friend Viv to ask about correct consistencies, I ended up with this; a take on a traditional carrot cake mixed with cardamom, saffron, pistachios, golden sultanas and a large helping of sticky, sweet halwa that’s good enough to eat on its own. This is one of favourite recipes, actually, and a perfect comfort food for dark, chilly winter nights. I’d be really interested to hear about other recipes or methods for carrot halwa too!

Ingredients

For the halwa:

  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 40g butter
  • Handful golden sultanas
  • Handful of cashews
  • 250g of carrots (about 4-5), peeled and grated
  • 200ml condensed milk (about half a tin)
  • Pinch of saffron

For the frosting:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 150g icing sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 orange

For the cake:

  • 200g butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 200g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A generous grating of fresh nutmeg or ¼ tsp ground
  • Handful of golden sultanas
  • Handful of pistachios, roughly chopped (save a few for the top)

Method:

  1. First make the halwa. Smash open the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds and grind them into a powder in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the cardamom. Stir for about a minute until fragrant.
  3. Tip in the sultanas and cashews, followed by the carrot. Stir together well, and gently fry over a medium heat, stirring often, for around 5 minutes or until the carrots are wilted and beginning to tangle together.
  4. Tip in the condensed milk and the saffron. Stir well. Reduce the heat and stir regularly until the mixture turns puddingy and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
  5. Next make the frosting. Place the mascarpone and cream cheese in a bowl, and sift in the icing sugar. Stir or whisk together. Stir in the lemon juice and orange zest, saving a little zest for decoration. Cover and put in the fridge to firm up.
  6. For the cake, preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Line a 23cm cake tin.
  7. Place the butter and sugar together in a pan and stir together over a medium heat until both are melted.
  8. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Then, add a large spoonful of the halwa and the milk and stir to combine. Whisk in the beaten eggs.
  9. Place the grated carrots, flour, bicarb, and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix. Pour in the butter mixture and fold together until no streaks of flour are showing. Stir in the sultanas and pistachios.
  10. Tip into the cake tin and bake for around 40-45 minutes, or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If your oven is browning the top too quickly, cover in foil to allow the rest to catch up. Cool on a wire rack.
  11. Assemble by spreading the halwa in a layer across the top of the cake, then spooning over the frosting. Decorate with orange zest and chopped pistachios.

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