The carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua, is a species of evergreen pea that is cultivated for its ornamental qualities and edible pods. Native to the Mediterranean it grows well in warm temperate and subtropical climates and produces a broad, semi-spherical crown that can reach up to 15 metres in height.
Once employed as a countermeasure for the weighing of precious metals and stones (hence the term 'carat'), carob is used most prolifically for culinary purposes, primarily as a cocoa substitute by those with a strong allergic response to theobromide (an alkaloid compound found in chocolate that is also poisonous to dogs).
As a child, and one who was happily impervious to the ill-effects of said alkaloids, I actively avoided carob; to my mind a poor substitute with no perceivable benefit when compared to 'proper' chocolate. But having learnt to appreciate ingredients for their own virtues (for example, why look to eat meat "substitutes" when there are so many delicious vegetables out there to enjoy?), it was time to revisit carob from a more open perspective.
A friend recently introduced me to roasted carob powder, whose nuttiness and sweet earthy tones were so enticing that it was a near dash to the kitchen to get some cake underway. Coffee and hazelnuts were the pairings of choice, and the kitchen was soon filled with the heady aromas of caramel and spice.
If you're looking for a cake to enjoy with your morning or afternoon tea that is light and moist, a little rich, but with a slightly savoury aspect, then this roasted carob nut cake may just be the one for you...
ROASTED CAROB NUT CAKE (Adapted from George's chocolate nut cake in Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion)
- 100 g hazelnuts
- 50 g wholewheat flour
- 1/4 cup roasted carob powder
- 4 eggs, separated
- 100 g caster sugar
- 30ml cold espresso coffee
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 25 ml olive oil
- 1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 150°C and lightly grease a 20 cm springform tin, lining the base with greaseproof paper.
Roast the hazelnuts in the oven for approximately 10 minutes until lightly golden, then remove skins and grind to a coarse flour in a food processor (alternatively, you can use 100 g hazelnut meal).
In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and think. Gently fold through the hazelnuts, flour and carob powder. Add the coffee, vanilla, oil and lemon zest and again fold through carefully.
Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form, then gently fold through the carob mixture in two batches.
Pour batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cake has set but still seems a little moist in the middle. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.