Fatimah’s Lebanese Carrot & Pistachio Cake
My parents both grew up in Tripoli on the north-west coast of Lebanon, where sweet pastries are widely regarded as the best in the Middle East. Unfortunately, due to the civil war, like many Lebanese immigrants, both my parents were forced to flee Lebanon with their parents in the 1970s. They arrived as children in Australia to make their life here, and they met and married in Sydney. My mum was just 16 when she had me and we have always been very close.
When the civil war started in 1975, Lebanon had a tiny population of 2.57million – about half the size of Sydney now. When it finally ended in 1990, almost a million people, nearly 20% of the population, had like my family fled. About 120,000 people lost their lives and 14 years after, in 2004, when I was growing up safely in Sydney, the UNHCR believed 600,000 people were still internally displaced and unable to return to their family homes. That number is still about 76,000. Many refugees from Palestine and Syria have now fled to Lebanon and the population has swelled to about 6.85million, with many people in refugee camps. It makes life in Sydney seem very privileged and more than 40 years after my parents and grandparents fled, it can feel like another world.
My grandparents told me that before the war, they remember Lebanon as a multi-faith country where people lived side by side, sharing food together at the times of different festivals. In coastal cities Sunni Muslims and Christians were the majorities and in Tripoli where my family is from, the majority was Sunni.
Once settled in Australia, my father worked in nutrition and growing up I remember clearly our family bookcase being full of books about both religion and nutrition. The two topics my dad was very passionate about.
From a young age, I was an avid reader and when I had exhausted my library books, I would devour my dad’s bookcase. I memorised the benefits of every fruit and vegetable and understood why my father preferred wholesome homecooked food as opposed to fast cheap takeaway. Instead of chips and biscuits, our pantries were stocked with nuts, seeds and grains for us to nibble on.
My dad would often bring home fresh pistachio and we shelled and ate them in front of the tv in the evenings or my mum used them as an addition to her carrot and cinnamon cake.
Ramadan was in the summertime when I was growing up in the 80s in Sydney. Long hot days meant we had to plan appropriately for our pre-sunrise meal. ‘Suhoor’ (our pre-dawn breakfast) was often high energy cakes such as a Carrot and Pistachio cake served with cinnamon milk tea. Avoiding thirst and maintaining our energy was important to sustain us for the day. As I got older, I experimented on my own and added a lemon cream cheese frosting and some extra fruit to make mum’s special cake more visually appealing to be able to sell at my cake studio in Sydney.
If you are a lover of all things sweet and especially love the warmth that is cinnamon, you will adore this recipe and come back for more…
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Grate the carrots. Put aside.
Preheat oven to 160C degrees fan or 180C degrees conventional oven.
Pour flour, sugar, cinnamon, bicarbonate soda, baking powder into a bowl and whisk well.
Add the grated carrot, oil and eggs and beat vigorously for 3-5min
Add the crushed pistachio. Mix well.
Pour into a lined baking loaf tin and bake on 160C degrees fan-forced or 180C degrees conventional oven for about 40 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before icing with frosting.
To make the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting: Combine cream cheese and butter in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly until creamy. Slowly add the icing sugar little by little. Mixing after each time until smooth. Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon and mix in well.
Smother the frosting on top of the cold carrot cake. Top with crushed pistachio and/or figs. Enjoy!