Carrot cake, Abbasid-era

October 27, 2011  •  Category:


According to Nawal Nasrallah in her Delights from the Garden of Eden, the recipe for this carrot cake was found in a tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook. Well, the recipe may go back to medieval times but it is still popular today all over the Middle-East in one form or another.

The method is simple: Cook the carrots in water; collect the resulting carrot stock and make it into a syrup (with sugar or honey); cook a cornstarch paste and use it to bind the carrots and the syrup into a moist and dense cake.

Perfect if you like to have just a smidgeon of carrot cake (minus the flour and eggs!) that is sweet, moist, dense and  bursting with carrot flavor. Excellent with a cup of freshly brewed tea.

INGREDIENTS: 12 servings (small)

  • 1 pound of carrots
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of orange blossom water or rose water or 1/2 tsp of cardamom
  • 3 tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp of cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup of shredded coconut for garnish
  • 1 tbsp of sliced pistachios or walnuts for garnish


  1. Peel and shred the carrots. Place in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
  2. Drain the carrots (press to extract all liquid) and keep the collected carrot stock. Place the stock in a saucepan and add one cup of water and the sugar. If you have too much water, add less; you should have a cup and a half of liquid, no more. Boil the syrup for 8 minutes adding 1 tbsp of lemon juice towards the end.
  3. Place the butter and cornstarch in a small skillet and cook the mixture, stirring it constantly, over medium-high heat, until it changes color and turns light brown. Transfer the cornstarch mixture into the pot with the carrots and combine well; add the syrup and combine; cook the mixture over low heat for about 20 minutes until the mixture thickens and leaves the sides of the pan. Add the flavoring at the end of cooking.
  4. Transfer the mixture into a plate. Garnish with coconut and toasted nuts if desired. Serve at room temperature.


42 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Devaki says:

    I am loving these old world recipes. Do you know this reminds me so much of the halwa that we make in India that is an everyday staple? Once big difference is that the Indian halwa is cooked in cream 🙂

    The color and flavors in yours are absolutely stunning Joumana 🙂

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors
    PS – I’m in on the TV dinners!

  2. Cara says:

    What a great recipe! I love it’s versatility – naturally gluten- and egg-free, and could easily be sugar free (honey or maple syrup) and dairy-free (coconut oil) too. I like food that can satisfy everyone 🙂

  3. Jeannie says:

    First time I see this carrot cake, and using so little ingredients as compared to the more conventional carrot cake! Looks delicious!

  4. Arlette says:

    Hello Joumana,
    You didnt soak it in Kilis to get the crunchy taste??
    still looks great

    • Joumana says:

      @Arlette: This was an Iraqi recipe; besides I have no clue where to find kilis in the US.

      @Samantha: The sugar is added to the liquid leftover after you cook the carrots; that liquid is boiled with the sugar until it becomes syrupy; the cornstarch and butter are cooked separately on the stove till toasty (light beige); then the cornstarch and syrup are added to the carrots and the mixture is cooked again over low heat, stirring, until it becomes thick and leaves the sides of the pan. Right before that happens you can add the flavoring, be it rose water or orange blossom or whatever.

  5. Belinda @zomppa says:

    This does totally remind me of halwa – love the sweetness!

  6. Samantha says:

    Joumana – this sounds delicious…when do I add the sugar/honey, and the rose water? I have Rose syrup and would just cut back on the sugar, do you think this is an acceptable substitute? Thank you!

  7. Marcela says:

    WOW!….I love old recipes…this looks so similar to a carrot halwa….it is interesting to see that recipes from hundred years ago are still around us!…….Abrazotes, Marcela

  8. Hyma Bala says:

    wow…so cool:-) love this carrot halwa with no milk and cream! In India the carrot is cooked in milk instead of water! This become low cal;-) am goin to try this real soon…thx for digging this out of the attic!

  9. yogi kitchen says:

    Yes, a great use for carrots and healthier than the Indian version. Funny as so many countries have a carrot based dessert. I even found that they do a similar one in Greece when I was cooking there. Will try yours asap.

  10. Chiara says:

    Really lovely recipe, thanks for sharing Joumana, have a good day…

  11. Ruby says:

    Stunning colours! The pistachio on top just makes it ‘pop’ – looks wonderful.

  12. marifra79 says:

    E’ proprio bella e dev’essere di un buono! Un abbraccio e buonissima giornata

  13. Rachana says:

    This cake looks so pretty. Thanks for sharing a low-cal cake recipe 🙂

  14. Lori Lynn says:

    Oh what a lovely cake.
    The color is extraordinary.

  15. Melanie@MelanieCooks says:

    I love the color of this carrot cake – it’s really orange just like carrots! Most carrot cakes I’ve seen are brown, with a little specks of carrots sprinkled in the batter. This is the REAL carrot cake, with carrots as the main ingredient 🙂

  16. Caffettiera says:

    Fantastic colour, and so tempting. It does remind me of some carrot halwa, but it is so pretty presented as a cake. I prefer dense cakes so I think I’ll really like this one.

  17. pierre says:

    merveilleuses couleurs Bravo Pierre

  18. Bella says:

    I have Nawal’s book too! 🙂 Love the old Iraqi recipes. This is a great one 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  19. Faith says:

    Really gorgeous, Joumana! It really reminds me of halwa, which is one of my Indian favorites.

    I posted something today that was inspired by you, my dear! 🙂

  20. Sally - My Custard P says:

    I have to make this for the colour alone. Mesmerising.

  21. Susan says:

    The flavor of carrots must really shine through in this ancient recipe. So simple and I’m sure so much more healthy!

  22. Phil in the Kitchen says:

    I love sweetened carrot dishes and this does look so good. Definitely with toasted nuts for me, please.

  23. Mama says:

    this looks delicious. I wonder if it’s a relative of “jazariyyeh”

  24. Claudia says:

    This is so exquisitely spiced – it reminds me of a Renaissance recipe more than a medieval one. Lovely change from the American carrot cake.

  25. wizzythestick says:

    Fascinating recipe with such a history behind it. Pretty cool to think you’re eating the same food from such an ancient time

  26. MaryAthenes says:

    C’est une tres belle decouverte que je fais-la, merci a toi !

  27. Marina says:

    il est magnifique ce gâteau!!

  28. Margaret says:

    This looks very interesting. A lot different than my usual carrot cake. Have to try this one.

  29. Oui, Chef says:

    WOW, the traditional “western” style carrot cake is my all-time favorite (In fact, I normally get one on my birthday), but this is something completely different. The color is amazing, and I can imagine the flavor is as well.

  30. grace says:

    this is certainly the most unique carrot cake i’ve ever seen–thanks for the great share, joumana!

  31. Libyan Food says:

    Looks gorgeous with the coconut and pistachio. In Libya we make a similar sweet but include pumpkin with the carrot mixture and sometimes use just pumpkin.

  32. domi says:

    Ce gâteau me plaît vraiment beaucoup de par sa composition et pour son visuel…

  33. 7alim says:

    Joumana, could you explain what you mean by “shredding” the carrots? Do you grate them or do you make really thin slices with a peeler? I don’t know how large the pieces should be. Thanks!

    • Joumana says:

      @7alim: Shredded carrots are thin slivers that you would get by rubbing them through a grater with large holes, the same way you would shred cheese.

  34. Island Tai says:

    There’s something wrong with this recipe. Sugar is listed in the ingredients list, but not mentioned in the directions. I assume you add it to the carrot water in order to turn it into syrup, so will give that a try.

    I wish more people would actually prepare the recipes before commenting on them. We can already see what it looks like in the many beautiful photos; I would prefer to have the cook’s feedback once they’ve made it themselves and learn of any variations that worked/didn’t work for them. That’s the way it works on most other recipe sites. It’s also very interesting to hear comments on similar foods in other cuisines. The exotic is what makes life interesting!

    Thank you for your generosity in sharing these recipes.

    • Joumana says:

      @Island Tai: Sorry, I mentioned the sugar in the introductory paragraph (as part of making the syrup) but omitted it in the directions; just updated the recipe, thanks for pointing it out.

  35. Talin says:

    I made this recipe in Halloween using purple or black carrots, it was so yummy !

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