Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal CakeOne of my earliest memories of baking is making coconut fingers with my grandmother. She would lay out a dish of shredded coconut and one of condensed milk, trim the crusts off white bread and slice them into fingers. I would carefully dip the fingers into the sticky sweet milk and then the coconut and lay them on a baking tray. We would both watch them through the glass door of the oven, pulling them out when they were toasty and golden. They were delicious – crunchy, sweet and chewy.

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen when I tasted the caramelised topping of this cake.  It’s not going to win any awards for its looks but, my goodness, it is delicious. The cake itself is dense and moist with the soaked oats but redolent with the flavours of  a carrot cake. I have developed it from the retro Lazy Daisy Cake that was popular in America in the 30’s and 40’s. There are some wonderful stories in the blogosphere about people’s memories of their grandmother making this cake and you know how I love a little history! This is a one bowl cake that just needs a brisk stirring with wooden spoon to bring it together. For a lighter crumb, you could make this in a more traditional way by not soaking the oats, creaming the sugar and butter, then the eggs and finally adding all the dry ingredients but that would take away from the “lazy” aspect of it. I do plan to make it in a more traditional manner to compare.

I left the cake under the grill/broiler for a little too long and burnt some of the topping – I scraped off the worst of it and put it back for another 30 seconds but really was not enamoured of how it looked. Jake came home from school and asked if he could try some, to which I replied, “Not until I’ve photographed it.” The next morning, (I know, I am so mean keeping him waiting that long but in my defence the light was terrible by the time he got home and this cake needed all the help it could get to look even remotely appetising!) I reluctantly tipped it out of  the tin and set it up for the camera, not feeling very inspired at all. It was an ugly, brown, lumpen slab not doing much, so I decided to slice it up into squares. I tried a  bit and was really taken aback at how gloriously tasty it was. I called Jake down to try some and he absolutely loved it – said the base tasted like a carrot cake and that the topping was amazing. A proper ugly duckling! Felt like I had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat…

I have developed this recipe from one I saw on Serious Eats but have cut back a huge amount on the sugar and added carrots, sultanas and spices to make it a little more nutritious. This is my version:

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake Measure the oats into the mixing bowl and stir in the milk and water – leave to soak for 20 minutes – also soak the sultanas in a separate bowl at the same time. In the meantime, grate the carrots and measure out and ensure the butter is really soft  (see my Tips and Tricks page for a few ways to achieve this if the butter too hard). Place the bowl back on the scales and add the sugar. Then add the salt, vanilla, carrots, butter and drained sultanas and stir really well to combine. The residual heat from the oats and sultanas will help to break up and distribute the butter. Beat in the eggs and coconut until combined.

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal CakePlace the bowl back on the scales and measure in the flour. Add the spices and baking powder and mix well. Scrape into the prepared baking tin and level out. Bake for 30 minutes.

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal CakePlace the same (unwashed) mixing bowl on the scales and measure in the two types of coconut, the sugar, the walnuts , the milk and the very soft butter. Stir really well to make a coarse mixture. When ready, remove the cake from the oven, turn on the grill/broiler and top the hot cake with the coconut mixture, spreading it as evenly as possible. Place under the grill/broiler just until the topping turns golden and caramelises – this should only take a minute or two – don’t walk away like I did as it does burn very quickly.

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

  • Servings: 16 squares
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Lazy Daisy Oatmeal Cake by Yvonne Ruperti on Serious Eats


  • 100 g rolled oats
  • 150 ml just boiled water
  • 100 ml milk
  • 75 g sultanas
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 115 g butter – very soft
  • 150 g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 100 g shredded carrot (2 medium ones)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50g sweet shredded coconut
  • 180 g all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp allspice

For the topping

  • 85 g butter – very soft
  • 75 g light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp/45ml milk
  • 150 g sweet shredded coconut
  • 50 g coconut flakes
  • 75 g walnuts, chopped


  1. Stir together the oats, water and milk and leave for 20 minutes.
  2. Place the sultanas in a bowl and cover with just boiled water.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 175C/ 350F and grease or paper a 9″ square pan.
  4. Drain the sultanas.
  5. Mix the salt, butter, shredded carrots, sultanas, sugar and vanilla into the oats and blend with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
  6. Beat in the eggs and coconut blending well.
  7. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and stir until just mixed.
  8. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 30 mins or until just set.
  9. In the meantime, make the topping by combining all the ingredients.
  10. When the cake is ready, turn on the grill (broiler).
  11. Spread the topping as evenly as you can over the warm cake.
  12. Grill/broil for about a minute or two until it is lightly golden…the topping burns very easily so don’t walk away like I did (to write up this post!).
  13. Cool in the tin on a wire rack.





40 thoughts on “Ugly Duckling Carrot and Oatmeal Cake

  1. I love the sound of your cake – and the name. The memory of making coconut fingers with your grandmother is priceless. I can imagine how eating the topping on this cake takes you back to that special place and time in the kitchen with her. Beautiful photos, too, Selma!


    • Thank Shanna – I was going to call it a Lazy Daisy cake but when I tried it, after thinking it looked quite unappealing, I knew that it had to be called Ugly Duckling! Hope all is well with you x


  2. I love cakes like this. For years it was the only kind of cake I could make. My Mum called them ‘coffee cakes’ when I was a girl. Our family loved nuts in baked goods. Your step-by-step photos are so good and I agree, the cake photo looks luscious. Thank you!


  3. Love the memories. Had a giggle at waiting, a number of times I have kept the family waiting whilst I photograph something. I too am sure there is a lesson there! (Hide the cake/biscuit/slice until you have photographed it). :)


    • I know; long gone are the days when he would just tuck in to whatever I had made – he always asks now! I do hate to keep dinner waiting though, my mantra being, ‘eat while it is hot’ and ‘I haven’t slaved over a hot stove for this to be sitting on the table getting cold’….my solution is to make a little extra and photograph it the next day…works most of the time!!


  4. I think the beauty of this cake in in the texture, the topping and the wholesome goodness it exudes Selma. Not all foods we make are classically beautiful, yet have a glory all their own not based on what we expect. I personally think your cake is not only lovely in its humbleness, but sounds just so healthy and delicious. Rock on!


    • Thanks so much for those lovely words of wisdom, Teresa. I was so annoyed with myself for letting the topping burn as I had envisioned beautiful golden toasted flakes of coconut adorning the cake but you know, for my first effort at tweaking a classic, it tastes really wonderful – the flavour profile was just what I wanted. And because it’s not sugar laden, like the original. it is brilliant as a midmorning snack – usually when I eat my breakfast to be completely honest! Kept me going until dinner…


  5. Selma,
    This is so my kind of a cake. I was waiting to read the post in detail before commenting so it took me sometime to get here :). Grandmothers are precious! The sweet golden memories. So much going on in one single cake? Wow. And you said that it is an “ugly duckling cake”? No way! It looks so pretty to me. I can smell the toasted coconut and walnuts in my kitchen. Must have tasted and smelled heavenly. Thanks so much for sharing an awesome recipe.


    • Oh Sonal, that is so sweet. Grandmothers are precious – I wish I had asked mine more questions while they were both alive. One sailed to Kenya from India on the “steamer” as she called it, with her new husband to set up a home there – I regret so much not asking her more about her life before Kenya…As for the name of the cake – it just reminded me of the ugly duckling that was actually a swan – this cake really did not have much going for it in the looks department but tasted so fabulous!! xx


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