The call for help was brief, yet contained a few key phrases that struck at the hearts of our readers and unleashed a torrent of goodwill. One of the scores of requests that pour into the Brain Food inbox each week read: ''I am 90-year-old bloke with a passion for carrot cake. My late wife used to make them for me as long as I grated all the carrots. Any suggestions where to buy a really good one? B. Balding.''
We contacted Mr Balding and confirmed he lived in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
We could have published a list of bakers nearby but that would have excluded the readers living in the rest of the country. Instead, we opened the response to crowd-sourcing publishing: ''Mr Balding, I am sorry to say that there will never be a carrot cake like the one your late wife made. Sure, you will find similar cakes and perhaps more luxurious cakes, but never the same. But go to goodfood.com.au over the next few days and go to the Brain Food section and follow the comments. Fellow carrot cake lovers, can you please talk directly to Mr Balding and suggest to him the best places to get carrot cake? Don't worry, Mr Balding. We'll find you a cake.''
Our readers' response was rapid and decisive. There were handwritten letters, emails to the editor and umpteen comments on the online story, many like this one offering to bake Mr Balding not just one carrot cake but enough for a lifetime.
''Mr Balding, here is another offer to give you a home-baked cake, this one coming from Bayside Melbourne, in case you happened to be local to there. Here in our store one of our team is affectionately referred to as our 'in-house kitchen goddess' and sometimes bakes a carrot cake to share with us all. We're sure she'd be more than happy to bake one for you too.''
''Mr Balding,'' wrote one reader, ''I, too, would like to offer to make you a carrot cake, but it seems you may have enough cake to see you through to your 100th birthday. I hope so! If you live on Sydney's North Shore, my offer is still good.''
As Mr Balding lives in Melbourne, we teamed him up with a home baker closer to home. She offered to bake Mr Balding a carrot cake once a fortnight. We dropped by her home and, although she wished to remain anonymous, she did show us the recipe she used. It was from a well-stained page of a 1980s House and Garden magazine. The result was a rich, dark cake, redolent of fresh spice and covered in a generous layer of lemon frosting.
We took the cake to Mr Balding's home, where he was overwhelmed not only by the generosity of our home baker, but by the response of the online www.goodfood.com.au community.
Bill, as he prefers to be called, is a witty, charming and sprightly former top scientist who said that after losing his dear wife, Eleanor, seven years ago, he had become fed up with poor offerings from supermarkets, whose carrot cakes, he claimed, contained little of the orange stuff.
He tasted the donated carrot cake with pleasure and the analytical skills of a talented boffin assessing the moisture content, sweetness and subtlety of spice and declared it suitable to be compared to that of his late wife. Bill Balding and the cake donor are now in contact.
Hunt for Australia's best carrot cake
Do you have a carrot cake recipe that could be considered a contender to be the nation's best? Send your recipe to firstname.lastname@example.org or Australia's Best Carrot Cake Recipe, Epicure/Good Food, The Age, Media House, 655 Collins Street, Docklands, Melbourne, 3008.
We will follow your recipes to bake our version of your cake and then put the cakes to a team of testers. The best cake wins the title of Australia's Best Carrot Cake. The recipe needs to be original or, if inspired by another recipe, the source noted.
You will need to provide an address and telephone number. Recipes need to be received by October 15, 2013. The results will be published in a forthcoming issue.