• A handful of vegan cakes

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been focusing on vegan baking recently.   Although I have baked a couple of vegan bakes in the past (an apple and rhubarb cake and chocolate and hazelnut cookies when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co) I was keen to explore vegan baking further.  Firstly, as part of my 52 week challenge, I wanted to explore a different type of baking.  Secondly, as veganism is on the increase, I wanted to be able to offer my current and future customers a range of vegan bakes.

    I started by making a chocolate sheet cake using a recipe from www.domesticgothness.com.   The first step was to make a ganache so that it could cool down in the fridge while the cake was being made.  I have made traditional ganache many times, both at Ashburton Cookery School and since I left the School, but I have never made a ganache with coconut oil.  It worked very well.  The only thing I would do differently next time is cool it for shorter as I had to work the ganache quite a bit to get it into a spreadable form to ice the cake.

    The chocolate sheet cake was a simple bake.  A simple recipe of mixing the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another and then whisking in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth.  It is important not to over mix the batter as this with develop the gluten in the flour and make the cake tough.

    A possible unusual element of the bake was the use of cider vinegar, something I haven’t really used in cake baking in the past.  I was aware that cider vinegar is widely used in vegan baking, so it wasn’t a surprise that it popped up as one of the ingredients.   Info: cider vinegar is used for its leavening and flavour enhancing properties.

    The end result was a delicious-tasting, light chocolate cake with a lovely texture.  The coconut milk ganache added a decadence to the bake and the eating.  I have included the recipe below in case you wish to give it a try.  Happy baking!

    Chocolate sheet cake

    Ingredients

    Ganache

    • 200g dairy free dark chocolate
    • 100g dairy free milk chocolate
    • 250ml full fat coconut milk

     Cake

    •  480 ml unsweetened almond milk (or other plant milk)
    • 2tsp cider vinegar
    • 250g caster sugar
    • 100g light brown soft sugar
    • 200ml sunflower oil
    • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
    • 300g plain flour
    • 100g cocoa powder
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • ½ tsp salt

    Method

    •  Start by making the ganache. Chop the chocolate finely and place in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it is just coming up to the boil.
    • Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and set aside for two minutes then stir until melted and smooth. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to set for about 2 hours while you make the cake.
    • Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23 x 33cm rectangular cake tin.
    • Whisk together the almond milk, vinegar, caster sugar, brown sugar, sunflower oil and vanilla extract in a bowl.
    • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
    • Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until smooth.
    • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and spread level.  Bake for 25-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
    • Leave the cake to cool in the tin.  Once cool, carefully flip it out onto a wire rack.
    • When the ganache is thick and spreadable, spread the ganache over the top of the cake and top with chocolate curls.  If the ganache is too runny when checked, return it to the fridge/freezer until it is firm.  If it is too thick, warm it over a pan of hot water until it has softened.
    • The cake will keep for up to five days in an airtight container at room temperature.  If it is warm, place the cake in the fridge so that the ganache doesn’t become too soft.

    Like many people, I am partial to a lemon cake.  So when considering baking vegan cakes, I knew I had to include a lemon cake in my repertoire.   I came across a recipe for an iced lemon cake on www.allrecipes.co.uk.  As with the chocolate cake, the cake was a simple one.  Mixing wet ingredients into sifted dry ingredients.  The iced lemon cake was even easier to make than the chocolate cake as the icing was simply, sieved icing sugar mixed with lemon juice to the right consistency.  Despite the simplicity of the bake, the recipe (see below) yielded another delicious, well-textured cake.

    Iced lemon cake

    Ingredients

    • 275g self raising flour
    • 200g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
    • 100ml vegetable oil
    • 200ml cold water
    • 150g icing sugar

    Method

    • Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
    • Add the sieved flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest to a large bowl. Mix the juice of half a lemon, oil and water. Add to the bowl and stir mixture until thoroughly combined.
    • Pour into the tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes.  Remove from the tin after 10 minutes and leave to completely cool before adding the icing.
    • To make the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in enough of the remaining lemon juice until it is thick enough to pour over the cake.  Avoid adding too much juice into the mixture or the icing will run down the sides and form a puddle at the base.

    My final vegan cake as part of my foray into vegan baking, was a vegan ginger cake with orange and almond from www.littlesugarsnaps.com.

    Vegan ginger cake with orange and almond

    Ingredients

    For the Cake

    • 75g caster sugar
    • 75g dark brown sugar
    • 175g plain flour
    • 50g ground almonds
    • 1 tsp Baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
    • ¼ tsp Salt
    • 4 tsp ground ginger
    • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
    • 60 ml rapeseed (canola) oil
    • 120 ml almond milk
    • 100 ml orange juice (freshly squeezed)
    • ¾ tsp almond extract
    • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
    • Zest from 2 oranges

     Icing

    •  160 icing sugar
    • 25 ml orange juice

     Topping

    • Flaked almonds
    • Crystalised ginger (chopped fine)

    Method

    Cake

    •  Preheat oven to 170C and grease & line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
    • Firstly, remove lumps from the brown sugar.
    • Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl (sugars, flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt). Stir to combine.
    • Measure all wet ingredients (oil, milk, juice, extracts, syrup) in a bowl or jug.  Whisk with a whisk until blended. Add the orange zest.
    • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and beat together with the whisk until just combined.
    • Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.  After 50 minutes test with a skewer – if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If not, return to the oven and bake for a few more minutes before testing again.
    • Once baked, set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and baking paper and let cool completely on a cooling rack.

    Finishing

    • Mix the icing sugar with 3 tsp of orange juice until smooth.  Add more orange juice, bit by bit, until you obtain the correct consistency (dropping).
    • Spoon the icing over the cake and spread it with a palette knife to cover the top – it drip down the sides.
    • Sprinkle finely chopped crystallised ginger and almond flakes across the top of the cake.
    • Leave to set slightly before serving.
    • Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
  • Vegan baking

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been dabbling a bit in vegan baking of late.  I guess it was triggered by veganuary, albeit I did explore vegan baking a bit when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co.  Although I will write about my recent vegan bakes shortly, I thought that I would share the fundamentals of vegan baking with you.

    As you will be aware, the principal of veganism is that no animal-derived ingredients are used or consumed.  This means that when ‘baking vegan’ certain traditional baking ingredients e.g. eggs, milk, butter, honey etc. need to be replaced with non animal-derived ingredients.

    With so many non-dairy milks on the market, replacing milk in baking is pretty straight-forward.  Common varieties are soya, almond, oat, rice and coconut.  It is best to use a unsweetened variety of non-dairy milk when substituting for milk as adding a sweetened non-dairy milk, without adjusting the sugar in the recipe is likely to affect the overall sweetness of the bake.  Hazelnut milk and chocolate soya milk can also be used when baking chocolate cakes, albeit that the sugar in the recipe will need to be reduced.

    Quite a few recipes call for buttermilk.  For a simple buttermilk replacement, add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per 250ml of soya milk.  Stir with a fork, and leave to curdle for a few minutes before using.

    As with milk, replacing oil and fat in vegan recipes is also quite straight forward.  The role of oil and fat in baking is three-fold: (1) bind ingredients together; (2) add moisture and (3) provide depth of flavour.

    A range of oils can be used in vegan baking.  A commonly used oil is rapeseed oil as it is light in flavour, as well as can withstand high temperatures.   Coconut oil, is also good for baking, albeit that it has a more distinctive flavour than rapeseed oil.  As coconut oil is solid at room temperature but liquid when melted, it is quite versatile i.e. it can be used to replace a solid or liquid fat.

    Although vegan margarine is more processed than the likes of coconut oil, it does have a role to play in vegan baking.  Vegan margarine is most suitable for bakes which require the ‘taste’ that the vegan margarine offers e.g.  cookies.

    If you are thinking of replacing butter with oil, for half a cup of butter (110g) use third a cup of oil.

    Again, replacing honey in vegan baking is relatively straightforward.  There are a variety of alternative sweeteners to honey e.g maple syrup, agave nectar.  You can also use sweeteners such as rice and date syrup, albeit that date syrup has a stronger flavour and is darker in colour so is only suitable for some bakes e.g. flapjacks or bakes containing dates.   Sugar beet, granulated sugar, labelled suitable for vegans is also a suitable for vegan baking.

    Although at first sight it might appear that eggs are more difficult to replace than other ingredients, there are in fact a number of egg substitutes.  As www.onegreenplanet.org suggest ‘Why did it ever come about that eggs got used in a cake in the first place? Well who knows, especially when there are so many cheaper-to-use and just-as-effective options out there – as war-time housewives discovered when eggs were rationed and in short supply.’

    That being said, eggs or egg substitutes have an important role to play in baking.  They are used to bind, help retain moisture, create the crumb texture, lift, thicken and add colour and flavour.  Common egg substitutes and their uses include:

    • Apple sauce (3-4 tbsp unsweetened apple sauce): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Chia seeds (1 tbsp of ground chia seeds with 3 tbsp of water, allowed to sit for 5-10 minutes until thickened – mix with fork before adding to other ingredients): cookies
    • Mashed banana (half a banana): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Ground flaxseed mixed with water (1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds with 3 tbsp of water): good for muffins, breads and cookies
    • Silken tofu (3-4 tbsp of silken tofu processed in blender until smooth): brownies, custard pies and thick cakes
    • Soy yoghurt (3-4 tbsp)
    • Starches (2 tbsp arrowroot, cornstarch, potato starch with 3 tbsp water): breads and cakes
    • Vegan buttermilk (soya milk mixed with apple cider vinegar): for bakes requiring buttermilk
    • Mashed vegetables (3-4 tbsp mashed potato, sweet potato, canned pumpkin, canned squash): savoury breads and muffins.
    • Vinegar and baking soda (1 tsp baking soda with 1 tbsp of white or apple cider vinegar): cakes and quick breads.

    (Sources: www.veganuary.com and www.onegreenplanet.org)

    And for something a little different,  aquafaba (brine from chick peas) meringues:

    •  90ml  aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)
    • ¼  tsp Cream of Tartar
    • 100g white sugar
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

    Method

    • Place the chickpea liquid and cream of tartar into the bowl of an electric mixer.
    • Start at slow speed and whip until foamy.
    • Gradually increase the speed until white and glossy and stiff peaks start to form.
    • Add the sugar in slowly while whipping at fast speed.
    • Add in the vanilla.
    • Keep whipping until glossy stiff peaks form.
    • Preheat your oven to 121°C.
    • Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
    • Pipe the meringue mix into cookie shapes onto the parchment lined tray.
    • Place the meringues into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, switch off the oven but DON’T OPEN IT.  Leave the oven off, but don’t open it for one hour.
    • Remove the meringues from the oven after the combined cooking time.
    • When cool place in an airtight container and store them in the fridge.

    (Source: www.lovingitvegan.com)

    Although I have talked about vegan substitutes in traditional recipes, there are many vegan recipes on the Internet, which don’t require any substitution at all.

  • The straw that broke the camel’s back

    “The straw that broke the camel’s back’, a seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions’ (Wikipedia).

    You will know if you have read any of my recent posts that I am partial to a crumble slice.  In fact you will be aware that I have been making quite a number of them:  mincemeat crumble slices, apple crumble slices and yesterday, I added to the list by making a pear and ginger crumble tart (really just a slice in a tart form).  Why, you might ask?  Well, I need to try out a few more crumble slices before my new adventure at the end of March.  I also needed to complete the fifth week of my 52 week challenge and I felt that a tart rather than a slice filled the brief better, albeit that in retrospect I think that my choice of bake may have been a bit of a cop out (not strictly patisserie).

    Despite me thinking that my choice was possibly a bit of a cop out, the bake went well.  I am used to making the crumble bottom and top (a simple mixture of plain flour, caster sugar and melted butter) but I wanted to try another filling.  As I had bought some pears a week or so back, which were definitely past their best so I thought I would make a pear and ginger filling.

    Rather than trying out a new recipe, I played around with the apple filling from Donna Hay’s recipe for apple crumble slice.  I cooked the pears with some sugar, butter, sultanas and ground ginger.  Given that the pears were not at their best, I had to discard quite a lot of pear before I started the filling, so the end result was less voluminous than I would usually have.  When it came to spreading the filling over the already baked base, it didn’t take long to realise that I my filling was a little scant.  I spread the filling as evenly as I could, but felt that the ratio of filling to biscuit base/crumble would have been out so with wishful thinking I opened my larder cupboard to see whether I had a tin of pears stashed away.  Lucky for me, I did.  Even luckier for me, they were in date.  I cut up most of the tinned pears and interspersed them between the pear filling.  The extra pears seemed to do the trick.

    After topping the filling with the crumble topping (which I had scattered a few chopped, toasted hazelnuts through for good measure) and baking it for the required 35 minutes, all that remained was to let my creation cool and then tuck into it.  Although it was a good bake, albeit that the ginger could have been a little stronger, I came to the realisation that after all these months of making crumble slices that maybe I was a little crumbled out.  Both making them and eating them. You could say that this crumble tart was ‘the straw that broke the camels back’.  Hence the title of this blog.

    Despite being all crumbled out, I won’t have any rest from making them as I have a weekly order for an apple crumble slice, but I think I need to give the taste testing a rest for a little while.  In fact, despite my grand plan to do 52 patisserie challenges this year, I think I am going to have to deviate from my plan for a little while (so soon, I hear you say).

    Rather than focusing on sweet bakes for a while (my sweet taste buds and waist line are a little over saturated and my husband is starting to blame me for a extra kilogram or two that he has put on over recent months), I am going to shift my challenge to two areas (1) more savoury bakes and (2) vegan bakes.

    The first, for two reasons.  Firstly, after weeks of baking sweet things, I am craving savoury food.  Secondly, scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a post from Nathan Outlaw, promoting a new book from Richard Bertinet, called ‘Crumb: show the dough who’s boss’.  It didn’t take my brain much persuading to pop into Waterstones on the weekend to pick up a copy.  It was so fresh off the press that they hadn’t even put the book on the shelves when I asked whether they had a copy of it.  Needless to say, it is a gem of a book and I am hoping to try my first recipe or two from it this weekend.

    The second is that, with the rapid increase of people exploring a vegan lifestyle or at least dabbling in it from time to time, I am keen to try out more vegan baking recipes.  I have already started experimenting in this area and plan to write a couple of posts on about my foray in vegan baking next.

  • Creme brulee tartlets

    It was my husband’s birthday last Saturday.  As a treat, we decided to stay at Cowley Manor – ‘the perfect place for a luxury getaway in the Cotswolds’.

    Our aim was to have a relaxing couple of days away from home and the sadness which had pervaded our house since we lost Montague, our much loved dog.  In the main, we achieved our objective.

    We were treated to a lovely dinner at the restaurant on Friday night, courtesy of my mother.  On Saturday, after a relaxing breakfast of bircher muesli and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs and salmon/chilli avocado on toast, we went for a 6 mile run.   After a quick dip in the pool and hungry again after our exercise we sat down to a delicious lunch of artichoke, sweetcorn, mushroom, sun blushed tomato and mozzarella pizza, served in the bar area.   If that wasn’t enough indulgence, we then both had a half an hour neck, shoulder and back massage.  Note to self, never ask for a firm massage as my encounter with the masseuse was not a relaxing one.  I was pummelled with an elbow for almost half an hour, but my pride (or stupidity) would not allow me to admit that I should have requested a medium massage.  Whereas Jo emerged quite relaxed from his experience, I emerged grateful that my back was still in one piece.  As they say, you live and learn.

    Stopping en route at Waitrose to pick up a few bits and pieces, it was back to reality again when we got home.  One part of my reality was that it was still Jo’s birthday.  The other part of my reality was that I had to complete week 4 of my challenge.  As a dutiful wife, I thought that if I was going to do my challenge I should do it on Jo’s birthday so that he had a good dessert to finish off the day.  After some discussion with Jo, we settled on a creme brulee tartlet from BBC Good Food (surprise, surprise).

    My bake was going to plan.  The first step was to make the pastry.  A straightforward pastry (flour, cold butter, a sprinkling of sugar and egg yolk) with a hint of orange from the zest of half an orange, chilled and blind-baked in tartlet cases prior to adding the filling.  As with the pastry, the filling was also straightforward to make.  Heated cream infused with vanilla (I used a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of a vanilla pod as stated in the recipe) was added to eggs and sugar to make a custard.  After straining the custard through a sieve to remove any lumps, the mixture was poured into the blind-baked pastry tarts and cooked for 18/22 minutes until almost set.  The tarts were then required to be cooled for 30 minutes before adding the caramel topping.  The next step was to make the caramel topping – a mixture of water and sugar cooked out on the hob until a deep caramel colour and then cooled on a lightly oiled baking tray until hard.   Once hard, the caramel was blended to a fine powder, which was later to be sprinkled on the cooled tarts before placing them under the grill to create the required caramel topping for the creme brulee tartlets.

    It was at this point that things started to unravel a bit.   You see, having made all the component parts (pastry, filling and topping), I relaxed with a glass of wine on the sofa and dozed off.   I was woken up by my husband when the timer went off to advise me that the tartlets were cool enough to top with the caramel.  Rudely awoken from my slumber, I set about finishing off my tartlets.  I went to sprinkle the blended caramel on top of my cooled tartlets, and realise I had made my first mistake.  Having made and blended the caramel earlier, I had left it in the blender rather than an airtight container and as such my beautiful caramel powder had started to clump together (as you know sugar is hygroscopic so will absorb water in the atmosphere).  This made sprinkling an even layer of fine caramel powder on each of the tartlets a little difficult.  Protecting the pastry of the tartlets from the heat of the grill (I had to cover the edges of the tartlets with foil) was also a little tricky.  To cut an already long story short, rather than having an even, glossy layer of caramel on top of my tartlets, the caramel topping was uneven (both in appearance and cooking).  Even an attempt at dusting the tartlets with a sprinkling of icing sugar (to disguise the flaws) only made it look like the dusting of caramel had not melted in places.

    Despite the end product being less than perfect, I have to say that the pastry and the custard filling were absolutely delicious.  The caramel topping even had the required crack, even though it didn’t look as delectable as it should have.  The morale of this story is three-fold: (1) it is best to leave drinking alcohol until after the challenge is finished; (2) it is best not to fall asleep (because you have been drinking alcohol) during a challenge and (3) when attempting caramel items, ensure that they are stored correctly in an airtight container to prevent them from absorbing moisture.