• Roses are red, violets are blue, be my Valentine & I’ll be yours too

    “I think that Valentine’s Day is only as good as you want it to be.  You know, I don’t think it should be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  As long as you’re spending time with that person that’s special, I think that’s a great Valentine’s Day.”  Prince Royce

    I tend to agree with Prince Royce (American singer and song writer) that Valentine’s day does not need to be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  So with this in mind, I bought my husband of 25 years a few of his favourite things: some coffee beans from Rave; a bottle of good red wine and a card.  The only thing that was missing was a personal gift from yours truly, so I decided to bake a cake.

    To backtrack a bit, Valentine’s day did not start off well.  I had the early shift at work (a 5.30am start) and no sooner had I walked through the door than the fire alarm went off for no rhyme or reason.  After struggling for a while I rang the doorbell of the gentleman upstairs to see whether he could reset the alarm – he was unable to do so.  So after one slightly distressed call to the Assistant Manager (it was his day off from the early shift), he came in and saved the day.  He reset the alarm and peace descended once again.

    All was going well until one of our regular customers came in and when I mentioned that my day had started badly because of the fire alarm going off (and me not being able to reset it) he said that he knew as he could hear the fire alarm going off down the road.  Feeling mortified that I had not only woken the gentleman upstairs, but possible others in the street, we got talking about Valentine’ day and our respective plans.  I mentioned that I was planning on baking my husband a cake.  To this, the gentleman said ‘what, just for your husband?’  With this question, I knew that I would now need to make a couple of cakes.  The least I could do under the circumstances.

    Still interested in exploring vegan baking, I found a recipe for vegan mini chocolate and raspberry loaf cakes on www.biddieskitchen.com.  The bake was a relatively straight forward one, albeit that the icing was something that I had not made before.  It was a combination of crushed, fresh raspberries, icing sugar, melted coconut oil, vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt.  Although I said that the recipe was straightforward, I changed the method for the icing slightly.  Instead of combining and whisking the raspberry puree, coconut oil, vanilla bean paste together and then adding the icing sugar until the correct consistency was obtained, I combined the raspberry puree, vanilla bean paste, salt and icing sugar together and then gradually added the coconut oil until I got the required consistency.  This allowed me to created an icing which could be piped rather than spread on top of the mini loaf cakes.  Irrespective of the method, the end result was a rich and decadent chocolate cake with refreshing and tasty icing.  Not only was the icing refreshing and tasty, but it also had a lovely consistency to pipe.

    I tried out a couple of simple finishes – one with multi-coloured sprinkles and the other with heart-shaped sweets.  I boxed up the the cakes in a kraft boxes and tied them up with raffia and wooden hearts.  I kept the one with the hearts for my husband and then hand-delivered the other to the gentleman I had disturbed when I set off the alarm on Valentine’s morning.  He was delighted with his unexpected Valentine’s gift and had plans to eat a slice before an evening meal with some friends in the village.  Lo and behold, not long after I returned home, I got the message below in my inbox.

    “I can tell you straight away…..it’s delicious!  I’ve obeyed instructions and eaten the icing and the cake together….a perfect combination. And I rather like the bit of crunch with the little sugar sprinkles.

    Thank you very much…..and I hope you won’t have to bring a peace offering for any sounds that might go off tonight!! On the other hand…….”

    My husband eventually got his cake when he returned home that evening, after a few days away on business.  I am not sure who was more excited at receiving their cake, but it seems that both enjoyed their sweet treat.  As they say ‘the way to man’s heart is through their stomach’.

  • Life is what you bake of it – vegan baking

    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.
  • How to swap this for that to make it vegan

    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.

  • Peach and raspberry vegan loaf cake

    Variation on vegan loaf cake as promised.  Happy baking!

    Ingredients:               

    Dry mix for loaf cake:

    • 500g plain flour
    • 60g ground almonds
    • 5 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 160g soft brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground ginger

    Wet mix for loaf cake:

    •  280ml orange juice
    • 90ml oat milk or other non-dairy milk
    • 20ml vanilla extract
    • 120ml vegetable oil
    • 1-2 peaches (or nectarines) depending on size
    • 1/2 small punnet of fresh raspberries plus extra for decoration
    • 125g sultanas
    • Ground cinnamon and soft brown sugar for dusting

    Method:

    • Preheat oven to 180C. Grease (with non-dairy butter or oil) and line two loaf tin tins.
    • Peel the nectarine/s. Cut nectarine/s into small pieces.  Set aside.
    • In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger together. Then add the ground almonds.  Mix well.
    • In a measuring jug, add the orange juice, oat milk, vanilla extract and oil.  Mix well.
    • Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then pour in the wet ingredients.  Add in the chopped nectarine pieces, raspberries and the sultanas.  Fold and mix gently until a thick batter is obtained.  The batter may look quite dry (although less likely with the addition of raspberries fruits).  Do not be tempted to add more liquid as the fruit will release some moisture when the batter is baked.
    • Pour the batter into the two lined loaf tins. Spread the batter evenly in the tins.  Then place extra raspberries in a ‘herringbone’ pattern on top of the batter in a row.
    • Sprinkle with a mix of sugar and cinnamon.
    • Cook for 20 minutes at 180C and a further 20 to 25 minutes at 160C. When time is up test cake with cake tester and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
    • Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting it.

    Please note that the cake can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. To keep it longer it should be kept in the refrigerator as the fresh fruit can go mouldy if not refrigerated.

    Source: variation on Veganlovie recipe.