Friday, 24 February 2012

Vegan cupcake selection

So, last night at cake decorating class we did a selection of finishing techniques: frills, ropes, bows etc. All very simple, but very effective...

Anyhoo, halfway through the class one of the ladies brings out a giant box of Ferrero Rochers as it's her birthday. I wish her many happy returns, but refuse the Ferrero Rocher... I'm now a vegan, don't you know. And despite my love of those little smooth, praliney, scrumptious little nuggets, it was all OK. I felt very virtuous.

And then, at the end of the class we were each given a little taster box of cake to take home, with three different flavours of genoise sponge. By this time I was starving, so on the walk home, as M dug into her taster box, I got her to describe the flavour and texture in detail. Still feeling pretty virtuous about the whole thing. Hungry, but virtuous.

So today I thought: frankly, this is no good! I'm behaving just like my mother thought I would, and worrying about all the things I can't have. So I decided to focus on what I can have... and go ahead and make some sweet treats.

Plus, as I am going to my friend's birthday party tomorrow, I thought it would be nice to take her a box of goodies. So here's my first foray into vegan cakes (hope you like the puntastic names)...

A selection of vegan cupcakes:
'Red Vegvet', 'Chocolate and Fauxconut', 'Veggie's Chocolate Orange'
Makes 34 in total
Basic mixture:
400g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking soda
4 des sp cocoa
100ml sunflower oil
2 tsp cider vinegar
450ml soya milk

For the Red Vegvet
1/2 tsp red gel food colouring (check that it's vegan)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Veggie's Chocolate Orange
1 tsp orange extract

Basic Buttercream:
(adapted from 'depression era buttercream' from Mary-Anne at Time to Cook Online)
125ml soya milk
2 tblsp plain flour
110g granulated sugar
110g 'Pure' dairy free spread
2tsp vanilla extract

For the Red Vegvet
A dash of red gel food colouring

For the Veggie's Chocolate Orange
1/2 tsp orange extract
1/2 tsp orange gel colouring

Chocolate topping:
100g granulated sugar
3 des sp 'Pure' dairy free margarine
1 des sp soya milk
3 des sp cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
A few handfuls of dessicated coconut

1. For the cakes, mix together all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Mix the wet ingredients all together in a jug, then gradually pour into your dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.

3. Split the batter into three equal portions. You can go ahead and spoon one batch into a third of your cupcake cases straight away - this will be a chocolate flavoured cake with a chocolate and coconut topping.

4. Use one of the other portions of batter to make the Red Vegvet mix, by adding in the vanilla and the colouring and mixing well. Spoon the mixture into the next third of your cases.

5. Add the orange extract to the final batch, mix well, and spoon into the rest of your cases. Remember which ones are which, though, because the chocolate and the chocolate orange will look the same.

6. Bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 15 minues (you might want to check them a little before this time).

7. Meanwhile, make a start on the buttercream. Heat the milk and flour on the stove, whisking continuously until the mixture starts to thicken. Then, continue for another minute, to cook the flour taste away. Pour the mixture onto a plate, cover with cling film so that no skin forms, and leave to completely cool (so it doesn't melt your buttercream).

8. Whilst that is cooling, you can make the buttercream element. Cream together the butter and sugar until very pale in colour, and light in texture - almost white. Set this to one side until the milk mixture is totally cool, at which point you can whisk them all together very well, together with the vanilla extract.

9. By now, your cakes should be ready to come out of the oven, so pop them on a wire rack to cool. In the meantime, you can prepare the chocolate topping. Put all of the ingredients (except the coconut and the vanilla extract) in a pan on the hob. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Reduce the heat, and allow to simmer for another 2 minutes, continuing to stir. Leave to cool for five minutes, then add the vanilla, and pour over your plain chocolate cakes. Sprinkle immediately with the dessicated coconut.

10. Once your milk and flour mixture has cooled and you have added it into the buttercream, paste a line of red colouring down the middle of a piping bag, fitted with a star nozzle. Spoon about two thirds of the buttercream into the bag, and pipe onto the Red Vegvet cakes. You should get a pinky swirl.

11. Add the orange colour and flavour to the remainder of the buttercream, and spread this over the top of the chocolate orange cakes with a small spatula.

12. Finish with decorations of your choice - I used chocolate sugar sprinkles and sugar butterflies.

Mr P  prefers the texture of this sponge to the traditional eggy kind...

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Vegan for Lent

Last night was a feast of massive indulgence - a big bad naughty pancake party! I'm normally quite a conservative lemon-and-sugar type, but since everybody who came for the feasting brought some of their own yummy toppings, it would have been rude not to partake. I couldn't quite decide what delicious delights to have on mine, so I ended up with clotted cream ice cream, pecans, blueberries, raspberies, white chocolate buttons, and dark chocolate with orange. So, so wrong... but so, so right!

Anyhoo, someone asked me whether I was planning on doing something for Lent. Generally, I do make the effort to start up, or give up, something for Lent - and not for religious reasons. I just think it's a nice excuse to question your everyday habits, and to challenge yourself a bit.

As the more observant of you will have guessed from the title of this post, my answer was: "I'm going vegan for Lent".

There are a few reasons why I thought this would be a good idea: Firstly, it will make me think about my food a bit more carefully. Secondly, it will make my vague desire to experiment with vegan cakes far more likely to materialise into reality. Thirdly, I use soya milk anyway, so the only casualties are going to be cake and cheese. Heavy casualties in themselves, but not insurmountable.

Oh, and fourthly... apparently, you get Sundays off.


Apparently the Christian tradition views the Sundays in the Lent period as 'mini Easter' celebrations (wikipedia says so, so it must be true), which means that you can suspend your fasting on those days. Not that I'm planning to cave so soon. I just want my psychological safety net putting in writing.

So you can expect some vegan recipes coming up in the near future, and I'm excited about the opportunity for experimentation.

No recipes today, so I will leave you with you a couple of pictures from my first cake decorating class last week (yes, M and I signed up!)

P.S. The small print: Cake class activities are excluded from the 'vegan project'

P.P.S. When I told my Mum I was going vegan for Lent, she tried to forbid it. She said: "I knew a vegan once... you should have seen her!" I think she's under the impression that it's a fashionable form of anorexia. I will have to make sure that my vegan creations are super hearty.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Almond and vanilla baked cheesecake

I know I'm in the minority here, but to be honest I've never been that enamoured by cheesecake. I find it to be the 'beige' of desserts. There's nothing that offensive about it in principle, but it's not much to get excited about. Plus, the majority of chilled cheesecakes contain gelatine, so I feel better off not taking the risk.

However, a proper, baked cheesecake is a slightly different matter. And it's really not as hard to pull off as people would have you believe.

Here's a cheesecake to get excited about... The base has less crunch than a traditional cheesecake because of the inclusion of ground almonds. It's smooth and mellow, and feels like angels dancing on your tongue...

Almond and vanilla baked cheesecake
(serves 6)


40g ground almonds
20g caster sugar
60g flour
40g unsalted butter, melted
a little extra butter for greasing the tin

300g full fat cream cheese
1 tblsp plain flour
80g caster sugar
1tsp almond extract
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
60ml milk

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius. Take a 6-7 inch springform tin. Grease the bottom and line it with baking paper, and grease the sides.

2. For the base, mix together all of the ingredients, and compress into the bottom of your tin. Bake for about 10 minutes at 160 degrees celcius, then remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Increase the oven temperature to 180 degrees celcius.

3. For the topping, beat together all of the ingredients until thoroughly mixed, then pour over the biscuit base. Bake for about 30 minutes at 180 degrees celcius. Turn off the oven, and leave the cheesecake in there to cool. This will stop the top from cracking.

Alternatively, if the mouthwatering smell is driving you crazy, you can remove it from the oven and serve it as soon as it's cool enough to handle and blow the cracked-top consequences. If you're lucky, you might just get a cute pi-symbol crack for your gluttony. I can live with that...

I've had my slice...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Vegetable tempura with chilli dipping sauce

Last weekend, I went for a spot of lunch with my Dad at a little gastropub in the midlands. Now, I'm no food snob - in fact I'm firmly of the opinion that you can't beat a good chip supper (with battered pineapple ring and mushy peas, of course).

But I digress... the point is - I don't have anything against gastropubs persay. It's just that this one really didn't represent itself well.

I ordered vegetable wasabi tempura from the menu. So far, so imaginative. I was particularly excited, since a few days before, I'd been browsing the pictures in my River Cottage Veg book, where there is a mouthwatering tempura recipe.

I suppose I was setting myself up for a fall.

What actually arrived was this:

Thick, stodgy batter more appropriate for onion rings, the kind of half-hearted lettuce concoction that gives salad a bad name, and... wait for it... a sour cream and chive dip. Since when was tempura served with sour cream?! Horrific.

So here's how it should have been done, courtesy of River Cottage Veg Everyday.

Vegetable tempura with chilli dipping sauce
(serves 4-6, apparently... but three of us polished this off without too much bother)

A selection of vegetables. I used:
Carrots sliced on the diagonal
Asparagus spears
Whole small mushrooms
Thinly sliced red and green peppers
Purple tenderstem broccoli
Sunflower oil for deep frying

I highly recommend the tenderstem broccoli, because the leaves crisped up beautifully, just like crunchy 'seaweed'.

For the tempura batter:
100g plain flour
40g cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
200-225ml ice cold sparkling mineral water

For the dipping sauce:
6 tablespoons redcurrant or crab apple jelly
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 red chillies, deseeded and very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
a bit of black pepper

1. Make the dipping sauce by tipping all of the ingredients except the coriander into a small saucepan and stirring over a very low heat until the jelly has dissolved, leaving a silky syrup. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for a few minutes to mellow the garlic. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. Have all the veg prepared and ready. Make the batter just before you need it. Sift the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Whisk in the cold water until the batter is the consistency of single cream.

3. Heat about 5cm of oil in a deep heavy-bottomed saucepan. You will need to fry the veg in batches, without over crowing the pan. Dunk the vegetables in the batter, piece by piece, and then transfer to the pan until they are crisp and a golden brown colour.

4. Remove with a slotted spoon, tongs, or cooking chopsticks. Set on kitchen towel to drain and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

My little Valentine's Treat... Creme Brulee

Ah, Valentine's Day - that well-known fake holiday designed only for the gratification of greetings cards companies and those with something to prove in packed-out overpriced restaurants.

As if I or Mr P would fall into that trap!

When I returned home on Tuesday, this is what awaited me:

The romantic, personal touch and no unnecessary consumerism.

 Super romantic, huh?

But that's not all. I'll let you into a little secret... favourite dessert of all time is creme brulee. The mellow, creamy vanilla custard, and the lovely, crisp, brittle shell - perfection!

Mr P knows how I feel about this scrumptious dessert, so as well as preparing the gruesome card...

Mr P's Creme Brulee

420ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
70g golden caster sugar
plus caster sugar for the topping

1. Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees celcius. Slice the vanilla pod down the middle, scrape the seeds out into a pan, roughly chop the pod and add that.

2. Pour in the cream, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a couple of minutes.

3. Sieve the caster sugar into a heatproof bowl, whisk in the yolks until you achieve a pale and creamy mix.

4. Return the cream to the boil, and then gradually pour it into the egg mix, whisking as you go. Carry on mixing until the mixture firms a little - indicating that the egg is beginning to cook.

5. Sieve the mixture into a pouring jug, then pour into ramekins filling to about 3/4 of their height.

6. Place the ramekins in a deep baking tray, with hot water poured in up to halfway up the ramekins.

7. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes: the custard should have just a little wobble in the middle.

8. Once cooked, allow to cool (refrigerate if desired). Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of each creme brulee, and caremalise with a blow torch. Apparently, in the absence of a blow torch, you can do this under a hot grill - though I've never managed this successfully as it just tend to heats up my custard.

9.   Serve up to your very impressed other half, blagging a spot on the blog in the process. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Looking for some hot stuff? Chocolate and Chilli Tartes

As regular readers will know, this Christmas brought me some rather exciting items of bakeware, including a very cute set of individual loose-bottomed tartlet tins. As a rule, I tend to be something of a "more is more" person in the kitchen, so I've been excited about the opportunity of restraining myself with some dainty little specimens, and have just been waiting for inspiration to strike.

Now that Valentine's Day is fast approaching (an event I vehemently vocally shun, and yet am always a little aware of!) it seems like the perfect opportunity to press the tins into action with some naughty, decadent little morsels. I got this idea for a chocolate and chilli tarte from the Great Sport Relief Bake-Off a few weeks ago. Since I couldn't find the original recipe, I had the perfect excuse to experiment for myself. My friend M recently made a German Chocolate Cheesecake with a weird and wonderful crunchy semi-biscuit/semi-pastry base, so I decided to try and create something similar to offset the smoothness of the filling. The result was scrumdiddlyumptious! Although, if I was making it again, I might go for a little less crunch in the pastry as I think it took something away from the delicateness of the overall finished product.

Definitely worth a try, though, if you're into experimental confections!

Chocolate and Chilli Tartes
Makes 6-8 tartes of 6cm diameter

For the pastry:
250g plain flour
125g butter, chilled, in chunks
100g sugar
25g cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
1 egg

For the filling:
crushed seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
3 cloves, crushed
pinch cinnamon
150ml double cream
45g caster sugar
1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet chilli
100g dark chocolate, broken up
2 eggs, beaten

1. For the pastry, mix flour, cocoa and baking powder together. Rub in the fat until you get a breadcrumb constistency. Stir in the sugar, then stir in the egg. Ball up in clingfilm; rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2. When the pastry has rested, roll out as thinly as you can on a flour-dusted surface and use it to line your pastry cases. Blind bake at 200 degrees celcius for about 8 minutes; remove your baking beans and bake for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees celcius. If you have any leftover pastry, you can use pastry cutters to make little biscuits - they only take about 3-5 minutes and are delicious!

3. For the filling, add the sugar, spices and chilli to your cream. Bring to the boil on the hob. Once the cream starts bubbling, remove from the heat, and stir in the chocolate until it has completely melted in. Allow the filling to cool for about 5 minutes or so, then gradually whisk in the beaten eggs, a little at a time. 

4. Pop your pastry cases on an oven tray for ease of movement, fill each one with the filling, and bake for about 20-30 minutes at 150 degrees celcius.

5. Allow to cool on a cooling rack before serving with a little cream. These keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days, but you should let them come to room temperature before serving them.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The zombies are coming...

Ladies and gents, I have a confession to make. For the past few weeks I have been living a lie: having furtive sessions of secret activities, leaving the office early for each rendez-vous, making up pathetic lies to cover my tracks. To be honest, it's a relief that the whole charade is over.

And what have I got to show for it?

The most head-bending sugarpaste bonanza you could possibly wish to encounter outside of the context of 'Ace of Cakes'! Let me proudly present a birthday cake tribute to the epic computer game 'Plants versus Zombies'.

In case you're not familiar with the game, here's what the garden is supposed to look like:

Massive thanks go to the lovely M for assisting with this - it was well and truly a joint effort. Without her innate sense of German engineering, it's doubtful that the figures would have come out as structurally sound as they did. And without the use of her facilities there's no way my lies would have gone undetected for so long.

All that remains to say is: Happy Birthday Husband... The Zombies are Coming!

Totally tropical celebration cake
Makes one 9" x 12" cake, about 4.5" deep

740g caster sugar
740g Stork/ baking margarine
740g self raising flour, sifted
370g plain flour, sifted
13 eggs, beaten
zest of 6 limes

250g unsalted butter, softened
120g icing sugar, sifted
125g creamed coconut
tablespoon rum

For finishing:
Half a jar of apricot jam
About 500g sugarpaste icing

1. Grease and line your tine - best to triple line it if you can, and to wrap the outside in four or five layers of newspaper to stop the outsides cooking too fast and burning. Preheat the oven to about 155 degrees celcius

2. Cream together Stork and sugar. Very slowly mix in the beaten egg. If you do it too quickly and it starts to curdle, add in just as much of the flour as you need to stop it curdling.

3. Stir in all the rest of the flour.

4. Put the mixture in your tin, scooping out the middle to leave a hole (this will get filled in as the cake cooks).

5. Bake for about 1h45mins to 2hrs, until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack.

6. When the cake is completely cooled, cut off any excess necessary so that the top is pretty much even and flat. Then turn the cake upside down so that the perfectly flat side becomes the top, and the cut bit becomes the bottom. Cut the cake into two equal halves, horizontally.

7. Make up the buttercream, by whisking together all of the ingredients.

8. Spread about a third of your jam over the top of the bottom half of your cake, and spread the coconut buttercream on the bottom of the top half of your cake. Sandwich together.

9. Cover the outside of your cake with a thin layer of apricot jam to help the sugarpaste icing to stick to the cake.

10. Roll out your sugarpaste icing and use it to cover the cake, smoothing and trimming as you go. Decorate according to your own imagination!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Aubergine Parmigiana

So, having recently found a vegetarian parmesan substitute, here, as promised, is a fancy-schmancy application, courtesy of River Cottage Veg Everyday. This is real comfort food, and super simple. It does take a fair while to prepare the aubergines, though, so maybe one for this weekend...

Aubergine Parmigiana
4 medium aubergines
4-5 tblsp olive oil
2 balls mozzarella, torn into pieces
About 35g vegetarian parmesan

For the tomato sauce:
2 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 x 400g tins plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
(Hugh says 4 tins, but I was making it for my Mum who is quite sensitive to the acid in tomatoes, so I made less sauce, and the recipe still really worked well)
1 bay leaf
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Trim aubergines and slice lengthways into 3-5mm thick slices. Layer the slices in a colander and sprinkle each layer with a little salt. Leave to draw the juices for about an hour.

2. Meanwhile, fry off onions and garlic in olive oil for about 10minutes until soft. Add tomatoes and bay leaf, bring to a simmer and simmer briskly for about half an hour until the sauce is thick and rich.

3. Rinse the aubergine slices and dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel. Fry in olive oil in a hot frying pan for about 2 minutes each side until golden and tender. You will probably need to do this in more batches than you imagined (unless you have an industrial-sized frying pan).

4. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Layer a third of the aubergine slices over the bottom of an ovenproof dish, about 25cm x 20cm and around 5cm deep (or whichever dish you use for making lasagne, I suppose). Cover the aubergine with a third of the sauce, dot with a third of the mozzarella, and psrinkle with a third of the grated parmesan. Repeat this process to give you three layers.

5. Bake for 30-40minutes, until bubbling and golden on top and serve with a nice side salad, and some warm ciabatta. I served mine with a salad of equal parts rocket and coriander, a handful of cooked bulghar wheat, and some chopped tomato.