Beyond Carrot Cake
I'm fortunate in some respects that I'm not a fan of sweet foods – I much prefer marmite and twiglets to cakes and biscuits. Add to this a fairly moderate enthusiasm for baking, and you'll appreciate that it was a bit of a challenge to come up with thirty recipes for the book Baking with Vegetables. It was, however, an enjoyable challenge and one which opened my eyes and taste buds to the enjoyment of using vegetables in cakes, biscuits and desserts.
The idea isn't new. Long-term American favourites are carrot cake and pumpkin pie, while on Italy's Amalfi coast a sweet concoction of aubergine and chocolate is a traditional must-have summer dessert. Swedes and Germans are partial to mashed potato and chocolate cakes, and in the Middle East carrot cakes and desserts are classic. In the UK, carrot cake has been voted the nation's favourite.
Thinking beyond carrot cake, it seems reasonable to assume other vegetable could be given the same treatment. How about cauliflower or cassava? Cabbage and kale perhaps? Why not give peas a try?
After several enjoyable recipe development sessions, I came up with a variety of recipes, some of which have become family favourites. Top of the charts is Carrot Fruit and Cardamom Buns, Spinach and Apple Cake with Apple Icing, and Beetroot and Coconut Chocolate Cake. The outright winner, however, is Sweet Pepper Tarte Tatin with Black Pepper Caramel – a stunning upside-down cake topped with vibrant strips of sweet red pepper and a punchy black peppercorn glaze. You'll find it on my Recipe page. Do give it a try.
The idea of using vegetables as a core ingredient in cakes and desserts makes complete sense to me. It's a satisfying way of using leftovers and seasonal gluts. Even better, it's a way of not only upping your own intake but also introducing vegetables by stealth to reluctant kids – they're unlikely to refuse a tempting cake or biscuit, or even ask for details of ingredients.
Most of us are familiar with the five-a-day mantra, but apparently we should increase this to seven or more portions of vegetables and fruit a day – and these should be mostly vegetables. From a health point of view, vegetables win hands down. They deliver a far greater range of important nutrients, and contain significantly less of that dietary devil, sugar – even 'sweet' vegetables such as sweet-corn, peppers and sweet potatoes.
Root vegetables – carrots, parsnips and beetroot, for example – are baking stars. They're naturally slightly sweet so you can cut down on added sugar, they're rich in dietary fibre, and, like all vegetables, they provide the dough with all-important moisture. This improves the texture of your cakes and, better still, means you can scale back the fat. You can even use vegetables to make non-synthetic food colourings. Just whiz them in a blender and use the juice to tint icing, butter cream or marzipan. Small leaves and fronds make exquisite all-natural decorations too.
Given that the word 'vegetable' comes from the Latin verb vegere, meaning to animate or enliven, it's hardly surprising that vegetable cakes are such a success. They're fun to make, and the vegetables add flamboyant colour as well as appetising texture.
© Christine McFadden, August 2016