Banana ‘nice’ cream

Three years late, I have finally jumped on the vegan nice cream bandwagon. A little tired of sorbet, and craving a cheap alternative to the luxury of Booja-Booja, I dug out the frozen bananas I’d squirrelled away in the freezer. Blending them in my food processor with two tablespoons of cocoa powder yielded a gloriously luxuriant dessert, anchored down by the sweetness of the banana (frozen when brown) and transformed by the cocoa.

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Most delightfully, this ice cream is healthy: there are no added sugars, chemicals, stabilisers or other nasties. I’d quite happily whip this up as a  satisfying dessert, snack, or breakfast.

To jazz this simple recipe up, try adding:

  • frozen berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, cherries
  • mango chunks
  • dark chocolate chunks
  • crumbled Oreos
  • peanut butter
  • flavourings or extracts, such as vanilla, peppermint, caramel…
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Lemon drizzle cake

In a few day’s time, I will have submitted my last ever university requirement. I’m currently rounding off a dissertation on the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism in Victorian England: the vegetarian movement (an umbrella term for abstinence from meat and or/animal products) recognised women’s importance in social reform, so encouraged females to get involved. I’ve found it an interesting topic, and enjoyed trawling through the Vegetarian Messenger archives at the British Library. But. Submitting this dissertation will mean no more essays – ever. At this point in my education, when I am completely and utterly done with spending half of my waking moments in the library and stooping under the weight of books in my backpack, this idea is extremely liberating. Although dissertation hand-in moves me one step closer to graduation, unemployment, and moving back home, to be finished with education is VERY EXCITING.

On another note, my housemate recently decided to go fully vegan, and we’ve made a commitment to vegan baking every weekend. It’s proved a nice stress relief, and cake on weekday evenings is a godsend after hours of reading my own writing over and over again.

I would love to experiment with making my own cakes, but for the moment I’m trying out different recipes and getting a taste for different flavours. I hope that sharing my experience with other readers inspires vegans and non-vegans alike to get stuck in making really good dairy and egg-free cakes.

This lemon drizzle cake is spot on: moist, sweet, and flavoursome. My housemate was concerned that it’s a little too moist, even after decreasing the amount of oil; it would be worth swapping the oil out for vegan butter. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend giving it a go anyway.

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Vegan chocolate cake: Nigella Lawson

Here’s another chocolate cake to add to my amassing collection of favourites. This one is super easy to make, delicious, and easily dressed up for extra impact or kept simple. It differs from other cakes of the same sort in that the sponge is fudgy, but not dense, and very moreish; the dried coffee gives an interesting hint of flavour which doesn’t overwhelm at all. Surprisingly, it’s a Nigella Lawson recipe, who is generally known for her lashings of cream and calorific decadence; if you’ve seen Simon Amstell’s Carnage, you’ll have witnessed the morbid pleasure she takes in cracking the ribs of a dead chicken. Nevertheless, she writes on this recipe that it’s her preferred chocolate cake for all guests, vegan or not – even if that’s not true, I’m pleased that a ‘traditional’ chef recognises that vegan food can match, and even trump, the normal animal product diet.

The recipe can be found here. If you fancy making a gorgeous cake, delicious and simple, I recommend giving it a go. I used a white sugar instead of a brown and a dried Americano instead of dried espresso, to no obvious detriment; the icing I completely shunned for an easier (and cheaper) chocolate (vegan) buttercream, made from a small amount of softened marg, melted dark chocolate, and icing sugar. Throw over a handful of chopped almonds, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.

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Vegan berry muffins

Each and every summer, I can be commonly found at the local park amongst the brambles. Doing nothing suspect, mind you – only furtively scanning the bushes for the plumpest of blackberries, and collecting them in a big plastic box. I’ll return home with said box full to the brim, with red-stained hands and stinging legs, but pleased with my hoard of what is essentially free food. Instead of plucking my berries from supermarket branches, I prefer to invest my own labour in gathering all-you-can-eat, organic, 100% free ones, and stashing them squirrel-like in the freezer to use all year round. As people buy packs of imported or frozen berries at large expense, I’m laughing, enjoying nature’s bounty.

Alas, it’s almost as perfect as it sounds. I’m a sucker for a frozen blueberry, and can eat them like sweets. At least with blackberries, my gathering instincts save me some of the money I throw at their blue cousins – and there’s something intrinsically rewarding about eating the produce of your own hands. (Ok, that’s not quite true either. I don’t know who planted them. I’m joking.)

I can’t post the recipe, for copyright reasons, but here’s the link. It’s for for blueberry muffins, but to use up my glut of blackberries, I’ve swapped them out for the latter, as well as dairy-free spread in place of oil. They’re still gorgeous, light and fluffy with a citrus twang. Give them a go!

 

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(Almost) vegan brownies

At the time of writing, it’s World Chocolate Day – a date quite redundant, in my eyes, as chocolate is an object I lavish much love and attention on most days. Similar to Valentine’s Day, nowadays just a massive money-spinning extravaganza, World Chocolate Day is most likely the brainchild of a mass chocolate manufacturer, and it hardly needs the attention to drive up sales. For me, just as you love your partner every single day, so you do chocolate.

Yet, that was good enough an excuse for me to make brownies. I’d like to be a little more ambitious in my baking, but the simplicity of this brownie recipe from spiceupthecurry.com (lots of egg-free recipes) won me over. I’ve tried making vegan brownies before, and although they went down quite well, the oil gave them a sticky kind of aftertaste – so I was pleased to find an oil-free variety. These brownies are devilishly sweet, probably dangerously so; omit the chocolate chunks or scale down the sugar for less impact on the teeth.

 

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To make eight good-sized pieces, you’ll need:

  • 85g plain flour
  • 115g butter (or dairy-free butter)
  • 125g plain yogurt (I used Alpro’s dairy-free version – the slight acidity is good)
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder (go for a good one – I used Cadbury’s Bournville)
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks (optional. But reccomended)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 2 tsps baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease an 8 x 8 baking tin (or whatever you have) and line with parchment paper.

Begin by gently heating the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, if using. Do take care to sift the cocoa, to break down lumps. Add the sugar, and mix well to incorporate.

Spoon the yogurt in to the butter (I wouldn’t advise pouring it straight in from the tub – accidents may happen. Not that that happened to me. No, not at all.) Add the vanilla extract, and whisk briskly, until fully combined.

Pour the fats into the dry flour mixture and whisk together. Now’s the time to add any chocolate chunks, nuts, or dried cranberries: give everything a good stir, then pour into the tin. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes – if a toothpick comes out clean, it’s all good. Leave to thoroughly cool before dusting with icing sugar, and cutting up into slices. There’s no need to tell you how long this brownie will keep – it won’t last long!

Oat & raisin cookies: egg-free

Several posts ago, I lamented the importance of eggs in baking. Scientifically, they’re perfect for the job: as emulsifiers (proteins in the yolks bind liquids and fats), as leaveners  (the whites create that rise), and in giving structure, taste, and texture. So, when you take eggs out of the equation, you need to balance out the formula with an adequate substitute.

The chemistry of baking is something I’d love to understand better. Why do individual varieties of sugar give biscuits different textures? What actually happens to the molecular make-up of a cake when you put it in the oven? And can egg and dairy-free recipes really match up to those that include them?

My past experience with vegan baking hasn’t been too successful, but I’m going to crack on (no pun intended) with trying: starting with substituting out the all-important egg. Supposedly, eggs can be swapped for ingredients such as apple sauce, banana, chia seeds, and even tofu; after reading this article about eggs and vegan alternatives (very informative!) I thought I’d give flaxseed a go. I came across this recipe for oat and raisin cookies on egglesscooking.com – a good place to start, right?

 

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To make twenty small and rounded cookies, you’ll need:

  • 170g softened butter (could be replaced with dairy-free butter – I’d love to see how that would turn out)
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 270g rolled oats
  • 150g raisins or sultanas
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • tbsp ground linseed (flaxseed)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (leave out if your butter is salted).

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using a hand mixer if one is at hand (very punny today).

Make the ‘flax egg’: mix a tablespoon of ground linseed with three tablespoons of warm water. Whisk briskly with a fork, electric whisk, or milk frother, until foamy. Add to the bowl with the vanilla extract, and stir to combine.

Sift in the flour with the bicarb, salt, and cinnamon, before stirring in the oats and dried fruit. Incorporate well with a wooden spoon, before dropping small handfuls of the mixture onto the trays (these don’t spread too much during baking). Flatten each circle before popping in the oven for around fifteen minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown – I’d recommend putting in a tray at a time. Leave to cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

These biscuits taste really lovely, and were very well-received in my family – described as “like Nature Valley bars” by my elder brother, something I’ll take as a compliment. I like small biscuits, but if you like your cookies thin and wide, make sure to flatten them out. The second time round, I used light brown sugar (as the recipe intended – I just didn’t have it in the cupboard) and three tablespoons of water for the flax eggs, and they formed much more stable rounds before baking. One more thing – if you’d like to try this recipe, don’t reach for the eggs – these are fantastic without them!

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Shortbread, and baking without eggs

I’ve recently decided eggs are off my agenda. Why? Because I can no longer deny the fact that the way in which they’re produced is cruel. That caged hens live a terrible existence is a fact that nobody can deny – but cruelty is inherent even in the production of free-range and organic eggs: as they’ve no functional use, almost all male chicks are killed immediately.

I hope I don’t come across as sanctimonious, in any way: I don’t judge anyone for eating eggs. It’s just that on a personal level, I feel uncomfortable morally with supporting such a violent way of producing food. If I could see first-hand how the hen was raised, and how her and her offspring are treated, then perhaps I’d buy eggs.

To be honest, I’ve never much enjoyed eating them, anyway – just as with meat, I only felt I should cook them for their nutritional benefits. (I have finally committed to going veggie – I’ll discuss that in another post.) But at uni, the eggs I bought generally ended up as someone else’s breakfast, almost at their use-by date; and although a tomato omelette tastes good, it’s something I can happily live without.

The hardest part of avoiding eggs, however, is baking: the world and literature of cakes revolve around that essential binding egg. As far as I’m aware, there’s only so far you can go with chemical replacements, bananas, or coconut oil, but I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong. I love cake, and it’s proving hard to resist when it’s offered to me by relatives. Being placed in a moral dilemma by my grandad’s cake will continue to be difficult, but I hope that it will get easier.

Hallelujah, though, for shortbread: a biscuit which doesn’t call for a beaten egg. To start off my exploration of an egg-free-baked-good life, I turned to Paul Hollywood’s buttery shortbread recipe, with promising results. These biscuits have a lovely texture, far better than the average supermarket shortbread finger; the cornflour, although making the dough quite crumbly to handle, adds a new dimension of texture and thickness. I chopped some extra dark chocolate and threw it in for good measure.

 

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To make around sixteen circular biscuits, you’ll need:

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • pinch of salt

Start by lining two baking trays with paper. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and cream until light and fluffy, using an electric whisk.

Sift in the flour and cornflour with the salt, and mix together. If you fancy some chocolate, raisins, vanilla, or Paul Hollywood’s suggestion of lavender, now’s the time to add it. Lightly flour your kitchen surface, and knead the dough. Then, cut two pieces of baking paper, place the dough in between, and roll out to a thickness of 1cm.

Cut the biscuits into whatever shapes you want: triangles, circles, squares, bunnies, bananas… Place the shapes onto a flat surface in the fridge, and chill for at least half an hour. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Bake the biscuits for around twenty minutes, or until golden. Dust with sugar, and make sure you leave them plenty of time to cool before eating with a cup of tea.