Having your cake...

Lynda Brown - 08 November 2012

I've not being having a good time of it of late. My blog on badgers got rejected, and a Living Earth reader took me to task for encouraging people to eat meat. May as well make it a hat trick. You see, I loathe baking cakes. I so totally know I'll never go to heaven, and Mary Berry and Nigella would think I'm the pits, but I really cannot understand why our ability to love depends on making heart-stopping bakes.

I hate all the palaver in the kitchen, and get heart failure just thinking about the amount of the killer white sugar and flour, let alone the amount of marg - or something alarmingly called baking spread the average cake soaks up (why is it OK not to care about the quality of ingredients in a bake?), and that's before you get to the obligatory layer of pink icing sugar lathered on top. The latest baking for Britain series has probably single-handedly contributed to record profits for the sugar industry and doubled diabetes type 2. And they're so time consuming - I can cook a meal quicker than I can bake the average cake.

But, like everybody else, I do like eating cakes; and yes, there are moments in my life when only cake will do the trick - usually a deeply dark choc one made with ground almonds, best butter and lots of fabulous organic eggs (wish!). For me to make one, however, it has to be a cake which looks and tastes like a cake but which not only avoids as much of the junk ingredients as possible but contains nice tasty nourishing ones. Equally importantly it has to allow me to muck around to my heart's content with the recipe so I can make it the way I want.

Enter Sandi Beecher's cake - which came via a friend of my neighbour's and probably started off life in a vegan cookbook. First the recipe, as it was given to me - for which many thanks.

Ingredients:

  • 250g (½ lb) stoned dates
  • 300ml (½ pt) water
  • 85g (3oz) wholemeal flour
  • 85g (3oz) plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 500g (1lb 2oz) mixed dried fruit
  • 30g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 80 ml (3 fl oz) orange juice

Method

Preheat oven to 170 °C (gas 3) and line a 1lb loaf tin with baking parchment (it's a good idea to grease this first). Put the dates and water into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside (cool to lukewarm).

Mix all dry ingredients and then stir in the juice and dates, including their water, and mix well. Spoon into a loaf tin and bake for 45-50 mins or until a skewer/knife put into comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool.

It looks respectable, tastes good and is easily sweet enough - for me, too sweet.
So, yesterday morning, I finally got down and had a go at making it work for me:

I ditched the dates for chopped dried apricots, didn't have any orange juice, so just used water; substituted the plain flour and almonds for hemp flour; used raisins and dried cherries as my dried fruit mix (all I had in the cupboard), no mixed spice so used cinnamon, nutmeg, and Chinese 5 spice, plus a splash of pomegranate molasses.

My scales have broken so I managed with a measuring jug and cut the quantities down to a third (I'm so picky I always do a trial batch of everything). It made five on trend mini-cum-cup-cakes, which took about 30 minutes to bake. Hemp flour is the colour of dark cement so they did look a bit mud-patty, but the taste was great: moist, fruity, and not too sweet. Best of all you can make it in five minutes flat, and only need one bowl.

Inspired, I shall now play around with adding chopped walnuts; trying chestnut flour; cacao powder (100% chocolate); using seville orange juice (a spoon of seville marmalade chopped up is always good in fruit cakes); adding dried pears, apples, cranberries, mango etc. and getting more adventurous with the spice mix.

No, I'm not waiting for a phone call from the Beeb but I am at last having my cake and eating it.

Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.

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