Tag Archives: vegetable cake

Chocolate beetroot cake (vegan)

As my previous post patently indicated I’m not a vegan. But I am keen to keep building a repertoire of good plant-based bakes for when vegan friends visit, or just because reducing reliance on the environmentally problematic meat and dairy industry makes sense.

Not that consumer choices really make that much difference in the grand scheme of things. If only we had a political system where our elected representatives genuinely got on board and introduced the far-reaching environmental and energy policies we need, right now*. I’m deeply cynical that anything meaningful will come out of COP26. And deeply worried for the future. What a world we’ve created for our children.

In the meantime, as humanity continues to fail to galvanize in the face the climate emergency*, I’ll continue baking.

Anyway. In the same way carrots make for a nice, moist classic cake, beetroot does a great job of creating a moist, one-of-your-five-a-day, chocolate cake. I do chocolate beetroot muffins already, but this is another option. You can ice it with a (vegan) butter cream too. I had a little vegan margarine left so just added a layer of raspberry jam and choc butter cream in the middle, using some Chococo baking drops my mum had given us a while back.

I’ve had this recipe a while and originally used soya milk, but it’s a lot easier to get more vegan milk alternatives these days, and we always have oat milk. We prefer oat milk, and there are a couple of places in town now where you can get refills**.

400g vegan “milk”. I’ve used soy and oat.
30g white wine vinegar
200g vegetable oil
425g plain flour
75g cocoa powder
11/2 / 6g teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 / 4g teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
180g caster sugar
About 2 medium beetroots, peeled and grated. That is, about 300g before peeling, 250g peeled.

1. Oil and line two 20cm sandwich tins. Alternatively, use one larger tin if you don’t want a layer cake, say 25cm round or bundt.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C.
3. In a large bowl, combine the oat milk, oil and vinegar.


4. Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder and raising agents.
5. Add the flour mix, pinch of salt, and grated beetroot to the bowl and stir until well combined, with no patches of dry flour.


6. Pour the batter into the tins and bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out and leave to cool on racks.
8. When cool, decorate how you like. As well as a filling, I dusted the top with cocoa and icing sugar. Previously I’ve done it and served it with a vegan chocolate custard made with soya milk, sugar, cornflour and cocoa.

It’s a pretty good cake. This particular one I made then fed to four kids after school. They ate it without batting an eyelid. We didn’t mention the beetroot. One thing I would say about a cake such as this compared to a non-vegan one is that it’s crumbly and not as rich. Butter and egg yolk give a fatty richness that I’m still working on finding with a vegan cake, plus they’re also better binders.

As I wrote this blog, I found out that the sister of my sister’s boyfriend in Sydney is an accomplished vegan baker called Lancey Morris. She has a page on her site about egg alternatives. I know about a lot of these things, it’s just learning how and when best to utilise them. I’ll be visiting Lancey’s site a lot in future I suspect.

* We galvanized to face Covid-19, producing a vaccine in record time. Even in the face of all the nonsense, lies, misinformation and false news (ie not news). The climate and environmental crisis (of which Covid is a factor, the result of our rapaciousness exposing us to more zoonotic organisms) is sadly accompanied by an even bigger barrage of lies and misinformation. But there’s some deeper psychology at work that seems to be stopping us from doing what we need to do. We’re a bizarre species, seemingly so determined to indulge in epic self-harm.
** Refills are expensive compared to just getting more in Tetra Paks from the supermarket. As with so many ethical food decisions, you pay more to do the right thing, which is a hard sell when so many people are suffering financially anyway. I did struggle with why oat milk refills are expensive – the producet itself mostly just oats and water, not expensive ingredients. But supermarkets have the economies of scale on their side, and sell diary milk as a loss leader – totally unrealistically price to keep customers loyal, but drive farmers into worse and worse practices trying to make a living themselves. Likewise they can offer Tetra Paks of oat milk, say, at a lower price than the small refill shops. Our agricultural and food supply chain is so riven with problems, even before Brexit and Covid made things even more difficult and expensive. Anyway, for us, avoiding some Tetra Paks at least means we’re using less wasteful packaging. It’s hard to even recycling Tetra Paks. Our local council doesn’t include them in kerbside recycling, and even if a carton recycling option is available to you, it’s a false economy. Tetra Paks and similar laminated cartons are made of such an awkward mix of foil, card and plastic, “recycling” them is arguably pointless. It’s highly energy inefficient to transport them to specialist recycling facilities then disassemble them. Even when they’re broken down, the resulting materials can’t all be recycled anyway. The Tetra Pak company does have environmental corporate social responsibility policies, but when its core product is so problematic, can such policies really compensate? Or is it just more corporate greenwash?

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Zucchini or courgette chocolate cake

Chocolate courgette zucchini cake

This one came highly recommended by my sister, who lives in Sydney, Australia, and is currently languishing in a Coronavirus lockdown. Such things as chocolate cake have been essential in getting us through lockdowns and the pandemic in general. Chocolate and cake are two such reliable morale boosters.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but as anyone with small or particularly demanding children will know, it’s hard to get much done in the school summer holidays. In England, they last about six weeks, but it might as well be sixty-six, or six months.

We’ve had another weird climate crisis summer here. We had a drought in southern England earlier in the year and summer was skewed into May and June. Then when it was the actual summer holidays in July and August, it was mostly mild and purgatorially grey with occasional downpours. Now the kids are actually back at school, the sun is out again. Our crop of courgettes, aka zucchini, has been a bit weird as a result. Small courgettes would arrive, then be ravaged by slugs and snails. A few would suddenly swell into more marrow-like beasts, which are less tasty, more watery, and not so good for this recipe.

Water content
Indeed, working with vegetables in cake recipes can be tricky due to the variations in water content. I found the bigger courgette-marrows still worked OK if you put the grated veg in a tea towel and squeezed out as much water as possible. I also tweaked and standardised the recipe my sister sent me into grams. She discovered the cake via a local bakery but it may have originated with this US blog, so thanks Sally.

Anyway, overall this is a delicious, rich chocolate cake, and like a good carrot cake, you’re not distracted by any particularly vegetably flavours.

Decoration freedom
I’ve made a few versions, one covered with a butter cream, then another just sandwiched with some butter cream. The latter was a more practical option as I took it on the first step of Coat of Hopes, a climate action pilgrimage. Our friend Barbara Keal and collaborators are walking from Newhaven on the south coast of England to Glasgow in Scotland for COP26. Their goal is to try and raise awareness and put pressure on world leaders to do more about the climate crisis.

Our summer might have been choppy, but a lot of people round the world have had unprecedented temperatures, wild fires and floods. I was chatting to a friend in Rome and they’d been to Puglia, the heel of Italy, where it tipped towards 49C (120F). These are highest temperatures ever recorded in Europe. Humans simply cannot function with these extremes, let alone grow food for ourselves. Something comprehensive, assertive and right now desperately needs to be agreed at COP26, but I’m preparing myself to be deeply disappointed.

Coat of Hopes walk, Newhaven

For the cake
250g plain flour
62g cocoa powder
6g baking soda
3g baking powder
3g fine salt
200g vegetable oil
175g granulated sugar
130g soft brown sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
80g sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature
6g vanilla extract
350g courgette, coarsely grated
180g dark chocolate, chopped into chips, or chocolate chips

For the icing. Halve these quantities if you just plan to use a filling:
280g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar
65g cocoa powder
3g vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease two 22cm round tins. Ideally deep tins but basic sandwich tins seem to work OK.
3. Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the salt.
4. In another large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer, beat the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, sour cream or yoghurt and vanilla until combined. Add the courgette.
5. Pour into dry ingredients and beat until completely combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour batter evenly into cake tins. Bake for around 35-40 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. Test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, it is done.


7. Allow cakes to cool completely in the tins on a cooling rack.
8. Make the icing by beating the butter until soft. Sieve together the icing sugar and cocoa then add to the butter along with the vanilla. Beat until smooth.
9. Ice the top of one, make a sandwich, then ice the top and sides. You can level the tops if you like a perfectly flat cake, but, really, why waste the goodness? Or if you’ve just made half the butter cream, just fill and sandwich. You can then dust the top with icing sugar. It’s not as indulgent this way, but certainly less messy taken on the first five miles of a 400 mile-plus (700km-plus) pilgrimage.*

 

 

* I do see the irony of talking about making an indulgent chocolate cake, featuring politically and environmentally problematic ingredients like chocolate, while mentioning involvement with a climate action. But being part of the movement to prevent total environmental and climatic meltdown isn’t synonymous with being entirely ascetic. The way I see it, breaking away from fossil fuels and generally improving our footprint on the planet is a profound moment for economic recovery and social health. The opportunities for growth and employment are huge in the green energy industry, education, sustainable housing (retro and new build), improved travel and transit infrastructure, better agricultural practices etc etc.

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