Keep the indulgence in “free from” baking: a vegan, refined sugar-free or gluten-free cake should still be a comforting and delicious treat
I am seeing a lot of books and articles on “healthy” and “free from” baked goods. Dairy-free, Vegan. Gluten-free, No Refined Sugar etc. And I applaud the effort. Some of them are great. I am a big fan of Henrietta Inman’s new book Clean Cakes, for example – Free From Cake as Art. Many innovators have been writing about these issues and developing recipes for a very long time. For me personally, Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours is my go-to book when looking at finding gluten-free alternatives. The glorious Jude Blereau and her wholefood thinking sits on the top of my She-roes list. The Minimalist Baker and Oh She Glows are superb online “free from” magicians. The Flying Apron in Seattle should be added to the list of great American pioneers, as far as I am concerned. I have written about my own relatively new-found passion for “free from” baking and the satisfaction of baking outside of the conventional box. And I love, really LOVE, the moment when a customer with a tricky combination of food allergies finds something wonderful on my market stall that they can eat and enjoy. Elation is the only way I can describe seeing the current popularity of my vegan products – chatting to the non-vegan customers who are trying them and appreciating their deliciousness using only pure plant-based ingredients.
But for the record, my cake DNA is about PLEASURE first and foremost. I really can’t help it. I am blessed and cursed with a hedonism that defies logic and any good sense. I understand that a person can get used to no sugar, that making healthier food choices is overall a good direction to go in and that too much cake is bad for you. But I am not so sure I understand the current trend for cakey treats to be “clean” when the result doesn’t really taste much like a treat. What drives me forward is the journey to the little patch of ground where natural baking meets delectable.
Yet I have to live in the real world and on my stall at Berwick Street Market I get a lot of requests for sugar-free cakes from customers across the board: GF, Vegan, those that will eat anything but want to cut down on sugar. I have struggled with my indulgent nature on this one and have yet to make a cake without any sweetener at all that I like – I would struggle to call that beast a “cake”. And I can’t bear the taste of artificial sweeteners in baking. (Don’t get me wrong. I am no stranger to a Diet Coke. It is only in baking that this seems to be a problem for me.) So I find that once again, thanks to my persistent clientele, I am discovering something new. Currently happily working away in the land of maple syrup and honey. I developed this cake as an option for everyone. It is full of wholesome ingredients and contains maple syrup and fresh fruit to sweeten. It is very popular. I confess that I eat it for breakfast. It is all about texture; could be made with different fruits and berries and nuts. I did a nut-free version with coconut milk and Summer berries that was delicious.
Blueberry Cake with lemon, almond & thyme – Gluten-free, refined sugar-free, Vegan
4 tbls flaxseeds + 8 tbls water
225 grams soya or sunflower margarine (gluten and dairy-free)
275 grams pure maple syrup
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbls psyllium husks (optional)
½ tsp salt
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
380 grams of GF flours
I use: 140g oat flour, 140g millet, 70g sweet rice sorghum, 30g cornflour
250 ml unsweetened almond milk (you can also use coconut milk)
350 grams fresh blueberries, washed and tossed in 1 tbls of gf flour
50 grams oat flour
50 grams GF oats
50 grams soya margarine (or sunflower or coconut oil)
¼ tsp salt
2 tbls maple syrup
75 grams slivered almonds
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, remove leaves and discard stems
Preheat oven to 180c (160c for fan assisted).
Prepare a 23 cm springform tin by greasing with a little soya or sunflower vegan and gluten-free margarine sides and bottom. Line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.
Combine the flaxseeds and water in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the flours, salt, baking powder, bicarb of soda and psyllium husks (if using) in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the margarine and maple syrup until well blended. It will look a bit curdled. Add the flax eggs and the flour mixture and mix by hand with a spatula. Add the almond milk and the lemon juice and mix on medium setting until the batter is smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom with the spatula then add the lemon zest and blueberries, gently combine by hand. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes (initially).
Prepare the crumble by combining all of the ingredients by hand until you have a pebbly mixture. Don’t be tempted to replace the fresh thyme with dried. If you don’t have fresh …the cake will be fine without. Put in the fridge while the cake is baking. Once the cake has been in the oven for 35 minutes, gently and quickly take it out of the oven, sprinkle the crumble on top, return to oven and bake for a further 30-40 minutes – ovens vary.
The cake is ready when a toothpick comes out clean and the crumble has browned nicely.
Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes then remove the springform and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. To serve: sprinkle with fresh blueberries and thyme leaves, if you are sticking to no sugar. Delicious with a low-sugar lemon sorbet.