Chocolate Cupcakes (Vegan) (GF)

I’m a little excited, mostly because this is the first ever vegan recipe on this blog. You all know I like challenges and despise it when life becomes repetitive, so having a colleague with some peculiar food allergies proved to be just enough of a task for me. As it happens, she is coeliac and cannot eat dairy products or egg whites. For those of you who are not familiar with food disorders, coeliac people are particularly susceptible to gluten, which for them can lead to a wide range of ailments (I won’t go into the specifics, but have a look here for more information). Needless to say, gluten is not only found in baked goods such as bread and cakes, but is also present in pasta and in a whole variety of other foods, where it is used to thicken and provide body/bulk. Add to that she cannot have any dairy products whatsoever (eggs, cream cheese, butter and the like) or egg whites (which rules out meringues) and you can understand why it took me about 4 weeks to even come up with a suitable recipe.

I remembered having found the recipe for some vegan cupcakes in one of my baking magazines. As it happens, the original recipe comes from Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes In Town, although I amended some of the ingredients and quantities to make it gluten-free and to adapt it to what I could easily find. It was extremely interesting to see you can bake without eggs! The greatest reward was, however, managing to make my colleague immensely happy: she had never had a cupcake before and I’m sure she’s still buzzing, if only because of the sugar rush from the icing. One small side note (and I hope our vegan friends will not hate me for this): despite finding soya milk very pleasant and nutty, I have to say soya cream cheese is not nice at all and, for my liking, has a horrible aftertaste. That said, I used it to make the icing and it worked wonders.

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Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 200ml soya milk
  • 20ml white wine vinegar
  • 195g gluten-free flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 80ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 100g vegetable fat/spread (dairy free)
  • 125g soya cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • approximately 2 tbsp soya milk
  • 750g icing sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.
  2. Mix the soya milk and vinegar together, then set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, caster sugar, raising agents, cocoa powder and salt, then add the soya milk mixture, the vegetable oil, the vanilla extract and, using a palette/rubber spatula, quickly mix everything together until just combined. Don’t worry if the batter is slightly lumpy.
  4. Tap the bowl onto the work surface to halt the raising agents, then transfer it to a jug (easier) and distribute it evenly among the muffin cases. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely and finally rest on a wire rack.
  5. To make the icing, in the bowl of a freestanding mixer whip together the cream cheese, vegetable spread and vanilla until combined. Add the icing sugar in two batches, mixing well between each addition (cover the bowl with a towel to prevent the icing sugar covering your whole kitchen) and adding the soya milk between the first and the second batch. Once the mixture has come together to a fairly smooth consistency, increase the speed to high and whip for a few seconds until light and fluffy.
  6. Transfer the icing to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe equal swirls onto the cupcakes. Enjoy!

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Uszka

Uszka, literally ‘little ears’, are one of the three types of Polish filled dumpling alongside pierogi and nalesniki. The name obviously comes from their shape, which resembles small ears, they are usually served in broth and contain savoury fillings. This recipe, in particular, has a mushroom filling, but you could just boil them in salted water and then toss them in some butter and herbs. The recipe below also makes 20, which you can serve as a main course or, probably better, as a warming and soothing starter. Before the purists of Polish cuisine start telling me I did this and that wrong, please let me just say this is my adaptation of the recipe and by no means it is the way you are supposed to make them. Also, a small word of advice: the recipe for the filling makes more than you’ll need, but I find working with tiny quantities always leaves me hoping I have not miscalculated it, so I prefer to have some extra.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 75g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 egg yolk
  • approximately 2 1/2 tbsp cold water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 150g closed cup mushrooms
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • salt & pepper

Ingredients (for the broth)

  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground garlic
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally

Method

  1. The dough is very easy to make. Put the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the chopped parsley, egg yolk and mix, then slowly start adding just enough water to combine the mixture together. Lightly knead the dough on a work surface until smooth, then set aside and cover with clingfilm or the upturned bowl.
  2. To make the filling, I suggest using a food processor. The onion and mushrooms need to be very finely chopped, so I find using technology is a great help. Of course, you can do this by hand. If you are using a food processor, tip the onion and mushrooms into the machine and finely chop. Melt the butter in a frying pan, then add the mushroom and onions and cook them gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  3. Once the mixture is cold, lightly whisk the egg white and add 1 tbsp to the mushroom mixture, then follow with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Combine to make it a slightly wet mixture.
  4. Dust your working surface with flour, then roll out the ball of dough very thinly. Use a 5cm round cookie cutter to cut as many circles as you can, then re-roll the trimmings and repeat. I did it for a total of 3 times.
  5. Lightly coat the rim of the each round with some egg white, then dollop approximately 1/2 tsp filling inside and fold it on itself, pressing gently to seal. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  6. To make the broth, bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan, then add all of the ingredients but the spring onions. Cook the dumplings in batches of 6-7 for about 4-5 minutes, then remove to a plate where you have ladled some of the stock. Add the spring onions to the last batch of dumplings and flash cook them, then divide between plates and enjoy while warm.

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Pomegranate and Lime Chiffon Cake

This cake is one of the wonderful creations of Gesine Bullock-Prado, who comes up with hidden design and spectacular cakes in her Bake It Like You Mean It. Originally called ‘Love is patient puzzle cake’, this is no exception. The idea for the cake is to have alternating layers of pomegranate and lime chiffon cakes, sandwiched together with buttercream (the real thing, not butter cream). Then, when your cake would almost be completed, you use a knife to carve out a wedge/cone from the cake and cover the ‘mess’ you have made with another layer. Lastly, you put back the layer you have removed and cover the cake with more buttercream. The result is very pleasant and surprising: it looks like one of the layers naughtily escaped the cake and came back at a later moment.

If you have never made buttercream before, don’t worry. The instructions below are very easy to follow and contain some advice on what to do if it curdles. I understand the idea og tackling a meringue + butter can be daunting, but the result is so much better than the traditional British butter cream and exponentially less gritty. Also, I cut down on the butter in the original because, honestly, 1kg of butter is just wrong. Lastly, I decided to go for a clean finish and not have the outside of the cake covered in crumbs, which I think makes it for a more elegant cake. A simple scattering of pomegranate seeds on top provides for an attractive decoration. The cake is a big one but it needs to be because, frankly, it’d delicious.

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Ingredients (for the pomegranate chiffon cake)

  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 160ml vegetable oil
  • 200ml pomegranate juice
  • red/orange food colouring (optional)
  • 420g plain flour, sifted
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the lime chiffon cake)

  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 160ml vegetable oil
  • 100ml lime juice
  • 100ml water
  • 420g plain flour, sifted
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the buttercream)

  • 600g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 15 egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 500g butter, at room temperature

Method

  1. Start by making the pomegranate chiffon cake. Grease and line the bottom of 2 x 25cm round cake tins with baking parchment – do NOT grease the sides because the cake will need to have something to cling on while rising. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg yolks and oil, then whisk until combined. Slowly add the pomegranate juice and food colouring, is using, then whisk until combined.
  3. In a bowl, sift together the flour, 100g of the sugar, the baking powder and salt, then slowly add the dry mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk on low speed until fully combined.
  4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then whisk on high speed and slowly add the remaining sugar (200g) until stiff, white peaks form. Make sure not to overwhip the egg whites or you won’t be able to fold them in. If you want, you can also whip the egg whites first then set them aside so you don’t need to wash the beaters/whisk attachment to prepare the egg yolks mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture in two additions until fully combined.
  5. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back when you touch it and completely cooked in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmoulding it, then set aside and wash the cake pans.
  6. To make the lime chiffon cake, repeat steps 1-5 but add the lime juice and water to the egg yolks rather than the pomegranate juice.
  7. Now, on to the buttercream. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the caster sugar, 240ml of water and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar is completely saturated so that it looks like wet sand. Place over a medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon/rubber spatula until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stop stirring, increase the heat to high and attach a sugar/candy thermometer to the pan. Heat the mixture to 112C.
  8. In the meantime, in the clean bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a clean whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and salt and whisk on high speed until foamy. When the sugar syrup has come to temperature, decrease the speed to medium and slowly pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high and whisk until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch. Please use a very big bowl because 15 egg whites make a lot of meringue (I used the 6L one from Kitchen Aid and it was still slightly small).
  9. The meringue needs to be cold or at least at room temperature before you add the butter, otherwise the latter will melt and you will end up with a sweet mess. Therefore, ensure the bowl is definitely cool to the touch before moving on to the next step. Slowly add bits of butter to the meringue, about 2 tbsp at a time. Keep on whisking on medium speed to incorporate it in the meringue, then occasionally switch to high speed for a few seconds to mix it in better. If your mixture starts to curdle, stop the machine/whisk immediately and put the bowl in the fridge for a good 30 minutes. This will harden the butter. After 30 minutes, remove the bowl from the fridge and whisk on high speed to a smooth and fluffy consistency.
  10. To assemble the cake, we need 3 layers of pomegranate and 3 layers of lime chiffon cake. As it stands, you will have two cakes of each kind. Therefore, once the cakes have completely cooled, use a ruler and mark the cake every 12mm from the bottom up. Use a serrated knife to gently slice the cake – please ensure you are cutting horizontally, otherwise the layers will be wonky. You can also resort to marking the cake with toothpicks and placing the blade onto them to act as a guide. Cut each cake into 3 layers, so that you should end up with a whopping 12 layers in total.
  11. You might notice that not all layers are perfect: some might be more frail and broken than others, but that is perfectly fine. Remember, we only need 3 of each to assemble the cake! To start, place a pomegranate layer on a cake board/plate and spread a thin layer of buttercream on top, about 3mm thick. Top with a lime layer, then repeat the buttercream on top. Repeat this process with another pomegranate layer, followed by a lime layer, then another pomegranate on top and make sure to alternate them with buttercream. You have now created a 5-layer cake, which needs to set in order to carry on with the assembling. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to harden.
  12. Remove the cake from the fridge and use a 23cm round plate/disc to mark the top of the cake – you are only making a small indentation around the edge of the guide plate/disc. Remove the circle guide, then place your knife at a 45 degree angle and cut into the layers along the outline you made earlier. You want to take a cone-shaped chunk from the middle of the cake, so keep the knife steady and rotate the cake to obtain and even cone. Lift the cake cone out of the cake and set it aside. You now have a cake with a big cone-shaped crater in front of you.
  13. Coat the inside of the crater with a layer of buttercream, then take the last lime layer and use it to line the inside of the crater. You might need to gently press it down so that it adheres to the inside of the cake. Don’t worry if it cracks, it’s normal – after all, you are forcing cake into an uncomfortable position. Once the layer has adhered to the crater, cover the smaller crater resulting with more buttercream and finally place the cone-shaped cake wedge you cut out before back into the crater. You might need to press it down gently, but do not overdo it or you will break the cake in half. Apply a very thin layer of buttercream all around the cake and on top, then transfer the cake to the fridge to harden for another hour.
  14. Now, onto the final step! Use the remaining buttercream to coat the outside of the cake as evenly as possible and create a smooth, finished layer. Top with some pomegranate seeds (optional) and serve. Enjoy!

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Upside-Down Fruit Cake

If you feel like singing, please do (‘upside down, boy you turn me…’). Baking should be fun and entertaining, therefore bursting out into songs is gladly accepted. That said, I am not claiming this cake will make you sing, although it is very good. This is a recipe featured in the September issue of the BBC Good Food magazine which I found quite inspiring because, to a certain degree, it reminds me of a tarte tatin. I will come clean: I have never made a tarte tatin before. The main reason is I don’t actually have a frying pan you can use in the oven (they tend to be kind of expensive) and I don’t see the point in getting one just to satisfy my curiosity of making this dessert. Upside-down cakes, however, are a completely different matter. I have made one with bananas and caramel before and they are a lot easier than they look.

Another good point to make is that, much in the same way as tarte tatin, upside-down fruit cakes are very versatile. You could potentially use all sorts of fruit, provided they are firm to the touch and end up looking pretty once baked (I wouldn’t venture as far as using passion fruit, just to be clear). Therefore, this cake can be made with pears and chocolate, plums, pineapples, apples and caramel, banana and caramel, peaches and cinnamon, etc. The combinations are pretty much endless. I decided to go for plums, like the original recipe, mostly because they are in season and sometimes you manage to find British ones in supermarkets. Also, this is a very moist and crumbly cake with a nutty texture, thanks to the ground almonds in the batter.

 

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Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 140g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 125g soured cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8-10 firm plums
  • 4 tbsp light brown sugar (for the topping)

Method

  1. Grease and line a 23cm springform tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Halve and stone the plums, then slice each half into 3 wedges. Toss them with the 4 tbsp of light brown sugar and arrange on the bottom of the prepared tin. Feel free to do it the way you prefer, either in rounds or casually arranged. Either way, make sure they form one single layer or they won’t cook properly.
  3. To make the cake, put the butter in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and beat until fluffy with the brown sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Last, add the flour and ground almonds with the raising agents and the salt, then pour in the soured cream and vanilla extract. Combine to a smooth and thick cake batter.
  4. Using a spatula, spread the batter on top of the fruit and smooth the top. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until the cake has risen and a skewer inserted midway through the cake comes out clean.Remove the cake from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then release from the springform tin and invert it by placing a serving platter/dish on the base of the cake. Enjoy!

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