A couple of years ago I was asked if I had a recipe for a plant-based, lower fat version of Simnel cake. At that point, I didn’t, but it peaked my interest. Continue reading “Simnel cake”
If you’re looking for a healthy icing recipe, please look away now! This is definitely not it! However, if you want to ice a celebration or Christmas cake and need an easy plant-based, oil free recipe, then you’re in the right place. Continue reading “Royal icing”
There’s an old tradition that’s made a very welcome come back in the last few years – Afternoon Tea. And what’s not to like? Little sandwiches, a lovely selection of delicious cakes all washed down with dainty cups of freshly brewed tea. Continue reading “Afternoon tea”
Banana bread loaf
I’m so happy to say I’ve been getting some wonderful feedback from people who have read my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. As well as gaining some useful insight from the first half (which covers loads of information about health, food and plant-based eating), they’re loving the recipes.
It seems that my simple banana bread recipe is a particular favourite. I’m not surprised as it’s really easy and super yummy. It’s also the one that gets raved about whenever I make it for an event or shared lunch. Continue reading “Banana bread loaf”
Rich Vegan Christmas cake
It may seem a little to start food planning but there are a couple of essentials that benefit from being prepared in advance. So here’s your first Sensitive Foodie recipe for the 2018 Foodie Advent Calendar – a deliciously moist vegan Christmas cake.
In fact, tradition would say that it’s already a week late for some things. Last Sunday was ‘Stir it up Sunday’, the final one before the start of advent. This is the day the fruit gets soaked and prepared for fruity Christmas pudding and cake with everyone in the family taking turns at giving it a stir and making a wish for the coming year.
Even though it’s a week late, there’s still no reason why you still can’t make your cake. Without eggs and butter, this recipe takes much less time and effort to make as there’s no creaming and whipping needed. I would recommend you include the soaking time as this makes the dried fruit plump and juicy, adding extra moisture and flavour.
I like my Christmas cake a little boozy, but not so it overpowers the flavour. So in this version, I soak the fruit in a strong cup of chai tea so it adds extra spice, then add a little brandy before baking. Then from now on I will ‘feed’ it a little extra every week until it’s iced. If you don’t have chai tea, don’t rush out and buy a whole box (unless you want to – it’s rather lovely!). Use Earl Grey if you have it, or just simple black tea.
This recipe is dairy-free, egg-free, and has nut and gluten-free options so it covers most food intolerances and is well-suited for a whole-food plant-based diet. You could also omit the coconut sugar if you need to avoid any added sugar, as the dried fruit already provides a big hit of sweetness.
So if you need to make a cake, why not give this one a go? Keep it cool and wrapped up, ready for decorating nearer the big day. Do let me know how you get on.
Rich Vegan Christmas cake
600g mixed dried fruit
200ml tea brewed with 2 teabags -chai or alternatives
250g wholemeal or gluten-free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
50g coconut sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
100g chopped mixed nuts (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
You will also need a 23cm round or square loose-bottomed cake tin
Tip the dried mixed fruit into a large bowl and pour the strong tea over the top. Leave to stand over night or up to 24 hours to allow the fruit to swell and absorb the tea.
The next day, pre-heat the oven to 170ºC. Grease the cake tin and line the sides and bottom with baking paper.
In a separate bowl to the fruit, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and spices together. Add the dried fruit, nuts and brandy and stir well to combine – it should come together as a firm but not too dry mix. Spoon into the prepared cake tin, spread out and tap on the worktop to make sure there are no air bubbles in the wrong place. Cut another round piece of baking paper with a small hole in the middle, and place on top of the cake mix. This stop the top of the cake becoming too brown.
Place the tin in the oven and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the cake after 1 hour to make sure it’s firming up well, and take the top baking paper off if its looking too pale. Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Leave it to rest until completely cold then wrap it up in clean greaseproof paper and tin foil. Store in a cool, dark place.
If you want to add more brandy, do this on a weekly basis. Unwrap the cake, prick a few holes in the top and carefully drizzle 2 tablespoons of brandy over it. Then wrap it all back up again and repeat the following week until you want to ice it.
Apple and oat muffins
Muffins were in the news earlier this year following a report that outed many shop-bought versions as being the less-than healthy option they might appear to be (click here for the link). Some blueberry ones tested didn’t have anything close to a real blueberry in them, just some synthetic sugar replacement. Plus lots of refined sugar and oils. That’s definitely not a healthy muffin! Continue reading “Apple and oat muffins”
Raw Christmas cake balls
It’s only a week until Christmas Day! I love this time of year, particularly the food! We’re having our main meal on Christmas Eve this year to be able to get everyone together. As well as ensuring quality family time, it also means the big day itself is much more relaxed and we can have two days of eating ‘Boxing Day food’ – baked potatoes, leftovers and cake!
For anyone following a plant-based diet, whether because of food intolerances, health reasons or personal choice, Christmas can be a challenging time, particularly when temptation is everywhere. Over the last few years, I’ve managed to adapt most foods to be dairy-free and fairly whole-food, although some things are more challenging than others, especially if it involves pastry and you can’t rely on a handy packet of the ready-made stuff! If you are struggling to find good and tasty substitutes, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites over the next couple of days – an early Christmas gift for you all!
First of all, Christmas cake. I have made a traditional cake, or sort of! It’s dairy free, fully plant-based and doesn’t even have any oil in it. It is incredibly sweet though, even though it only has a small amount of coconut sugar in it, so not one for the ‘healthy’ category. But these raw Christmas cake balls can claim that sparkly crown (as long as you don’t eat the whole lot at once). Packed full of whole fats and sugars in the form of nuts and dried fruits, the seasonal spices add that unmistakable flavour so that it really is a little bit of Christmas in a ball. They are also super easy and quick to make, and make a great home-made gift.
So, if you are a Christmas cake lover but need something a little different, or want to make something special for a sensitive eater, then these tasty little balls could just be the thing for you. Enjoy!
Raw Christmas cake balls (makes approx 12 depending on size)
80g pecan nuts
75g dried dates
160g dried mixed fruit (currents, raisin, dried peel etc)
1 tablespoon cranberry juice
1 tablespoon cacao powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons desiccated coconut
If your dates are really dry, soak then in some warm water for a few minutes and drain. Place the nuts, dates, dried fruit and cranberry juice into the bowl of a food processor and blitz a couple of times to break down. Add the cacao powder and spices, then blend until everything is broken down and well combined, sticking together. Add a little more cranberry juice if it’s too dry but don’t make it wet.
Sprinkle the desiccated coconut onto a plate. Take a small spoonful of mix (about 20g) and roll into a ball with your hands, then roll in the coconut to cover. Put to one side and repeat until all the mix is used up. Keeps in an air-tight container for up to seven days. Can be frozen.
Low sugar flapjacks
As a rule, flapjacks are awesome. I’ve loved these super sweet bakes since being at school – my best friend’s mum made delicious flapjacks and she always had a big chunk in her lunchbox that she would kindly share with me. Bliss point was hit every time with that enticing sugar and fat combo (golden syrup and butter!).
These days, flapjacks remain enticing but are rarely suitable for a whole-food plant based way of eating, particular for specific health-related diets like the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) programme. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (or the plant equivalent!), traditional flapjacks may appear to be the healthy option (with all those healthy oats) but the high refined sugar and large amount of butter or refined oils means it’s far from good for many people.
I’ve tried a few times to make my own dairy free, lower sugar flapjacks; this one is the best. It’s still super sweet, but the sugar comes in the form of coconut sugar and maple syrup, so less refined but still rich and enticing. I’ve used olive oil for the fat, plus a little ground flaxseed to help the mix stick together (and offer some extra anti-inflammatory omega 3). If you are gluten-free, then it’s easy to substitute gluten-free oats and flour. It’s a wonderful sweet treat, easy to make, and perfect for lunch boxes or after-school snacks.
So next time the need for a flapjack hits you, try this recipe instead for a healthier but still satisfying treat.
Low-sugar flapjacks (makes 9-12 square depending on how big you want them)
120ml olive oil
100g coconut sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
180g plain wholemeal/gluten free flour
150 oats/gluten free oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.
Place the flour, oats, ground flaxseed, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and mix well. In another bowl, add the oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla essence. Whisk well to combine. Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir together then add the raisins and stir again. The mix may feel a bit wet and stick together, but don’t panic. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and press down firmly into the bottom and corners, spreading it out equally to get a flat top.
Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown. Do not over-bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into squares, then leave to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, tip out onto a board and finish cutting into squares. Then try not to eat them all at once!
Raspberry and almond cake
The soft fruit has been amazing this summer. Everything seems to have been ripe for picking earlier than normal too, so the season of home grown fruit has been long and luscious! That is apart from my own raspberry canes that seem to be taking their time to produce anything.
Berries are high on my list of favourite foods. In the past, it would be hard for me to decide whether strawberries or raspberries would come out on top. Strawberry flavoured anything was always my choice as a child, even over chocolate. And when the fruit was in season, I took any opportunity to cram those beautifully sweet, juicy berries into my eager mouth. Today, strawberries are available nearly all year round, which is great, but they no longer taste like the berries of my childhood. Mainly grown under cover, often requiring extra chemicals, they can be watery and drab. Home-grown strawberries still hit the mark, but there’s all too few to satisfy, once the weather, the slugs and the birds have been involved!
So raspberries are now my soft fruit of choice. Sweet and sharp at the same time, their flavour holds true. Homegrown are still the best in my mind, particularly as supermarkets charge a high premium and use a large amount of plastic packaging. The great thing is they freeze really well and so can be accessible all year round.
Bright red berries are packed full of vitamins and helpful phytonutrients so that not only do they taste amazing, our bodies love them too. In particular, the flavonoids in raspberries are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease as well as help improve memory. They are also packed with anti-oxidants, those wonderful pac-man like substances that help mop up nasty free radicals circulating in the blood and have a high amount of fibre so can help with gut health as well as slow release of sugars.
You many have noticed that I tend to add fruit to cakes. This is partly because I love fruit, but also the natural sweetness helps reduce the need for additional refined sugar as well as adds in extra fibre and all these nutritional goodies. Cake as a ‘health food’ – what could be better than that?
Almonds are another key ingredient that not only taste good, but will provide your body with wonderful nutrients like magnesium and vitamin E as well as healthy fats and fibre. In fact there’s much to say about this amazing nut – that’s another blog post!
This cake is a perfect summer recipe; because you can use frozen raspberries, you can now bring a bit of summer into your kitchen at any time of the year! It’s soft and so tasty, and works well with gluten free flour or wholemeal. And of course as it’s dairy free and egg free, it’s good for your vegan friends or those with food intolerances (apart from nuts – sorry nut allergy people!). If you want to make it look more beautiful, drizzle some stripes of simple icing mixed with a little almond essence over the top. Not only does it look good, but creates a flavour reminiscent of Bakewell Tart.
So give this a go and enjoy a sunny summer’s afternoon any time of the year. Do let me know how you get on!
Raspberry and almond cake (makes 8 good slices)
150g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
100g coconut sugar (or other sugar of choice)
200ml almond milk
70ml olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100g raspberries (fresh or frozen – the berries keep their shape better if frozen)
25g flaked almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 18cm round cake tin or a 2lb loaf tin.
Measure the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt into one bowl. Mix the coconut sugar, almond milk, olive oil and vanilla essence in another. Keep the raspberries and flaked almonds to one side for now. Pour the wet mix into the dry and mix quickly but carefully. Once everything is roughly combined, pour half the mix into the prepared cake tin, sprinkle the raspberries over the top then fill with the remaining mix. Make sure all the the raspberries are covered with the mix, sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top and place in the oven for 35 minutes.
Check the cake – it should be risen slightly and lightly browned on top. Check with a skewer to see if it is cooked through – if some mix sticks to the skewer, place back in the oven for a few more minutes. Once you’re happy it’s cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then tip out onto a cooling rack. Decorate as above if you wish when fully cool, or just tuck in as it is. Enjoy!
The cost/benefit analysis of cake
When someone finds out that I don’t eat any dairy products, the conversation generally goes like this:
Aghast person: “You don’t eat dairy? What not even cheese?”
Me: “No, nor milk, or cream or butter.”
Aghast person, face starting to look like Munch’s ‘Scream’: “Oh you poor thing. I just couldn’t live without my cheese!”
Me: “It’s actually not that difficult once you haven’t had it for a while.”
Aghast person’s, expression turning from horror to disbelief: “Really? You must be so strong-willed. I couldn’t do that.”
I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly strong-willed. Or brave, single-minded or mad (all regular responses). Although cheese was hard to resist at first, for me it was cake. How to say no to a beautifully fresh buttery sponge laden with jam and cream, or a sumptuously delicious chocolate mud cake topped with whipped cream? There’s no denying my refusal to offers of cake were heavily laden with regret, enveloped in a thick wave of self-pity and woe. Life was so cruel, why did I have to deny myself such pleasure?
The moments when my self-control cracked and I indulged in the momentary pleasure of dairy-laden cake soon hit me with a stark reminder of why it was off the menu. The ‘grey gunge’ would soon descend, my neck wouldd start to ache and the tell-tale signs of a misery migraine would start to flicker, ending in booming pain and general discomfort. Once dairy and yeast were out of my diet, I didn’t feel awful all the time. When the headaches and general feeling of grot reappear due to a slip-up, they seem even more intense than before. It’s a real lesson in appreciating how great your new normal is.
Once I understood this, it didn’t take long to realise that there was a clear decision making process to follow when tempted to indulge in something deliciously and aromatically enticing but accompanied by unpleasant consequences; the cost/benefit analysis of cake/cheese/bread or anything else that you happen to be intolerant to.
It’s a simple equation – how much is that moment of pleasure worth related to how long the side-effects will last for? As you can see from the diagram, it’s a simple process of weighing up the pros and the cons. What’s the ultimate value of cake vs feeling well?
It’s also a conscious decision; most importantly it’s your decision; don’t let anyone else do the analysis for you, as they don’t know exactly how it feels (this is one of the subjects I address in my new book ‘The Sensitive Foodie‘). Sometimes you will make the wrong choice (I gave in to a small soft bread roll on a flight one time, no idea why. It led to a 3 day migraine. Never again!) but the key to it is it’s your choice. Mindful decisions are the best ones!
And of course, by eating a whole food plant based diet, there are loads of amazing alternatives to enjoy just as much, especially cake. So all is not lost, just different. Check out some of the gorgeous cake recipes on my blog – eating these is definitely a good decision!