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.

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!