Monday, 21 March 2011

Vive le cake!

This weekend was the bi-monthly meet up of the Cake Liberation Front, and as last time I had failed to bake anything, this month I determined to put my baker's hat on and get to it!

First, a little run-down of what it's all about. The CLF is based in Manchester, and is a group started by a small splinter cell of vegan bakers and cake-eaters to promote and eat vegan cake. Free cake from animal ingredients is the general idea. You don't have to be vegan to come along, just willing to eat and/or bake vegan cake! I can assure you that any doubts you may have had about the credentials of vegan sweets will be immediately be assuaged. It's held every two months at the Friends Meeting House behind Central Library, and it's £1 to get in if you bring cake, £2 if you don't. That's a pretty small price to pay for the best selection of cakes and other baked goods that you're likely to find in Manchester, not to mention that all the drinks are free! All the info you need is on the CLF website though, so I won't run on any more - let's get to the recipes.

My first creation was a variation on a tried and tested favourite, Vanilla and Chocolate Marble cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I suppose I ought not to post the recipe due to copyright and all that jazz, but frankly if you haven't got a copy of this life-enhancing book yet, you deserve to be duly tantalised until you crack and go and order it.

I'm not generally a fan of icing, so instead (normally I leave them plain but this was a special occasion) I thought up something a bit different. The cakes have quite an almondy slant to them already, so I decided on a creamy-custardy-almondy thing, being as for my next batch I would also require a custardy thing, and as I'm making it already, etc. And I also used another apparently 'patented' Isa trick (though I've been slicing the tops off cupcakes and dolloping icing in the middle since I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon - it's just that we called them fairy cakes back then) to get the custard in: digging out/slicing off a circle of cake, filling it up with as much custardy cream as possible, then popping the little hat back on top.

Ta da!

For the topping, I made up a batch of custard (recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking, but any custard recipe will do, as long as you make it quite thick), then to give it extra body and toppingyness, I mixed it together with a tub of soya whipping cream, using an electric hand mixer to make sure it was good and whippy. I split the batch (it made tons) and flavoured half just with vanilla extract, and half with some vanilla and some almond.

My second batch was rather more experimental, and requires a bit of tweaking, so I won't post a recipe just yet. Rhubarb and custard cupcakes. Yes, that's right. How have I never thought of this before? I adapted one of Isa's more fruit-based cupcakes recipes for this, but my method lacked a little something. Basically, I need it to be more rhubarby, and more custardy! Plus I stewed the rhubarb for a bit too long - I would have liked some little chunks of fruit in the cakes. And Next time I think I might push the boat out and put real vanilla seeds in the custard.

Here it is.

They'd barely touched the serving dish before they all disappeared! That's a good sign I suppose. The Vanilla and Chocolate seemed to be the winner though, many people asked who made them and said how good they were.

Also, if you're wondering about the baking parchment 'cases' - I only did it because I'd run out of cupcake cases, but they look quite good! I just cut some baking parchment into squares and then gently smushed and folded them into the tray. They did get in a way a bit when dolloping the batter in, and more than one became a bit black and burnt around the top where I'd removed rogue splodges!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Old-fashioned recipe for old-fashioned chocolate cake

In a terrible act of complacency, I have totally overlooked writing up my most-used, fallback, failsafe vegan chocolate cake recipe. The closest I've come is this coffee and walnut-ish variation. I don't remember where I found it, though there are many versions of this method online - it's sometimes called 'three hole' chocolate cake for some bizarre reason. It's a wartime recipe, when eggs and dairy were rationed and most people were effectively eating vegan. And it certainly does make for effective eating! No one will ever know it's vegan - I was serving this happily to omnivores before I was even vegan myself. You can also modify the recipe to incorporate any number of other flavours, using the appropriate essence along with or instead of the vanilla, adding nuts, dried fruit, orange rind, and so on to the batter; and of course adding/filling the cake with whatever topping you like. My favourite thing to do with it is split it horizontally and fill it with raspberry jam, then sprinkle the top with icing sugar or spread it with a thin layer of chocolate ganache.

A word of warning though: the quantities given here make for an astounding quantity of batter - enough to fill my round 12" tin, which serves about 20 people quite large pieces of cake. For a normal sized tin, go for two-thirds to a half of the amount. Or make sure you have two cake tins handy!

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tbsp cocoa powder (this is the most important part - even if you use supermarket basics brand for the rest, use the best cocoa you can find, Dutch processed if possible - I normally go for Equal Exchange cocoa powder or similar)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

3/4 cup oil
2 tbsp vinegar (any kind will do, even balsamic if that's all you have!)
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups cold water

This is so easy it's silly. First make sure you're oven is on, set to 200C/400F/gas mark 6, and that you have greased and floured your cake tin(s). Flouring is a cunning and important step that is often overlooked in baking recipes, but will prevent your cake from adhering permanently to the bottom of the tin.

Get two mixing bowls, at least one of which needs to be pretty sizeable. Combine your dry ingredients (except the sugar) in one bowl - don't worry about sifting, just use a whisk to mix it all together and remove any big lumps before adding the liquid, but make sure you do mix them up thoroughly because you want to minimise mixing of the batter once it's wet (overmixing causes the gluten strands to develop and makes for tough cake). Combine all your wet ingredients, and the sugar, in the other bowl. Now mix the wet ingredients into the dry. If you only have one big bowl, combine the dry ingredients first, then add the wet directly into the mix. Stir with a spoon or a hand-held whisk (no need for electric gadgetry here) until the dry stuff has been fully incorporated. Pour into your tin(s) and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes*, or until the cake is springy on top and a knife/skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Once you've removed the cake from the oven, leave it to cool in the tin - if you try to take it out too soon, I cannot vouch for its integrity. Once it's cool it will be much firmer and the structure more coherent.

*A note on baking times: this will vary depending on the amount of batter you have made, and the size and shape of your baking tins. The more surface area the cake has, the quicker it will cook - so with my large, shallow 12" pan 30 mins is fine, but if I were to put the same quantity of batter into a smaller but deeper tin (which I have done in the past), it would take much longer - up to an hour. Less batter in a tin of similar proportions probably will take less time. I'm sure there are complicated mathematical formulae to work out this sort of thing accurately, but a quick peek in the oven is a perfectly acceptable way to do it! As long as you don't peek too early on in baking process (leave at least 15-20 mins before checking), it shouldn't cause the cake to sink.

I should also add a note on 'cups' as a measurement. They are fairly well known in the UK now, with the recent influx of cross-pond baking recipes, but to clear up any confusion for the staunchly British, a cup is a volume-based measure, equivalent to 284ml. So find a receptacle that measures roughly this amount of liquid, and use this to measure out your ingredients. Or if you're feeling pedantic, find an online conversion calculator to ascertain the exact weight/measurement of each substance contained within a cup, or portion of a cup.

Happy caking!

Finding an old friend


I've just been re-discovering old blog posts that I made a few years ago - some are completely cringeworthy, but others are surprisingly witty and compelling. Funny how I can have written these things, and have almost no memory of them. There are a whole host from pre-vegan days too, which are interesting to read. I feel I may have lost some kind of acerbicity (is that a word?) and lucid enthusiasm. Here it is, if anyone is in the slightest bit interested:

The reason I started this trawl through the annals was to check whether or not I had actually ever written up the chocolate cake I am always referring to. It seems not, and this is a massive oversight. I've noticed that there are many posts in which I mention the super-easy never-fail chocolate cake, as though everyone knows it already (doubtless because it is so familiar to me) - but I've never posted the recipe!

I must rectify this situation immediately. Even if I'm wrong and it is there hidden away somewhere I just can't see for looking, it's not really possible to post too many recipes for chocolate cake, is it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Off the Cuff fingerless gloves

Anyone who knows me knows about my obsession with fingerless gloves. I'm rarely seen without a pair, even in summer, and even in bed during this brisk season! Normally I favour a long length, but I had a single ball of bulky weight yarn knocking about, in a variegated shade that I wasn't fond of, and felt the need to knock up some quick, short, about-the-house hand warmers. You'll notice my cunning punnery when you look at the loose, casual fit of these gloves combined with the loose, casual method of constructing them.

Partly I just wanted to see if the yarn was any more likeable knitted up than on the ball, looking all orange and brown and grey and mangy. Here it is on Ravelry. Looks fine in all other colours as far as I can see, but mine was part of a gift from a well-meaning but slightly misguided friend.

So I checked glove patterns against yardage on Rav, but found inspiration to follow/adapt, so decided to wing it. You know when you see a pattern for a garter stitch scarf, or the most absurdly basic gloves ever? Well, that's pretty much what this is going to be, but I like to feel all creative and that by 'writing' patterns, so maybe it'll help someone out in some small way. I'm still not over-keen on the yarn but as I've barely taken the things off since I made them, there must be something in it... I particularly like the way the loose fit around the wrist enables me to look at my watch, without having to employ my left hand to wrestle them out of the way!

I've knitted these flat for ease of thumbiness (for this, see laziness). They are also quite roomy, which was intentional, but if you prefer a snugger glove or have bigger hand than mine (7.5" around), you may want to ass or subtract stitches according to your tastes. I really wouldn't recommend the Sirdar Crofter though, it's not only vile ('beautiful Fair Isle effect spray dyed onto the yarn' my arse), but after only a week of use it's pretty much felted. Warm though.

Materials: One ball of bulky weight yarn - I used Sirdar Crofter Chunky, which has 86 yards/50g. Size 4.5mm needles (I think that's what I used though of course you may need to experiment for gauge anyway - note these are much smaller than suggested for a yarn of this weight, this produces a thick, firm fabric). A yarn/tapestry needle.

Gauge: 14 sts per 4" (in stocking stitch)

Cast on 32 stitches. Leave a nice long tail for seaming up later. *Work stocking stitch for 3 rows (knit a row, purl a row, knit a row). Work reverse stocking stitch for 3 rows (knit a row, purl a row, knit a row).* Repeat * * twice more - you will have 3 'welts' on the RS of the work. Continue in reverse stocking stitch for 22 rows (just over 3" for me), or for a long as you'd like the hand part of the glove to be. Switch your stocking stitch again (back to ordinary for 3 more rows, then bind off all stitches, again leaving a seamable-sized tail.

Now you can either make a second glove and then seam both at the same time, or seam this one first, then make the second. Up to you.

To finish, take your tapestry needle and seam the sides of your glove. Work from the top and bottom using the tails, leaving a hole for the thumb. To be more specific, working so that the right side (the side with the 3 welts at the cuff and the 'V's on the hand) is facing you, mattress stitch the sides together. Start from whichever end you like, but make sure you leave enough space for your thumb, and in the right place! I allowed mine to be quite roomy, for knitting in, obviously, so I made about a 2.5" seam from cuff to thumb, then from the top made a seam of 1.25", weaving my respective ends into the seam afterwards. I know a lot of people really hate seaming, but it really does give you a neat little spot to hide your ends!