Perfect Vanilla and Chocolate Cake

I have a particular nostalgic fondness for vanilla sponge with chocolate buttercream. It may be an unusual combination but it’s one my mum used to make for birthday cakes; I particularly remember a wonderful hedgehog cake decorated with mini chocolate flakes! I do urge you to give it a go, it may be unconventional but vanilla sponge with chocolate buttercream totally works. The dark bitterness of the chocolate tempers the sweet sponge and the colour contrast adds to the delight.

There are a lot of so-so egg and dairy-free cake recipes out there, particularly vanilla flavoured ones. So often they can be a bit crumbly and dry, or worse flat and rubbery. I’m obviously not counting my own recipes in that assessment (ha ha!) but I have come across some depressingly bad specimens over the years. There is a tendency for vegan cakes to be ‘ok’ rather than delicious, particularly shop bought versions. This vanilla sponge on the other hand is utterly perfect – it’s light and fluffy, but in no way dry and crumbly. It’s so good you’d be forgiven for questioning whether it is vegan! The custard powder is crucial for giving a wonderful crumb and vanilla flavour but if you can’t find it (not all is dairy-free so make sure you check) you can sub cornflour and an extra tsp of vanilla.

Perfect Chocolate and Vanilla Cake

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes one sandwich cake

370g self-raising flour

2 tbsps Birds custard powder

220g caster sugar

1 1/2 tsps bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

290ml dairy-free milk

2 tbsps dairy-free yogurt

100g dairy-free margarine, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 5. Grease and line 2 20cm sandwich tins
  2. Sift together the flour, custard powder, bicarb and salt
  3. Stir in the sugar
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the dairy-free milk, melted dairy-free margarine, yogurt and vanilla.
  5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix gently until well combined.
  6. Pour into the cake tins and bake for 30 minutes, until a knife comes out clean
  7. Cool in the cake tins for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack

for the chocolate buttercream:

40g dairy-free margarine

15g vegetable fat such as Trex

300g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

2 and 1/2 tbsp dairy-free milk

  1. Whisk together all the ingredients to make a smooth and fluffy icing
  2. Sandwich the cakes together with the icing and then cover the entire cake with the remaining icing.
  3. Cover with a generous amount of sprinkles

Mocha Biscotti

This year I’m intending on making lots of my Christmas presents, well that’s the plan! I’ll have to see if life, work and the new puppy let that happen…

To me it seems like this is the right time to take a little step away from consumerism and reconnect with the the homemade. I also think it makes the festive season seem particularly special; that extra effort in making gifts for people adds an extra touch of love and I hope makes both the giver and receiver equally happy.

Along with the jams, chutneys and chocolate truffles (I’ve got a cracking new recipe coming up next), these biscotti make a wonderful gift. They keep well and are just perfect with coffee or something stronger 😉 over the festive season.

Biscotti may seem tricky to make but in reality they just need a little extra time to be double baked, first as a large log and then sliced. The resulting crispy slices keep well and are robust enough to make fantastic gifts.

I’ve given these biscotti a mocha flavour which i think works particularly well when it’s cold and dark; there’s something so cosy about the combination of coffee and chocolate. Don’t worry about it being an ‘adult’ taste, it works wonderfully with decaf and it’s more a tinge of coffee rather than a full whack in the chops!

Mocha Biscotti

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes about 24 biscotti

250g or 2 cups plain flour

2 tsps baking powder

pinch of salt

200g or 1 cup caster sugar

50g dairy-free chocolate, chopped

120ml sunflower oil

120ml dairy-free milk (made up of 1tbsp instant coffee powder and 1 tbsp hot water topped up to 120ml with dairy-free milk)

30g dairy-free chocolate, melted (to drizzle on top)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4
  2. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
  4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, dairy-free milk mix. Bring together to a wet and sticky dough.
  5. Form into one or two log shapes on the lined baking sheet. (they spread out quite  a lot so make them smaller than you think unless you want long biscotti!) Brush with the dairy-free milk.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until cooked through and starting to turn golden around the edges.
  7. Cool briefly, then cut into even slices. Return to the baking sheet and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, turn the slices over and cook for 5-10 minutes more. You want a uniform slightly golden tinge, but no particularly dark areas.
  8. Cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool, drizzle or dip into the melted chocolate
  9. These keep well, in an airtight container for a week or so.

 

Fudge Brownies

Is there anything more delicious that a rich, fudge brownie? Personally, I can’t think of many more pleasing desserts than a warm fudge brownie topped with ice cream and caramel or chocolate sauce; I’m even salivating at the thought of it!

I was having coffee with a friend recently and she had a brownie with her cappuccino. I had a little taste as she was raving about it but I found it bland and stodgy, certainly not the brownie of my dreams.  I felt like I had thrown down the gauntlet to myself to make a far superior, friendly brownie. Some brownies are cake, some are dense, and some like these beauties are rich, fudgy and very very full of chocolate. It turns out I like these types the best 🙂

This recipe replies on lots of melted chocolate for richness and soft brown sugar for a fudge flavour. The middle it dense and gooey, the top slightly crispy, surely the profile of a perfect brownie.

I recommend warming these for 10 seconds in a microwave before eating with ice cream and warm sauce for the ultimate indulgence.

Fudge Brownies

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 9 good sized brownies

100g dairy-free chocolate

60g dairy-free margarine

110g soft brown sugar

100ml dairy-free milk

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tsp vanilla

100g plain flour

4 tbsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

  1. Line an 20cm/8inch square baking tin with parchment. preheat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade
  2. Melt together the chocolate and margarine either in a microwave or over a Bain-marie. Stir until smooth
  3. Stir in the sugar.
  4. Whisk together the cornflour, milk and vanilla and pour into the chocolate. Combine thoroughly.
  5. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into the chocolate mix and gently fold until you have a smooth batter.
  6. Pour into the tin and level off. Bake for 18 minutes or until a knife comes out almost clean, a few moist crumbs are ok.
  7. Cool in the pan and then cut into 9 squares.

Ginger Christmas Cake

Get your spoons ready, it’s time for ‘stir up Sunday’!

Fruit cakes are surprisingly easy to make dairy and egg-free and I guarantee the resulting cake will be hoovered up in no time. Last year we left a whole cake (only uneaten due the overkill of other options) with the in-laws and it had completely disappeared two days later! That’s pretty good going for a large fruit cake. 😉

Every year I seem to make multiple types of Christmas cakes to please the various factions of the family (and because I enjoy it): some like chocolate yule log, some like gingerbread biscuits and some love a slice of fruit cake. I’ve never been overly keen on fruit cake myself but my Christmas cake recipe has won me over – it’s fruit heavy but also light and delicate, the kind of fruit cake where you could almost have another slice.

This year I felt like making a change to my usual traditional Christmas cake and had the idea of combining a family favourite of ginger cake taste with a fruit cake base. It turns out it’s a genius combination; who could resist the spicy warming heat of ginger with the comforting hug of a traditional Christmas cake? The ginger is added in three ways for different dimensions and interest: crystallised ginger chunks, plenty of ground ginger and then a regular feeding of ginger wine for added oomph.

Let the Christmas preparations begin 🙂

Ginger Christmas Cake

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 1 12″ cake

200g sultanas

200g currants

50g crystallised ginger, chopped

100g dates, stoned and chopped

2 tbsps brandy (or ginger wine or apple juice)

350g plain flour

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

pinch of salt

70g dairy-free margarine

zest of 1 lemon

170g light Muscovado sugar

250ml dairy-free milk, warmed to hand hot temperature

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

  1. Grease and line a 12″ cake tin
  2. Pour the brandy/apple juice over the dried fruit and leave to steep for at least a couple of hours, or preferably overnight
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 4
  4. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, ginger and mixed spice. Add the lemon zest.
  5. Rub in the dairy-free margarine and then stir in the sugar, and the dried fruits.
  6. Add the bicarb to the warm milk and stir until dissolved. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix to form a stiff dough.
  7. Turn into the lined cake tin and bake for 1 hour. Then turn the oven down to gas mark 3/160 degrees Centigrade and continue to bake for a further 20-30 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  8. Keep wrapped in baking paper, in an airtight container until ready to decorate (if desired) just before Christmas
  9. For added moisture and flavour, pour 1 tbsp of ginger wine (or apple juice or brandy) onto the cake each week until ready to use.

Cappuccino Coffee Cake

A coffee cake is certainly one of the absolute classics, and this cappuccino inspired coffee cake adds an elegant and grown up touch to any coffee morning. It’s also pretty good as a cheeky pud 😉

It’s been a funny old week for me. Little S, who is our energy-filled whirlwind, has been away on a residential trip. The centre seemed well prepared for allergies, but it’s always a little nerve-wracking handing over to an unknown party. She is also a home loving type and was really nervous about going away for a whole week, so the build up was long and painful, and probably not helped by the fact that I’m useless at goodbyes and end up crying (embarrassing!). So it’s definitely been a week to keep as busy and occupied as possible, so it would pass quickly. A perfect week for some baking experiments, and ones that may be more to Big S’s tastes!

I’ve had the idea of a coffee cake, surely one the absolute classics, on the back burner for a while. Previously it seemed odd to cook a coffee cake for young children, but now Big S has developed a taste for an occasional coffee. I used decaffeinated coffee and I really don’t think it made any difference to the flavour. I know that walnuts are a customary addition to a coffee cake, but mine is nut free (as you might expect!). If you wished to add walnuts, add a handful of chopped nuts to the cake batter and decorate the top with a few walnut halves.

Personally I’m a black coffee drinker, but cappuccinos or flat whites always look rather pretty and have provided the inspiration for this loaf cake. The sponge represents the coffee with a rich deep coffee flavour, and the icing is the creamy coffee scented top, all finished off with an obligatory dusting of cocoa.

Cappuccino Coffee cake

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

200g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g caster sugar

pinch of salt

100ml sunflower oil

130ml dairy-free milk

20ml strong coffee

1/2 tsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/Gas mark 4. Line a loaf tin.
  2. Mix together the oil, milk, coffee and lemon and set aside
  3. Combine the flour, salt, bicarb,  and sugar.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix until well combined
  5. Pour into the lined loaf tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

for the icing:

2 tbsp vegetable fat (such as Trex)

1/2 cup dairy-free margarine (such as Pure)

1 to 2 cups icing sugar, sifted

1 tbsp strong black coffee

1/2 tsp coffee essence (optional)

  1. Whisk together the spread and vegetable fat.
  2. Add the icing sugar, 1/2 cup at a time with a splash of the coffee, until fully combined and nice and fluffy.
  3. Spread or pipe onto the cake.

Strawberry Scones

The sun’s out and I feel inspired and buzzing with fresh ideas. There really isn’t anything like the end of Winter to make me feel ready to attack the spring and summer with gusto – it’s amazing what a bit of warmth and sunlight can do!

We had a lovely trip to see the sea of bluebells last weekend, which is a bit of a yearly tradition in my part of the country, which culminated with cool drinks in a National Trust cafe. All the other customers seemed to be tucking into cream teas (obviously it was drinks or nothing for us!), which got me thinking about making a batch of scones. Scones, with their association with cream teas and strawberry jam always seem rather summery to me, so perfect for my current vibe. So here is a cracking combination of scones and strawberries  so we can tuck into a cream tea at home.

I’d really recommend using freeze-dried berries in sweet recipes, as you get all the flavour and none of the ‘sog factor’, so there’s no need to adjust the indigents to factor in extra moisture.

 

Strawberry Scones

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes about 20

450g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

75g dairy-free margarine

75g caster sugar

300 ml dairy-free milk, I used Oatly

1 tsp berry essence, if you have it

1/2 cup freeze dried strawberries , roughly chopped

To top: 2 tbsp oat milk 2 tbsp granulated sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade/gas mark 6. Grease and flour 2 baking sheets.
  2. Rub the margarine into the flour, sugar and baking powder until it resembles breadcrumbs. 
  3. Pour in the essence and dairy-free milk and very gently bring together to a soft dough. It’s very important not to work scone dough. Add the freeze dried berries.
  4. Gently pat out the dough until its about 1 inch thick. Using a 2inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds and place on the baking sheets Continue, gently bringing the dough back into a ball and cutting out, until all the dough has been used up.
  5. Brush the top of each with dairy-free milk and sprinkle with sugar Bake for about 20-25 minutes until starting to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack.