A few days ago my friend Tina sent me a WeChat message: "Dearest, I need your help. There's a birthday party coming up for my daughter's friend and we need a cake that caters to a few of the kids' different allergies: we're talking no nuts, no dairy and no eggs." My first thought was, I must admit, "Chinese kids now have allergies, too??" (Chinese people are known for not being picky eaters and likewise having few food intolerances, with the regional exception of chilies. In short, Chinese people are known for having stomachs of steel).
Whatever your theory about the eruption of food allergies post-Y2K kids, it's simply a fact that every children's party these days is a bit of allergy-free anxiety zone. I imagine slightly anxious parents try'na play it cool but are really holding their breath with epi-pens on standby in case some undiscerning clod had mistaken rye flour for gluten-free, or used almond milk instead of soy. Nuts are now banned from children's parties as are, I assume, electric Kool-Aid and that carefree party tune, "Jump Around".
But I don't actually mind the allergy issue. I love a challenge, especially one that gives me a creative break from work-cooking. I also like the idea of making a cake everyone can enjoy -- just because this cake is vegan doesn't mean you have to be a vegan to enjoy it, nor does it mean only vegans will enjoy eating it. These don't compromise on texture and flavour and can only be a positive thing for the environment by cutting down on animal products.
Sweetcorn & Blueberry Cake
Sweetcorn & blueberries: for celebrating the summer or reminiscing about it during winter, when the listed ingredients are readily available. While not gluten-free, the cake flour here can be substituted with an all-purpose, gluten-free flour mix (like the one made by Bob's Red Mill).
- 180 grams cake flour (not self-raising)
- 150 grams ultra-fine ground cornmeal
- 4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 225 grams unsweetened soy milk
- 100 grams white caster sugar
- 15 grams flax meal (can grind whole flax seeds with a small coffee grinder)
- 80 grams boiling-hot water
- 75 grams sunflower oil (or other neutral-flavor oil)
- 80 grams corn kernels from a can, drained
- 75 grams icing sugar, sifted
- 30 grams frozen blueberries, thawed with its juices in a small mixing bowl
- Pre-heat your oven to 180*C (350*F) and prepare a bundt pan or 8-inch springform cake pan by oiling the insides and dusting with flour and cornmeal. Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl: the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. Set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl combine the soy milk, sugar and salt; whisk to combine and set aside.
- In another small bowl, tip in the flax meal and then the boiling-hot water. Whisk vigorously for 1-2 minutes until foamy and gummy. Add to the soy milk mixture and whisk with an electric mixer (or with a strong, tireless arm) to combine; then drizzle in the oil slowly whilst whisking to emulsify the mixture. Whisk at medium speed for a further 1-2 minutes to make the mixture frothy and unified.
- Add the dry mixture into the wet and fold by hand just until combined (don't overwork the batter!). Add the corn kernels and fold just to evenly distribute.
- Pour into the cake pan and set in the oven's lower-center rack. Bake for 35 minutes or just until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, then invert on a large piece of baking paper.
- Puree the frozen blueberries with a stick blender; splatter alert, be careful! I do this in the sink, or use a smoothie blender to puree a whole box of thawed frozen blueberries then save the extras for another use. Strain the blueberry puree through a fine-mesh sieve, then add 15g of the strained juice to the bowl of sifted icing sugar. Stir with a spoon, then drizzle over the cooled, room-temperature cake.
Spiced Apple and Rosewater Cake
Classic, autumnal flavours of spiced apples and a sigh of rosewater come together in this moist, comforting cake. It just so happens to be vegan, too. I created this recipe on a crisp, blue-skied autumn day in Beijing (don't mind what you hear about the smog; autumn is as glorious here as it is in Princeton, New Jersey where I grew up) and the apples are at their peak; each time my knife slices through the crisp flesh, the apple unleashes a fairy-land, almost cartoonishly perfect floral apple scent. For gluten-free folks, the whole-wheat and cake flours can be substituted with Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour mix and/or buckwheat flour.
- 80 grams cake flour (not self-raising)
- 150 grams whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 960 grams or about 4 medium-sized apples (can substitute this with 500g store-bought, unsweetened applesauce)
- 150 grams light brown sugar
- 40 grams unsweetened soy milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 15 grams flax seed meal (can grind whole flax seeds with a small coffee grinder)
- 80 grams boiling-hot water
- 115 grams sunflower oil
- 85 grams icing sugar (aka powdered sugar)
- 15 grams lukewarm water
- 2 drops rosewater
- Prepare the applesauce (skip this step if using store-bought, unsweetened applesauce): Peel apples and slice into wedges, removing the tough bits and chop into roughly 3-cm/1-in cubes. Place in a big pot with 100mL of water; we'll be simmering the apples for ~25 minutes. Cover and turn up the heat; when you hear the water boiling, give the apples a stir, cover again then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover the pot (you'll find the apples quite watery now) and continue letting it simmer and evaporate for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. At the end you should have a fairly "dry" pot with barely any free-flowing liquid. Puree the apples with a stick blender then set aside (to be extra safe from hot splattering, let the apples cool to room temperature before pureeing).
- While the apples are simmering, pre-heat your oven to 180*C (350*F) and prepare a bundt pan or 8-inch springform cake pan by oiling it and dusting with more whole wheat flour. Combine the first 6 dry ingredients in a mixing bowl: cake flour, whole wheat flour, the spices and the baking powder; set aside.
- In another mixing bowl, mix together with an electric whisk (or stand mixer with whisk attachment) 500g of freshly-made or store-bought applesauce with the soy milk, light brown sugar, vanilla extract and sea salt.
- In a smaller bowl, tip in the 15g of flax meal and pour 80g of boiling-hot water into the bowl. Use an electric whisk on medium speed to whisk for 1 minute until frothy and thick.
- Add the flax mixture to the applesauce mixture and whisk on high speed for 1 minute. Next, drizzle in the oil whilst mixing at high speed, then whisk a further 2 minutes to fully emulsify the mixture.
- Add the flour mixture to the applesauce mixture, and fold with a spatula just until thoroughly combined; avoid over-working the batter.
- Pour into your bundt or cake pan and place in the lower-center rack of the oven; bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Let it cool to room temperature then invert onto a large piece of baking paper to decorate.
- To prepare the icing, prepare a bowl with your sifted icing sugar then add the lukewarm water and rosewater. Stir to combine, and when the cake is completely cooled to room temperature, drizzle the icing over the cake and decorate with dried rose petals if you wish. Transfer the cake with the baking paper onto a serving plate, then finally tear away the baking paper to cleanly set the cake on the platter.