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The Diary of a Baking Vet

Completely Healthy Chocolate Cake

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Here it is, after many requests: a perfectly nutritious, luscious chocolate cake. This cake is free from refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, wheat, gluten and dairy. It is not vegan because of the inclusion of honey and eggs, but I will post an updated option when I try it out with maple syrup and chia eggs. It is light and fudge and sticky and yummy and just the way I like a chocolate cake.

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I made this cake for many reasons. In the last year I have changed my lifestyle and part of this has involved food with maximum nutritional content. More on my thoughts on health and diet later. I have also been working on my art and my online shop, PaperPineTree. When I started this blog I never intended it to be purely about food and this year I will be including more about everything else.

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Healthy Chocolate Almond Cake – adapted from Izy Hossack‘s Healthy, Sticky Chocolate Fudge Cake and Laura Wright‘s raw chocolate recipes

For the cake:

125g ground almonds

110g raw cacao powder (if you don’t have this, cocoa powder will also work – the darker the better – but cocoa powder does count as a processed food)

2 teaspoons baking powder (use gluten free if required)

generous pinch of salt – I use Himalayan pink salt, my favourite

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds scraped from a pod

290g honey (I used clear, runny raw honey from our own bees)

2 eggs

400g butternut squash puree – I made my own by steaming cubes of this and then using a food processor, but when cooked until soft mashing and squishing through a sieve also works fine

4 tablespoons coconut oil (I have made this without the coconut oil when it had run out, and it worked out fine, but I think the texture is slightly better when it is included)

For the raw chocolate icing:

25g raw cacao butter

25g coconut oil (do not substitute another flavourless oil here, as coconut oil alone solidifies at about room temperature)

125g raw cacao powder

125g maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

salt

Method:

Oven to 180 degrees C

Mix together the dry ingredients – almonds, cacao powder, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients – eggs, honey, butternut squash puree, vanilla and coconut oil. Make sure the squash puree is cold if you have made your own! Add this mix to the almond mix and stir together.

Pour into a lined cake tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean and the edges are starting to come away from the tin. The top will appear slightly cracked. Remove from the tin and allow to cool before pouring over the raw chocolate.

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To make the raw chocolate, melt all the ingredients together gently. This is best done in a bowl over simmering water, or, as I do, in a bowl on top of an Aga or Raeburn stove. Do not overheat. When everything is melted and combined, remove the bowl and pour the chocolate over the cold cake. Allow it to dribble down the sides. The raw chocolate may not completely solidify at room temperature unless it is cool – I kept this cake out of the fridge and it was fine for as long as it lasted.

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I made this for my birthday, and decorated it with the raw vegan peanut butter and white chocolate bonbons from Laura Wright. Dusting with raw cacao powder also works and is yummy with a side of berries and coconut yogurt…

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What I baked today…

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Maple syrup and hazelnut shortbread biscuits from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries Volume III – these are the best biscuits I have made for a very long time and their scent is wonderful whenever the jar is opened. Made so many but doubt they will last until next weekend!

Just glazed THIS when it came out of the oven – Izy Hossack’s healthy chocolate fudge cake, which I made with homemade pumpkin puree and some ground almonds instead of the ground flaxseed. Post-tasting, this is my new favourite chocolate cake. It’s so good! I have been baking mostly gluten free recently due to a relative’s requirements, and for several months now have been investigating healthy baking (free from refined sugar and using alternatives to solid fat, and trying to include things like fibre and vitamins…). More posts soon!

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Sticky Buns

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It’s been a long while since my last post, and too much has happened. I have been making fresh things (food processor salad), small things (roasted grapes), very healthy things (raw cacao chocolate almond butter), early things (6am oat milk), late things (late night healthy hot chocolate) and plan to add my new recipes soon, but for now let’s go back to December, to that wonderful, festive, pre-Christmas excitement. I bake these in autumn and winter. This is the perfect thing to have in deep, dark January. Fill your house with the smells of spice and hot sugar.

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These buns come with a story. When I was aged four, we lived in Calgary, Canada, and used to come on holiday to visit family in Aberdeen, Scotland. I remember one specific occasion when we had flown into Edinburgh and had to catch a train north to Aberdeen. My aunt had packed us a picnic for the journey and had included what I thereafter called sticky buns – large, swirled spicy rolls with stripy icing on top. I had never eaten these before, and for a long time afterwards I would ask for them again. These are my recreation of the buns we had on that train journey. I have added a crème patissière filling, because, as I have mentioned before, this family is obsessed with thick, vanilla custard.
We ate these for breakfast on Christmas day, with coffee or hot chocolate. These keep well in the fridge for two to three days and will be soft when reheated in a microwave. To bake these fresh in the morning, put the buns in the fridge overnight for the final rise. Make sure they look puffy enough before baking – they might need some additional rising time out of the fridge depending on temperature.

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For the dough:
1 sachet of dried fast action yeast, or 15g fresh yeast
200ml tepid milk
50g melted, unsalted butter
1 beaten egg – add only half to the dough, use the rest mixed with some milk for glazing
450g plain flour
50g sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Grated zest of ½ lemon

For the spiced sugar:
80g soft, salted butter
150g white sugar
Scant tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

For the crème patissière:
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract or the seeds scraped from a vanilla pod
500ml whole milk
7 egg yolks
100g sugar
40g cornflour

For the icing:
Icing sugar

This quantity makes twelve buns.
Mix the yeast into the milk, then add everything else. Knead until the dough is glossy and stretchy. Allow to rise – the volume should double. The speed at which this happens is temperature dependent – next to our Rayburn stove, it can take 60-90 minutes. Save the rest of the egg for glazing in the fridge.
Mash the soft butter, sugar and ground spices together for the sugar filling and then chill. I find the easiest way to get even coverage is not to spread it when soft but to use a coarse grater to sprinkle it when chilled.
Make the custard. Heat the milk and vanilla in a pan until steaming point then remove from the heat. Beat the yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Pour the milk in while whisking then return it all to the pan. Whisk continuously over a low-medium heat until the custard thickens. Allow to bubble for 30 seconds to cook the flour but keep stirring. Cool in a bowl in the fridge with non-stick paper over the custard surface. (For custard making pictures, look here: http://www.bakingvet.com/2014/10/27/chocolate-custard-brioche-buns/)
Roll out the risen dough into a large rectangle about 2cm thick. (For pictures of how to do this, look here at my other bun recipe: https://bakingvet.com/2014/10/27/chocolate-custard-brioche-buns/) Use a grater to grate the sugar filling evenly over the dough. Place the chilled custard in a piping bag with a 2cm diameter hole cut and pipe a thick line along the long edge nearest you. Gently roll this edge around the custard cylinder and then continue to roll up, just tightly enough to prevent the custard squeezing out. (If it is not tight enough, the rolls will open out a bit when baked and the sugar will flood out…) Use a sharp knife to slice the roll into 12 pieces and place the buns on a baking sheet. Glaze with some beaten egg and cover with cling film. Leave to rise again – the dough sections should double their diameter. Put the rest of the custard in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

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Uncover the buns and then use the piping bag to pipe more custard into their centres – submerge the nozzle of the bag in the existing custard and then swell it up a bit. Glaze the buns again with egg and bake, taking care not to burn them – usually about 15 minutes. Sometimes I remove the buns on the outer edge and bake the ones in the centre for a little longer so each one is adequately baked.
When a bit cooler, mix icing sugar and water and use a piping bag to ice streaky stripes. Best eaten warm.

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And a few more things… here are my pepparkakor cookies on our Christmas table, and the new year wishing cakes. I ended up making three for an excess of parties…

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My favourite muffins!

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I love how food – the smell of something as it bakes, or the colour of ingredients – can take you right back to a different time in your life. These muffins do that for me. The scent of these when they come out the oven makes me think of sitting on our deck in Canada with my sisters, when I was aged four or five, and eating these. They seemed such big muffins then, needing both hands to hold one…

Here is the recipe – well used – as it appears in my mother’s recipe book. For ease of deciphering it, I have also typed it out below.

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Date and Orange Muffins

1 orange
½ cup orange juice
½ cup chopped dates
1 egg
½ cup/4 oz cold butter
1 ½ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2/3 cup caster sugar
½ teaspoon salt

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Turn the oven to 200°C
Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir together.
Peel the orange and cut the flesh into a blender. Add the juice, dates, butter and egg. Blend together.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Stir together to moisten – do not overstir or you will end up with tough muffins!
Fill your muffin cases in their tray – this recipe makes 12 big muffins or 18 average sized ones. Bake for 15-18 minutes. These keep well at room temperature for 2-3 days without going stale.

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Strawberry Vanilla Clafoutis

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I’ve been making clafoutis with all kinds of fruit recently. Summer this year has so far involved turning the heating back on, lighting the fire and wearing rain jackets to walk the dogs… so it is no wonder that our thoughts have involved hot puddings.

A perfect, sugar-crusted clafoutis is delicious, and can be made with many different fruits. We’ve enjoyed the classic cherry, but also peach and vanilla, and the apricot, honey and orange blossom one from Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty was exquisite. But everyone’s unanimous favourite was this strawberry clafoutis that I constructed one night.

My favourite recipe is Raymond Blanc’s, which I have adapted – I think the browned butter is definitely worth adding. This makes a small one which I baked in a dish 18cm in diameter and 5cm high, and made serve four, but double the recipe for more people or if everyone is hungry. Clafoutis keeps in the fridge for a couple of days and can be reheated or snacked upon, but I find that there are rarely leftover portions.

½ punnet fresh strawberries
1 egg
25g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
10g butter (if using unsalted, add a pinch of salt)
10g plain flour
25ml whole milk
40ml double cream

Oven 180 degrees C

Rub butter on the inside of the dish and then coat with caster sugar. Hull and halve the fruit and place in the dish.
Brown the butter in a pan – cook over a medium heat until it turns a golden brown and then pour into a dish to stop it continuing to cook.
Make the batter: beat the egg and sugar until pale, then add the vanilla and butter. Mix in the flour and then the milk and cream.
Pour the batter over the strawberries and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake in the oven until the batter is set and the fruit soft. Serve with cold cream.

The First Strawberries, and Rain

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The shops have started selling British strawberries, and the sight of those fat berries and their sweet smell is more than enticing. They are delicious eaten straight from the carton, or halved and glazed with vanilla bean paste, but today it is raining, and so cold outside that we have lit the fire, and a hot pudding is justified.
I used to think it a waste to use fresh strawberries for a crumble, and previously had only used frozen (as pictured), but the better the fruit, the better your crumble will be. That said, these desserts are an excellent way to revive any batches of strawberries that are less than perfect or flavourful.

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Red Wine Poached Strawberries with Vanilla and Black Pepper

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250ml red wine
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 pod, split and scraped
black pepper (I know, I was initially dubious too, but trust me – it really is amazing)
strawberries, hulled but not halved
mascarpone, mixed with vanilla seeds and a little sugar, to serve

Dissolve the sugar in the wine with the vanilla. Add the fruit and a good grinding of black pepper and simmer until they are soft. Remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon and reduce the wine syrup to desired consistency before adding the fruit back in. Taste and add more pepper if necessary – it should provide some heat. Serve with the mascarpone, or anything else sticky and creamy.

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Strawberry Almond Crumble

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100g butter
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour
100g porridge oats
strawberries, fresh or frozen, whole or halved
caster sugar
vanilla bean paste
flaked almonds

Mix the strawberries with vanilla bean paste and some caster sugar – taste the fruit for sweetness. The more sugar you add, the more jammy your crumble will be.
Rub the butter into the flour, then mix in the sugar and oats. (I have tried this using ground almonds, but find that they produce a very soft topping more like a cake, even when oats are added and the oven temperature has been increased to crisp the top.) Cover the fruit with the crumble, leaving it loose in texture and not pressing it down.
Bake at about 180°C until the top looks slightly golden coloured and there are sticky puddles of vanilla strawberry goop at the edges. Toast the flaked almonds in the oven and sprinkle on top. (You can mix the flaked almonds into the crumble before baking, as I have done in the picture, but their flavour is less pronounced and they lose their crunch.)
Allow to cool (at least a bit!) slightly and serve with warm custard – I have a recipe for that here: https://bakingvet.com/2014/11/29/bramble-and-apple-pie-with-vanilla-custard/

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Bomboloni – Miniature Italian Custard Doughnuts

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As I start writing this, my fingers are still scented with vanilla custard and dough. The day has turned to grey outside, and a harsh breeze disturbs the trees. There is such satisfaction in having a tray of these rising in the kitchen.

I have been working my way through Florence Knight’s fantastic book, One. My favourite recipe so far has remained the torta di cioccolato e amaretto (chocolate amaretto cake), but after several batches of these doughnuts, the cake’s prime position in that list may be threatened. Florence Knight fills hers with chocolate cream, but we have been having ours filled with the traditional vanilla custard.

Making doughnuts properly takes effort, but it is definitely worth it. The process fits nicely into a weekend morning or afternoon. We will share this batch with coffee and hot chocolate as a late afternoon snack after a day of pottering, and (for some of us) shed building in the garden. Later on, we will plunder any leftovers to eat in front of the fire whilst watching Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

The original recipe uses half of the quantities listed here, but I think that it is no more effort to make all of this dough. It makes roughly 50-60 bomboloni. Half of it can be frozen, ready to be defrosted, rolled, shaped, risen again and fried at a later doughnut-requiring date.

Adapted from One by Florence Knight

For the dough:
500g Italian 00 bread flour (or plain flour)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 pinches of salt
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
250ml whole milk
50g butter
2 eggs, beaten

For the custard:
250ml whole milk
vanilla pod, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
20g cornflour

Rub the yeast into the flour, then stir in the sugar and salt. Warm the milk and melt the butter in it, either on the stove or in the microwave. Do not heat to a temperature hotter than your fingers (lukewarm), or you will kill the yeast. Pour the milk and butter into the flour, then the beaten eggs. Stir together and then knead for about 10 minutes. The dough should be very soft and stretchy. Leave in a covered bowl until it has risen to double its original size – this will take 1-2 hours, depending on temperature. You could at this point refrigerate the dough for 8-10 hours or overnight.

Make the custard. Heat the milk to steaming point in a pan with the vanilla, then remove from the heat. Whisk the yolks with the sugar until pale, then mix in the cornflour. Whisk continuously whilst pouring in the hot milk (remove vanilla pod first). Return the custard to the pan and whisk on the heat until very thick. The cornflour needs to be cooked, so the custard should just come to boiling point. Spread it in a bowl and refrigerate.

Roll out some of the dough in a little flour until half a centimetre thick. Cut out small circles about 5cm diameter (I used the top of a glass). Blob a teaspoon of custard into each one and seal like little wontons, using some water around the edges. Roll them into round balls using some flour and make sure there are no custard leaks. Doughnuts can be rolled plain and filled after frying, if preferred. Allow the doughnuts to rise again for about half an hour in a warm place, or until puffy and soft.

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I find it easier to shallow fry in a smaller pan rather than deep fry. Fill the pan with a few centimetres of a flavourless oil, such as sunflower. Heat and test using a cube of bread – it should frazzle and become golden brown in a couple of minutes. Fry 3 or 4 doughnuts at a time. Do not overcrowd the pan, as this will cool the oil down and make it difficult to turn the doughnuts. Turn them once they are golden brown, and remove. It is easiest to have an assistant to help roll the hot doughnuts in sugar – either vanilla sugar, or fennel sugar (caster sugar that has been mixed with toasted fennel seeds).

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Traybaked Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think it’s time we made some more cookies…

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We used to make this particular recipe frequently as children, and only needed help using the oven. It is a one pan recipe and infinitely variable – I like it best with dark chocolate chips, but use anything – nuts, candy, mini marshmallows.

This recipe is adapted from one of my most useful books: Food That Really Schmecks: Mennonite Country Cooking by Edna Staebler. I hope it’s still in print – the copy I have is from 1968. There is no better book for baking, and contaisn the best icing recipes I have ever read. My favourite is the snowy maple syrup frosting.

2oz milk chocolate

6oz butter

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup sifter plain flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

chocolate chips, or anything else you want to put in

Melt the chocolate and butter in a pan. Mix in the sugar, eggs (check it is not too hot), flour, vanilla and salt. Pour into a lined swiss roll tin and sprinkle over toppings. Bake at 180C for 10-15 minutes – they go very crispy if overbaked, so leave as gooey as you like.

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