Why you should use vegetables in your cakes
PUBLISHED: 09:54 31 October 2018
A sweet way to get your five-a-day
If Tommy Banks, Andrew Pern and Michael O’Hare are doing it, who are we to argue? All three culinary magicians regularly conjure up delicious desserts using the humblest of garden fare – beetroot, potatoes, artichokes, mushrooms – so why do most of us venture no further than the carrot patch when it comes to cake?
Tommy, the gifted Michelin-star chef at The Black Swan at Oldstead and new venture, Roots, in York, is partial to veggies in each and every course. His panettone with clotted cream, for instance, is packed with juicy, diced Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and beetroot cooked in syrup, dried and then soaked in rum.
Multi-award-winning star Andrew, who has four highly successful Yorkshire restaurants, enjoys finding room for mushrooms in his double chocolate and cep ‘Magnum’ with thyme-roast pear and medjool dates on his specials menu at The Star at Harome.
And Michael O’Hare, the man behind The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds, artfully crafts a combination of milk chocolate, potato and violet as part of his 14-sequence permanent collection (his esoteric version of the more traditional tasting menu).
So, why aren’t we using more vegetables in our own desserts at home? You could argue that the answer is blindingly obvious – they’re not as sweet as fruit – but that is selling them short on their natural sugar levels and understating the tartness of many fruits.
Some veggies are, of course, actually fruits, including avocados, tomatoes, peas, sweet corn, courgettes and bell peppers, but creative natural cook, gardener and private chef Ysanne Spevack endeavours to include 100 per cent bona-fide veg – lettuce, spinach, cauliflower and onions – as well in her new collection of inventive Vegetable Cakes.
‘Why conform to the norm, let’s embrace the strange and say yes to vegetables in unusual places,’ she said. ‘Vegetables are delicious and can all be sweetened, either by being marinated and mixed with something sweet and healthy or by having their natural sugars caramelised. Or both.
‘Many vegetables offer other plus points too, like outrageous colours and surprising textures. Take beetroots – how could you turn down such a wonderful colour? And lotus roots – the crunch and the shape are too extraordinary to refuse.’
There are also the inevitable health benefits of packing more veg into our daily diet. Many of us struggle to eat our five (or more) a day and struggle even harder to convince our offspring that all the cool kids are eating broccoli.
‘Children are savvy to every trick you have to smuggle veg into their dinner,’ said Ysanne. ‘But give them a cake with a big cauliflower inside and the silliness of it gets a foot in the door. The pure anarchy of putting soft leaves inside a layer cake or loaf engages most people’s sense of humour. Once you’re there, my Godzilla Cake (made with coconut and Romanesco broccoli) is a cinch!’
Many of her recipes are brazen about the vegetables they contain. Her maple lemon veggie slab pie, for instance, is packed with bell peppers, celeriac and butternut squash. But in other areas, she’s stealthier, sliding in the odd caramelised onion here and the occasional buttery artichoke there.
‘It’s all about focussing on flavour,’ she said. ‘And, of course, flavours and nutrients are intrinsically linked. The flavours in fresh produce are tiny micro-chemicals that are simultaneously good for you – we’ve evolved to find them pleasurable; it’s our bodies’ ingenious way of guiding us to eat the healthiest things for us.’ Especially if they’re baked into a cake and delivered on a dessert trolley.
Vegetable Cakes by Ysanne Spevack, published by Lorenz Books, priced £10