Thursday, 20 February 2014

Vegan Baking 101

IronCupcake: Leeds are hosting an ALL VEGAN competition next month! YAY!

In honour of this, I've been asked to write a little bit about vegan baking to go up on their blog! So, let's address a few questions...

1. What's your one top tip for vegan baking?

Vegan baking may seem scary but it's really not that hard!
Milk can be substituted for a non-dairy version - I usually find soya milk (the regular stuff not the light stuff) produces the best cakes as it's thicker and creamier than most of the others. However, most varieties will work although you might get different results from other non-dairy milks. There are all sorts of products out there now, such as soya yogurt, cream, and cream cheese. 
Eggs can be substituted by a variety of things, depending on what you're baking. For example: soy milk & cider vinegar; ground flax seed; soy yogurt; silken tofu. There are even a few egg replacement powders available these days, however I prefer the more natural methods. Take a look here and here to see how to use each method. (Please note - although I disagree with a lot of what PETA does, their baking cheat sheet is great and I still keep it in the kitchen just in case!) 
The soya milk & vinegar method isn't listed on either of these websites but it crops up in a lot of recipes. As a rough guide, you want to use 1 cup of soya milk and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar for a batch of 12 cupcakes. This will replace the eggs and usually any liquid in the recipe. Mix the milk and vinegar together, leave it to curdle for about 10 min and then carry on with the recipe. You may need to adjust the amount of milk you use depending on the wetness of the other ingredients. 

2. Where can you find the best vegan recipes?
There are so many vegan recipes on the internet these days, you can find a recipe for pretty much anything you want to make just by googling it. Some good places to start are:
Chocolate Covered Katie
The Vegan Society
There are also tons of great books out there - give me a shout if you'd like any recommendations!

3. What are your star ingredients for vegan baking?
Well, the soya milk & vinegar combo is one I use a lot so I make sure to always have a big bottle of apple cider vinegar in the cupboard!
You'll also want to get a bottle of high quality vanilla extract, as this helps to replace the taste of dairy butter (dairy free doesn't have quite the same taste). Buy the best you can afford and you will be able to taste the difference.
And when it comes to frosting, Trex is great as it keeps the frosting firm - use a mixture of half Trex & half non-dairy margarine in place of the butter and your frosting will taste great and keep it's shape. Just bear in mind that you might have to add a little extra icing sugar to make vegan "buttercream" as firm as it's dairy counterpart. 

4. Why is eating vegan a good idea?
I don't want to sound preachy so please bear in mind that the below is my opinion and is not intended as a judgement of non-vegans. 
Personally speaking, I'm vegan for primarily ethical reasons. By leading a vegan lifestyle, I am reducing the number of animals that suffer for our benefit - be that in the food industry, cosmetic industry, clothing industry, or anywhere else. Being vegan eases my conscious, meaning I no longer feel guilty about what I eat. (Unless I over indulge in junk food but that's only hurting me!) I believe that animals have just as much right as we do to lead healthy, happy lives. There is also a huge environmental impact to eating meat, ranging from deforestation to greenhouse gas production to the carbon footprint transporting livestock/meat. AND did you know that if we used the grain that is fed to cattle worldwide to feed PEOPLE, there would be more than enough to feed the world, and we could eradicate world hunger. If only people would give the grain to those that need it.
By happy coincidence, I also feel a lot healthier eating vegan than I ever did eating animal products. A lot of people turn to a vegan diet for the health benefits but I must admit, it's a happy side effect for me. 
If you're interested in trying this for yourself, there are a number of vegan pledge schemes where you can pledge to be vegan for 30 days and you will receive help and support throughout this time - take a look at The Vegan Society and Viva! for more info.

Please do head on over to the Iron Cupcake: Leeds website and take a look. It would be great to see some fellow vegans at the competition! (Sunday 9th March at The Adelphi in Leeds, put it in your diary!!) All the prizes will be vegan too!

If you'd like to try your hand at some vegan baking, I've listed a couple of my recipes below:

Ursula's Tentacles Devil's Food Cupcakes (these won me my very first Iron Cupcake competition!!)
50s Rock 'n' Roll Coke Float Cupcakes
Fudgey Friday Brownies

Happy baking!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Creamy Tofu Pie

I tried making something new tonight, and thought I'd share the recipe with all you lovely people!

I was never a big fish eater in my pre-vegan days but recently I've fancied a creamy sort of pie with mashed potato topping, similar to a fish pie. The nori (a type of seaweed) lends the pie a hint of sea-flavour, while the smoked tofu brings another layer of depth to the dish. This is a great comfort food dish - I think anything with mashed potato is fantastic comfort food! Especially in winter!

This could serve 2-4 people depending on how hungry you are and what you decide to serve it with. (We were hungry!)

1 tbsp vegan margarine
1 leek, sliced
1 cup soya milk
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
1 tbsp nori flakes
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 block smoked tofu, chopped into 1 inch cubes
Pinch of salt

2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes (roughly)
1 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Splash of soya milk
Freshly ground black pepper

Green beans to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200C and boil a kettle full of water. Put the potatoes in a large pan, cover with the freshly boiled water and bring back to the boil. You'll want to cook the potato for about 15 min, until easily pierced with a fork - so let this bubble away while you prepare the rest.

2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the leek for about 5-7 minutes until soft. Add most of the soya milk, reserving about 1 tbsp. Mix the arrowroot powder into this reserved soya milk and then stir into the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes, being careful not to boil. The mixture should thicken.

3. Stir through the nori flakes and frozen peas and cook for another minute or two to heat the peas through. Stir in the tofu and salt, and spoon into an ovenproof dish.

4. Once the potatoes are done, drain them and mash, together with the remaining topping ingredients. Spread this on top of your filling, and make lines with a fork if you wish. Grind over some black pepper.

5. Cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is as golden as you like it.

6. Serve with green beans.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

#TVK4 - The Vegan Kind Box 4 REVIEW

On Wednesday, I braved the weather to go and collect my TVK4 box from the post office. Was it worth it? YES!

There were five items in this month's box:

1. inSpiral Kale Chips (The flavour I got was raw cacao and cinnamon.)
2. Organic Surge Sugared Almond Shower Gel
3. Choc Shot
4. 1066 Cake Stand's Cinder Toffee
5. Braw Bar (I got strawberry.)

1. inSpiral Kale Chips

I've seen these kale chips in a variety of flavours in my local health food shop, but have always been put off by the price (£2.19 per 30g bag). I really enjoy kale, especially crispy kale, so these sounded great! They tick the following boxes: organic, vegan, raw, gluten free, soya free, cholesterol free, trans fat free, no added cane sugar, 100% natural, no MSG or artificial additives, GMO free - so they really do sound suitable for everyone! Even the packaging is environmentally friendly and suitable for home composting, if you're that way inclined.

The chips had a great crispy texture but I wasn't sure about the flavour and gave up after half the packet. It's a real shame, as I really wanted to like them. I do think that if I'd tried a savoury flavour it may have been different but I just couldn't get my mouth around this particular flavour combination. I would probably try one of their savoury flavours in the future though.

2. Organic Surge Sugared Almond Shower Gel

I can't wait to try this - it smells lovely. The packet claims that "almond and palmarosa essential oils combine with non-drying skin cleansers to wash with care and leave your skin feeling super-soft, supple and rehydrated". Sounds great for those of us with sensitive skin! I tried a little on my hands under the tap and it has a silky smooth feel with a delicate scent. Mmmm!

3. Choc Shot

Choc Shot is something that I've wanted to try since I read someone's blog about it, where she unapologetically stated that she eats this stuff straight off the spoon! It's made using Sweet Freedom, which is an amazing vegan sweet honey-like syrup, so I had high expectations. I wasn't disappointed! Choc Shot makes beautiful hot chocolate, with the added bonus of there being no horrid lumpy bits of cocoa powder left in your mug. And it's not just for hot chocolate - there's a whole host of recipes on the website and I'm sure I could find plenty of things to incorporate it into!

Choc Shot seems to be full of benefits: 14 calories per teaspoon; low GI/GL; no artificial colours, flavourings or preservatives. It's apparently available at Tesco and Ocado so I'll definitely be on the lookout next time I'm doing my weekly shop! At £3.59 it's maybe a little pricier than your powdered hot chocolate but it's SO much nicer! Definitely recommended.

4. 1066 Cake Stand's Cinder Toffee

Funnily enough, I've been to 1066 Cake Stand and peered into their window! (It was a bank holiday so they were closed.) I was born down in Hastings, where this shop is based, and we go back down every year for the Jack in the Green festival. We tried the cake shop on the off chance but unfortunately we weren't lucky that time. Perhaps we'll be able to visit when they're open this year!

1066 Cake Stand is a vegan cake shop, who apparently also make cinder toffee! They also have a dedicated gluten free kitchen, where these goodies were made. They sell gluten free and vegan cakes, candy and cookies, alongside recipe books, savoury snacks and herbal teas. This cinder toffee tastes just like cinder toffee I've had before, which is a good thing! (Is all cinder toffee vegan? I'm not sure...) Mr Hatter also liked it - he requested that we finish it off in one go!

5. Braw Bar

I don't know if you can tell but that photo is of an empty packet. Yup, this little treat didn't even make it to the photo shoot.

Braw is a company based in Scotland who make health conscious, tasty food for guilt-free snacking. The Braw Bars are gluten free, with no additives, preservatives, synthetic alternatives or added sugar. Each bar even counts as one of your 5 a day! Win!

The bar reminded me of a nakd bar type snack, but it was comprised mostly of fruit, and even had some freeze dried strawberries thrown in for good measure. Both Mr Hatter and I enjoyed it (I think he should get his own box...) and it's definitely something I would buy again to have as a quick snack. The bars are packed with gluten free oats to keep you feeling full so it's a great alternative to a chocolate bar.

As always, there was a recipe card in this month's box - this time it was for Bean Sushi by Self Sufficient Cafe, which is a blog I already follow so well done to Jasmine for being featured in this month's box! The recipe looks yummy!

Every month, The Vegan Kind donate 10p from each box sold to a selected charity. This months charity is Society for Abandoned Animals, which sounds like a brilliant cause.

As always, I would recommend anyone interested in veganism (or even just trying new things) to subscribe to this box - at £10 (plus £2,95 p&p) it really is a bargain - and you often get voucher codes if you want to order more! Take a look at the website here if you're interested.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

My Weekend Of Cake

Last weekend, I had a weekend of cake. A whole weekend, devoted to cake. I wish all my days could be devoted to cake. Well, maybe not ALL. But a lot :)


On Saturday, I went to a friend's birthday party. The idea was that everyone would take some cake and then we would all try each others - a bit like the clandestine cake club. And you know what the amazing thing about it was? There were two vegans there (I wasn't the only one!!), and so EVERYONE had made vegan cakes!! I could try them all!! If you're not a vegan or have special dietary requirements, you probably won't understand how exciting this is but it made me very happy indeed.

I decided I wanted to use up some of the rosewater that I had in the cupboard, as Mr Hatter isn't a huge fan of things that taste like flowers. So I made a chocolate-rose cake, using the Turkish Delight cake recipe by Ms Cupcake. Luckily the people at the party liked flower flavoured food, so it went down a treat! And although I don't know whether I like turkish delight (as I don't think I've ever had it), I thought the cake was yummy.

As it was a birthday party, I thought it was the perfect time to practice my fancy icing so I iced the cake completely in pink rose frosting and then piped roses onto the top:


On Sunday, it was the monthly cupcake competition from Iron Cupcake: Leeds. The theme for this month was "Valentine's: Love It or Hate It". Now I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day so I went for an anti-valentine's cupcake. There were only 2 of us (out of 10) that went for the Hate It option!

I initially wanted to do a bleeding hear cupcake, as demonstrated by Lilli Vanilli here:

However, when I tested it out the fondant to cake recipe made it too sickly to enter into the competition - although they did look awesome (no photos though, sorry!). So instead, I decided to opt for red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting and a small anatomical heart made out of fondant:

I was pretty pleased with how the decorations turned out, and I had a really fun time sculpting them! I definitely want to do more fondant work, it's just finding a good enough excuse...

However, the cake was a bit too crumbly as I somehow hadn't checked my ingredients and ended up only having wholemeal flour in the house! PRO TIP: Always check your ingredients cupboard. It still tasted good, it was just a bit crumbly - which isn't the best thing when you're cutting it into quarters for a competition.

I didn't win any prizes this month - they were given to some beautiful pro-Valentine's cupcakes. I did win the quiz though! Which gets me a free ticket to another competition, woop woop!

AND you'll never guess what theme was picked for next month...


I didn't even suggest it!

I usually just bake at Iron Cupcake but one of the ticket options is to be on the Bakers' Panel - so you get to bake and judge. There is normally no point me doing this but I will be able to eat everything next month so I'm going to do it - I'm SO excited!

I'm also very very nervous. The theme is vegan cupcakes so surely I should be able to win at least one of the categories, right? But what if I don't? What if the only vegan baker that goes to the competition can't win anything on vegan month?? PRESSURE!!!

But it's going to be fun.

I would welcome any suggestions from people who have tried my cakes, as to which they like the best, which they think have the best texture, flavour, etc. I have a few ideas which I think will fit the theme but it would be good to get some input too. Any other suggestions are also welcome, if you haven't tasted my cakes but you have an idea you think I should try!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Vegan Package Swap - January 2014

Hello and welcome to my first update of 2014!

I'm quite surprised I've made it all the way to February without blogging... the time is flying by already. It wasn't intentional but it's been nice to take a bit of a back seat, after all the build up to Christmas, the market stall and the competitions from last year.

That's not to say I did nothing cake related throughout January. I went to a social event hosted by Iron Cupcake, where we discussed what we do/don't like about the competition - as well as helping out with a little bit of market research for the business! I'm looking forward to getting my competition head back on for next week's event.

Plus, it was my birthday and I passed my driving test (yay!) so there was ample opportunity for cake! I just didn't seem to find any time to blog about it.

A nice end to January was receiving my first Vegan Package Swap box of the year. This was another box from Poland but with a lot of different items to the last one.

Look at all those tasty treats!!

The first amazing thing about this box is the smell. It smells just like Lebkuchen - a German biscuit that I used to enjoy in my pre-vegan days but sadly they all seem to have egg in them. *Mental note - must veganize a lebkuchen recipe next Christmas.* It smells GORGEOUS!

The second amazing thing is that yellow bag of sweets. They were fudgey and yummy and all went in a day - oops! The muesli bar and half ALL the chocolate bar have also disappeared pretty fast!

The rest of it is yet to be tested but it all sounds fantastic. My swap partner included a letter explaining what everything is, so we have:

Kisiel - Lemon and strawberry jelly (more like desserts). These will go with my new ice cream experiments I think!

Budyn - Vanilla and chocolate pudding. Mmmmm pudding...

Polewa Deserowa & Lukier Klasyczny - Different flavours of topping for cakes - this looks tasty!

Chocolate dessert topping

Muesli bar

A variety of spices etc:
Spice for hot wine/beer - I'll probably use mine for cider
Spice for apple pie
Spice for cheesecake
Spice for gingerbread or ginger cookies - I think this is what smells like lebkuchen!

A variety of cake decorating supplies:
Sugar pens (without the red one as it contained vegan pigment)
Chocolate strands
Chocolate letters

And last but not least - a "kitchen spice" candle.

So it's a lovely thoughtful box, very much geared up to baking. YAY! I shall post up what happens when I use it all!

The Vegan Package Swap is such a good idea if you want to try new things. I love the fact that you get to swap with someone in another country, as it lets you see what they find is suitable for them, and it might open your eyes to what is suitable for you in your own country. And I must admit, I'm a sucker for getting post. Especially when it's a surprise! So if you like getting post (and who doesn't?!) and you want to try some new things, head on over to All About Vegan Food and take a look at the swap. You join up per month so there's never any obligation to keep going with it if you want to take a month out or stop altogether. But it is such a fabulous idea!