GBBO vegan week: How to make showstopping dairy-free desserts
This year’s Great British Bake Off is set to feature a vegan-themed week for the first time, to the delight of those who both love cake and follow a plant-based diet. The new addition to the show, rumoured to have been suggested by presenter Noel Fielding, caters cannily to the demands of the increasing numbers of Brits to take up a vegan lifestyle.
The latest research, conducted this year by comparethemarket.com, suggests that 7pc of the population (that's more than 3.5 million UK residents) now identifies as vegan – compared with just 1pc identified by the The Vegan Society and Vegan Life magazine in 2016.
Parallel to that, according to the Federation of Bakers, the UK bakery market as a whole is now worth £3.6 billion – one of the largest markets in the food industry. Meanwhile, home baking is a more popular pastime than ever, in no small part thanks to the Great British Bake Off itself (The Grocer reported that the number of households buying home baking products during Mary Berry’s final series in 2016 jumped by more than 1.1 million.)
And so it comes as little surprise that we're now seeing a surge in vegan baking. Where once there was a lonesome, suspiciously oily, dense carrot cake in the corner, now a whole cornucopia of creative, colourful vegan bakes have arrived in the UK.
Where once there were eggs, now there is aquafaba (never heard of it? Aquafaba is the viscous, protein-packed liquid in which chickpeas have been soaked, which mimics the binding function of egg whites in baking and ‘foaming’ in meringues and royal icing), nut butters, seeds, plant-based milks and fruit and vegetable purées.
Mellissa Morgan, author of Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town and founder of the North American-style bakery Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, is delighted to hear about Bake Off’s vegan week, having called out for it on Twitter for the past few years.
“I started my business in 2010 when there were very few vegan bakers and bakeries in the UK, and it was very much about education at that point, talking to people about what veganism was, and explaining that vegan baking wasn’t odd or weird, just different. It’s open to everyone, regardless of what they can and can’t eat,” she says.
Now, craft vegan bakeries are proliferating fast (Vegan Antics, The Vegan Cakery and Naked Bakery, to name just three) although many are online-only, and larger chains are yet to be established.
“It will be interesting to see if this year’s bakers are open to trying new things, baking outside of their comfort zone and beyond their recipe books. My hope is that everyone will find it super simple and showcase how easy and accessible it is – but some bakers might be really out of their depth," Morgan anticipates. "I hope they surprise me, and that we see some amazing vegan showstoppers.”
According to Morgan, it’s young people who are leading the charge. “One of the biggest drivers is accessibility and the ability to share ideas and pictures on social media. People who are interested in veganism tend to be younger; recent generations really care about what they’re putting into their bodies, in cultivating a lifestyle that has less impact on the environment and that is cruelty-free.”
At a glance | Mellissa Morgan's advice for novice vegan bakers
- It’s not always a case of simply substituting a dairy ingredient with a vegan alternative – vegan ingredients can become a centrepiece in themselves.
- A lot of the time, you can simple remove an ingredient from a traditional cake recipe and adapt the technique.
- Never put a vegan cake batter in an electric mixer – it’s the worst thing you can do. The flour needs to be treated in more of a gingerly way, or you end up with a very dense cake. Work quickly, and get it into the oven fast.
- Eggs are a forgiving ingredient, because they help with the lift so much. As a result, small changes can have a huge effect when it comes to vegan baking. It needs to be much more exact, and tiny things like changing the brand of baking powder you use can make a huge difference. Scales are important. You need to aim for consistent results.
- If you’re using an alternative, don’t expect to get the same results. If a recipe calls for 200g of butter, if you use 200g of margarine you’ll get a totally different result, because margarine has a lot of water in it and melts quicker. For our Victoria sponge, we use a veg-based fat, Trex, to give it more volume.
- Start simple and use ingredients you’re comfortable with. Traybakes and even mug cakes are a great place to start.
- A lot of people are surprised to learn that vegan bakes have a shorter shelf life; bake fresh or freeze them.
Ethical concerns and lifestyle choices aside, vegan baking also presents an opportunity to experiment and innovate. For example, Morgan’s indulgent red velvet cupcakes consist of soya and cider vinegar. The chocolate sponge is light with an added tang. Deep red, with piles of billowy creamy icing, if you were none the wiser, you probably wouldn’t even realise they were vegan.
“Vegan baking gives you the opportunity to completely throw away the rule book. There’s no established way to make the perfect vegan Victoria sponge cake,” she says. “Vegans tend to have a more open eye for novel ingredients, like jack fruit: they love to learn about new foods.
“That said, I’ve had a number of disasters along the way; I have a tendency to try flavours which are just too far out. I’ll never live down the white pepper cupcake. Chilli and chocolate is great in cake; white pepper is not. That one has been filed to the back of the recipe box. Sometimes it's best to stick to simple ingredients, like strawberries.”
Cake specialist Marianne Stewart, tutor at Anna Cake Couture in Bristol and author of Nourish Cakes: Baking with a healthy twist (published by Quadrille, available to buy for £9.13 on Amazon), is another accomplished baker of cakes "for everyone" who is looking forward to the vegan week episode. Less "naughty" than the cakes from Ms. Cupcake, she aims to provide healthier options, whether vegan or non-vegan, wheat-free, gluten-free or dairy-free.
“I think it will really challenge the bakers in terms of recipe creation, and I hope they give themselves plenty of time for testing. Vegan baking can be a very different process from traditional methods, so I'm sure we'll also see a few entertaining mishaps, even from the most experienced of bakers.
“A few dustbin-bound results along the way are inevitable. Vegan baking often makes you feel like a mad scientist, as you end up using unexpected ingredients in crazy ways. You need to learn about new ingredients, trial unfamiliar ways of making things and develop a whole fresh skill set. It's definitely a cutting-edge area in the world of baking. Puréed fruit can help replace fat by boosting moisture in cakes; while grated vegetables can help to support structure as well as add texture.”
“It would be great to see the contestants use ingredients creatively – perhaps coming up with some unexpected flavour combinations. Ginger and swede loaf cakes; a lemon, lavender and parsnip layer cake; carrot and orange cookies - who knows what we'll see?”
In the meantime, if you’re seeking inspiration for your very own vegan 'bake off' at home, here are three of Stewart’s showstopping vegan cake recipes to get you started….
Spicy vegan chocolate cake
This chocolate cake is wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. “The ganache used to layer and mask it is almost like a chocolate truffle mix,” says Stewart. “The spices and the heat from the chilli give it an exotic South American twist; but you can easily adapt it to your own taste. One small slice is enough - this is pure indulgence.”
A 15cm or 6-inch cake, to serve 6-8
For the wet mix
4 tsp ground flaxseed
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
105g coconut oil, melted, plus extra for greasing
40g cashew nuts
Nut butter of choice
2 tsp chilli oil
420g dairy-free yoghurt
1 tsp cider vinegar
275g coconut sugar or dark muscovado (soft brown) sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
For the dry mix
130g teff flour
50g brown rice flour
25g cornflour (cornstarch) or tapioca flour
70g ground almonds
45g cocoa powder
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ tsp xanthan gum (optional)
3 tsp chai spice mix (see below)
For the chai spice mix
To make the chai spice, place all the ground spices in a small jam jar, seal with a lid and shake to mix well. Use as needed.
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground cloves
4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground ginger
For the coconut chocolate ganache
500g dark chocolate (ideally 55% cocoa solids), finely chopped
275g coconut cream
65g brown rice syrup
Large pinch of sea salt
35g coconut oil
Edible gold dust
1 red chilli
For the ganache (see overleaf), place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water and warm until melted. Set aside.
Place all the remaining ganache ingredients in a pan and bring gradually to the boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, remove from the heat and scrape in the melted chocolate. Stir very gently once to make sure the chocolate is covered, then let melt for 1 minute. Stir with a spatula, then use a hand-held blender to blend until smooth.
Transfer to a bowl, cover the top directly with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and leave at room temperature for several hours or overnight until a spreadable consistency.
For the cake, grease 4 x 15-cm (6-in) round sandwich tins with coconut oil and line with baking parchment.
Blend the ground flaxseed with 4 tablespoons of warm water and allow to thicken for 10 minutes. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, cover with ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of boiling water and the warm coconut oil and leave until melted. Stir the chocolate mixture together, then add the remaining wet mix ingredients, including the soaked flaxseed, and stir with a whisk to combine.
Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl, add the wet mix and blend together using a balloon whisk. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and level the tops. Leave for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan/160°C/350°F.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back when gently pressed, but still feels soft. Cool the cakes still in the tins until just warm, then demould onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely. Chill before assembling.
Trim the tops of the cakes so they are just level. Place the first sponge on a serving plate, spread a thin layer of ganache (4–5mm/¹⁄6–¹⁄8in) on top, letting it overlap the sides slightly, then place the next sponge on top and press down gently.
Spread another thin layer of ganache, repeat with the thir sponge, then top with the final layer of sponge, placing with the bottom crust side up. Spread the top and sides with more ganache. Chill for at least 30 minutes, then spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining ganache. Finish by removing any excess at the top with a palette knife, pulling the ganache towards the middle of the cake.
Chill until the ganache has set, then decorate with chocolate shavings, edible gold dust and a chilli.
Pumpkin, khorasan and chai bundt cakes
"These are super little autumnal cakes - they taste just like pumpkin pie, but in cake form," says Stewart. "They're wholesome too, using an ancient form of wheat, as well as flaxseeds and puréed pumpkin, but still rich and satisfying."
Chai bundt cakes
Marianne Stewart's vegan chai bundt cakes CREDIT: CATHERINE FRAWLEY, QUADRILLE
12 mini bundt cakes
About ¼ small pumpkin
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
185g coconut sugar or dark muscovado (soft brown) sugar
65g coconut oil, melted, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp cider vinegar
60g orange juice
Pinch of sea salt
170g khorasan (Kamut®) flour
40g ground hazelnuts, either ready-ground or toasted and ground in a blender
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp baking powder
2½ tsp chai spice mix (see recipe for spicy vegan chocolate cake above)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F. Wrap the pumpkin in foil and roast for 40–45 minutes until tender.
Cool in the foil, then scrape the flesh from the skin and purée in a blender until smooth. Weigh out 180g
(6½oz) into a bowl.
Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F. Grease 2 x 6-hole silicone bundt moulds with a little coconut oil and place on a baking sheet.
Place the flaxseed in another bowl and add 3 tablespoons of warm water. Mix well and leave for 10 minutes to thicken.
Add the flaxseed to the pumpkin purée along with the coconut sugar, coconut oil, vinegar, orange juice and salt and mix well with a balloon whisk.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, ground hazelnuts, raising agents and spice mix. Add this to the wet ingredients and fold through gently with the whisk until just blended.
Pour or pipe the mixture into the moulds until it reaches just below the top and bake for 30 minutes, or until risen and golden in colour. Let the cakes rest in the moulds for 5 minutes, then turn upside down to demould.
Cool on a wire rack until completely cold. These will keep well in an airtight container for 2–3 days.
Lemon meringue pies
"When my sister requested a gluten-free, dairy-free lemon meringue tart that tasted really good, I knew it wouldn’t be the quickest recipe-testing task," laughs Stewart. "I managed to problem-solve a step further, and make it both wheat-free vegan-friendly too. They bake easiest in smaller tart tins, and although there are quite a few steps to this recipe, both the pastry making and baking can be done in advance." If you just want to make a lemon tart, omit the meringue stage and serve with a little crème fraîche instead.
Vegan lemon meringue pie
Marianne Stewart's lemon meringue pie CREDIT: CATHERINE FRAWLEY, QUADRILLE
5 small pies (5 x 10-cm/4-in individual tart tins)
For the pastry
Use to line 5 x 10-cm (4-in) individual tart tins.
2 tsp gram (chickpea) flour)
2 tsp ground flaxseed
70g coconut cream
45g coconut oil, melted
1 tsp cider vinegar
100g oats (gluten-free if needed)
40g rice flour
60g gorund almonds
60g rapadura or light, soft brown sugar
Large pinch of salt
1.4 tsp xantham gum (optional)
For the filling
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
30g cornflour (cornstarch)
Large pinch of sea salt
150g golden caster (granulated) sugar or demerara (raw brown) sugar
150g orange juice
2½ tsp agar agar
15g coconut oil
180g firm silken tofu
½ tsp ground turmeric (optional)
For the vegan meringue
800g canned chickpeas in water, not brine
½ tsp lemon juice
190g golden caster (granulated) sugar or demerara (raw brown) sugar, ground
¼ tsp xanthan gum (optional)
For the candied lemon strips
For the candied lemon strips
2 unwaxed lemons
100 g golden caster (granulated sugar)
Use a julienne peeler to peel of long thin strips from the zest of lemons. Place in a small pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain and repeat this blanching process twice more, straining each time. Place the orange or lemon strips in the pan with the sugar and 100g water and bring gently to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and let the strips steep in the warm syrup until cold. Chill the strips in the syrup in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
For the pastry, mix together the gram flour, flaxseed, coconut cream, coconut oil and vinegar with a small whisk until well blended. Chill for 30 minutes, or until cool and firmed.
Process the oats in a blender until fine. Add the rice flour, ground almonds, rapadura, salt and xanthan gum, if using, processing again to mix.
Pour the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the chilled wet ingredients and blend together using a spatula or your fingertips. Knead gently to form a smooth, soft dough. Flatten, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to three sdays.
For individual tarts and pies, divide the dough into equal pieces before rolling out between 2 sheets of baking parchment until 3mm thick. For one large tart or pie, roll all the dough out between 2 sheets of baking parchment to 4mm thick.
Use to line the tart tins by lifting off the top piece of baking parchment, flipping the pastry over and gently resting on top of the tin. Gently knock off the excess pastry, then press the pastry into the bottom and sides. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F and put a baking sheet in the oven to heat.
Line the base of the pastry cases with baking parchment, then fill with rice or lentils. Bake on the tray for 20 minutes, or until the edges of the pastry are just beginning to brown.
Remove the parchment and rice and cook the pastry cases for a further 3–4 minutes, or until the bases look dry (this is ‘blind baking’).
Cool in the tins on a wire rack. Reduce the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C/340°F.
For the filling, mix 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice with the cornflour (cornstarch) in a bowl to form a paste, and set aside.
Add the remaining lemon juice and all the zest, along with the salt, sugar, orange juice and agar agar to a pan and bring gently to the boil, stirring. Once the mixture starts to boil, add the cornflour paste and stir thoroughly. Simmer, stirring for 5 minutes, or until thickened.
Add the coconut oil and stir through. Pulse the tofu in a food processor until smooth. Add the cooked lemon mixture and turmeric, if using, and pulse again to mix well. Divide this mixture between the pastry cases, filling them as close to the top as possible.
Bake the tarts for 15 minutes, or until just starting to puff up. They should still have a little wobble, but will firm up when cooled. Cool on a wire rack, then remove from the tins before completely cold. Chill for a few hours before topping with the baked meringues.
For the meringue, strain the liquid from the chickpeas into a pan. Bring to a simmer over a medium-low heat, and cook until the liquid has reduced to 135g (4¾fl oz/½ cup), roughly by half. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan 100°C/250°F. Using a marker pen, trace circles around a tart tin on a sheet of baking parchment, to make 5 guide shapes for your meringues. Flip the paper over and place on a baking sheet.
Whisk the cooled chickpea liquid for 5–10 minutes until it becomes light and fluffy and looks like whisked egg whites.This will take much longer than with normal egg whites, so be patient.
Once the chickpea liquid holds soft peaks, add the lemon juice and sprinkle over one-quarter of the sugar. Whisk until this dissolves into the mixture, about 1 minute, then add the next quarter.
Whisk again and add the remaining sugar in the same way, whisking well in between. Whisk until the meringue feels smooth to the touch, with no grains of sugar. Add the xanthan gum, if using, whisking in well.
Either pipe or spoon the meringue onto the circles on the baking parchment, keeping inside the circle; they should be slightly smaller so that they sit neatly on top of the tarts. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 100°C/fan 80°C/210°F and cook for another hour, or until the outside is crisp and holds its shape well and the inside is still soft.
Let the meringues cool, then lift them gently off the paper and place on top of the filled lemon tarts. This is best done no more than a few hours before serving, so the meringue does not become soggy.