Thursday, 18 August 2011

Vegetable Cupcakes; a mis-cabbage of justice?

Last week I learned of a Ms Harry Eastwood; a healthy living advocate and cake fanatic, committed to a new-fangled merriment between baking and vegetables. Needless to say I was intrigued, if not somewhat sceptical.

With no mention of utterly butterly, xylitol or the dreaded one cal cooking sprays, ‘Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache’ (Eastwood’s latest cookery book) proposes imaginative cooking methods and substitutions, in order to produce great-tasting and healthier cakes with completely natural ingredients.

How is this possible you may ask? Well simple; by ‘borrowing’ structures from vegetables of course.
Nope. Not a typo… that’s really how she does it. By categorising vegetables in terms of textures, flavour and water content, Eastwood has cleverly (and rather scientifically) made her replacements by removing offending staples, and matching recipes to veggies, deemed to offer similar qualities.

So, to the all important question… does it work?
Can courgettes and aubergines really form part of a baker’s repertoire, or has Eastwood lost the (vegetable) plot?

As the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding, and since this weekend my schedule is pathetically vacant, I thought I’d road test some of Harry’s veggie delights.

With cake decorating kit at the ready, (yes even skinny girls bake) and with butters and self raising flours firmly out of view, The Scoffing Cow turned her manicured hoofs to Cupcakes.

Scoffettes, for your viewing pleasure, I proudly present to you (my attempt at recreating) four alternative cupcakes recipes, courtesy of ‘Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache.’

Cupcake Chaos

In all honesty, once you’ve made one batch of cupcakes from ‘Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache,’ you’ve made them all.
That’s no reflection on the variants in flavour you understand, but the fact that they all share the same core components…

100 grams or so of vegetable, 50 grams-ish of sugar, the same again of ground almonds, a couple of spoons of rice flour and a medium egg.

Once you have these staples in your cupboard, you need only a few essences, spices, or zests, and the world is your oyster… or your cupcake anyway.

The four recipes I had selected to recreate on this (usually peaceful) Sunday afternoon, were no exception to this equation, and utilised either courgette or butternut squash as their key vegetable ‘structure.’

Since I anticipated that producing four batches of cupcakes in one afternoon was probably a tad ambitious, this was out of sheer damage limitation and convenience, rather than by luck or chance.

Other than that, the chosen four all had a certain sex appeal to my taste buds; Ginger Millies, (I love Ginger) Pistachio Pops, (I love Pistachio) Chocolate Full Stops (who doesn’t love chocolate) and White Rabbits (hmmm, I can’t answer that.)

He who fails to plan, plans to fail

It’s true that I usually get into a bit of a mess when I bake; I tweak ingredients, miss steps, and leave floury chaos wherever I go. But since this variety of experimentation was uncharted territory for me, (and any other sane individual) I decided to make extra effort to abide stringently to Harry’s recipes, as well as actually planning ahead.

Sitting down with my copy of ‘Red Velvet’ and a big steaming cuppa, I flicked through the quaintly illustrated book, establishing measurements, cooking times and most importantly, direction.
After learning of the apparent simplicity of each recipe (a skill which required overlooking the author’s excessive use of sickeningly sweet similes and kitsch metaphors) and feeling somewhat atypical after perusing such delicately worded directions, I was inspired to take the unusual step of weighing out each ingredient in advance.
Not wanting to jeopardise its freshness, or damage my reputation as the world’s messiest cook, I decided to leave the vegetable preparation until later on; (perhaps the Scoffing Pig would have been a more accurate pseudonym?)

Surrounded by little ramekins of sugars and almonds, Pyrex dishes and cracked eggs, I felt refreshingly equipped; if not a little like Delia Smith from one of her early cookery shows.
After procrastinating slightly, re-enacting clich├ęd and inaccurate ‘Delia-isms’ to an uninterested Mr Cow, I was ready to begin.

Ready, steady, bake…

In order to save my few followers from the monotony of reading four extremely similar accounts of cupcake making, I shall for once skip to the chase; they were all delightfully easy.

As promised, each stage of the preparation was uncomplicated; no sieving, egg separating, folding or heavy beating required - the most taxing of all steps was actually in the vegetable preparation itself.
Although both Pistachio Pops and White Rabbits called for grated courgette (which quite frankly almost dissolves against a grater like butter on hot toast) both the Ginger and Chocolate creations called for a little more muscle.

As anyone who is familiar with the bulbous butternut will tell you, the pesky things are enough of a chore to chop, let alone grate – hence for those looking to try their hands at the latter two recipes, I’d recommend you skip the gym the day before, else ensure you’ve had a good dose of spinach for breakfast.

As my ingredients were combined, and added vegetables cleverly disguised by means of food paste (okay, I used colouring… who has food paste???) I was contented if not a little surprised to see a convincing cake mixture forming before my eyes.
There was no resistance from the squash, no quarrels from the courgette; the sugars and egg glistened appealingly, and my mouth was almost at watering point.

Resisting the urge to insert an oversized ‘tasting spoon’ into the glossy batter, once the ingredients were folded, it was simply a case of portion control and presentation.

Easy right?

Well sure, but be warned; carefully dolloping perfectly measured and accounted for mixture into 24 itty-bitty miniature cupcake cases is no mean feat; times that by four, and you’ll quickly lose the will to live.
Nonetheless, I’m not sure Harry envisaged that her recipes were to be recreated in unison, and certainly not undertaken by those with an attention span comparable to that of a 3 year old child, high on blue Smarties.

In light of my self inflicted torture, I think I’ll forgive the tediousness of this task; and although I did cut a considerable corner with the last batch by making 6 supersized Ginger Millies as opposed to 24, got through the fiddlyness relatively unscathed.

Once in the oven, each tray was blasted for about 15 minutes whilst I prepared the icing.
Although not an overly experienced baker, even I found this task a doddle; icing sugar, extract, colouring and water – perhaps not the most promising of ingredients for a revolutionary topping, but hey, the woman designed cakes from vegetables; surely we can forgive her traditionalism on the icing front.

Once the cakes had cooked, each tray was lifted and left to rest.
Though it makes for lacklustre reading, all four batches of vegetable delights cooked well, with no major catastrophes.
If I’m being picky, my chocolate creations looked a little misshapen, whereas the Pistachio Pops seemed a spot sunk in the centre. In hindsight however, I’d be tempted to attribute this to a lack of finesse in the divvying up stage in of the former, and a stingy dose of baking powder in the latter.

Always the critic.

The eye eats first…

When it comes to cakes, Eastwood is all about the aesthetics; and every recipe had distinct (yet incredibly nauseating) instruction on exactly how to make each nibble look ‘darling.’

When I was a young calf, I loved cake decorating. As a kid, there were no inhibitions, no strive for perfectionism, and most importantly, no concept of the mess creative license generates.
Nowadays however, it’s just not as fun; and although I got to play with food colourings, devour copious amounts of excess icing, and position my atrociously expensive cake decorations like works of modern art – boy… was it hard work.

After I’d finished my masterpieces, and snapped them for your viewing pleasure (and by that I mean for you to poke fun at) I stood back from the bomb site from which they had risen, wondering how such delicate little morsels had survived Hiroshima, and how I had managed to create such chaos despite extraordinary preparation.

Why doesn’t Nigella ever get this dirty? …

(I mean in the kitchen of course… little minx.)

The proof is in the pudding ridiculously small cupcakes…

Two hours of extreme baking later, it was taste testing time, and Mr. Cow was summoned to my domain (aka the kitchen) to cast his vote.

‘Mmmmm,’ he enthused as he munched a supersized Millie; ‘They’re really nice.’

Although a pretty un-profound review, I (unusually) mirrored my partner’s sentiments precisely. Each cake was indeed palatable, and tasted exactly how you would expect a homemade cupcake to taste.
Although after hours of labour I’d ordinarily be hankering for a much more rousing result and reaction, I had to put this accomplishment into context – these cakes contained no butter, hardly any flour, a fraction of the sugar, and tasted… well… like cake.

When it comes to food, I’m a typical girlie girl. Chocolate, cream, pastries and cakes;
I sometimes wonder whether there is anything in life more sensuous (sorry Mr Cow) or more perfect.
For that reason, my infatuation has led me to the belief that when it comes to cake, there just isn’t room for any genuinely low fat alternatives.

It’s not that I haven’t tried – It’s not that I’m adverse to the odd skinny muffin or Splenda type sugar substitute; it’s just that they so very rarely resemble the products which they allude to be.
As a result, consumers are frequently left disappointed, still craving their gooey, sweet fix, and struggling to suppress their urge to splurge.

So how do Ms Eastwood’s offerings differ from those low fat cake impostors which have led to my firm belief?

Well, admirably actually.

Okay. So these won’t be the best cupcakes you have ever tasted, but eating one of these beauties is certainly no chore, and at 50 calories a piece, are definitely cost effective on the health front.

Furthermore, they live up to their name, and should work to satisfy all but the most extreme of cravings. After all, these cupcakes taste like cake; not like splenda, not like margarine, and most importantly, not like a vegetable.

“So can you taste the courgette in that one?” I asked Mr Cow as he devoured his second Pistachio Pop.


…. Exactly.


Anonymous said...

Great blog learnt a lot, will defo be trying on my customers to see if they like them, Many thanks
Domestic Goddess

The Scoffing Cow said...

Thanks Sarah. Have certainly proved to be popular in the SC household. Let me know how it goes!