PopCo's Let Them Eat Cake cake

Just before Christmas, Kylie sent me a book she thought I’d like, PopCo, by Scarlett Thomas. I finished reading it last night and was gratified to find a vegan cake recipe at the end, opposite a list of the first 1,000 prime numbers – a juxtaposition that as a vegan and a former high school Mathlete, I found delightful. Actually, the book sort of advocates veganism, and yes, the characters did eat the cake in the book. Naturally, today I had to bake the cake. Perhaps I’ll start a regular feature in which I cook from fictional books.

The book is British, so I’ll give you the original recipe, direct from the book, first, and then I’ll “translate” it for my American readers and add my commentary…basically I just measured everything for you after weighing it, although I will state that I much prefer baking by weight and I encourage you to buy a good scale if you don’t have one.

Let Them Eat Cake cake

Ingredients

2 oz ground almonds
6 oz self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 oz light muscovado sugar
150 ml corn oil
200-250 ml soya milk
zest of two unwaxed lemons
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp orange flower water
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, or less if it’s a fan oven.

Grease a cake tin. A deep six-inch tin is good but any will do.

Sift the flour and the baking powder into a bowl and then add the sugar. Mix in the ground almonds and the lemon zest. Add the oil and the milk. Use slightly less liquid to make the end result for of a cake and less of a pudding. You don’t have to be 100per cent precise with the liquids in this cake.

Now add the lemon juice and mix in thoroughly. Add the flower essence and the vanilla extract and mix again. The result should look like a thick batter.

Pour into the cake tin and bake for about forty minutes. The outside should be brown and the inside very soft. Turn out, cool, and decorate with fresh mint leaves and strawberries.

Alright, now here is the recipe from my American kitchen:

It’s hard to find self-raising flour in America, so I’ve used all purpose and added additional baking powder and salt. Wegmans had muscovado sugar but it felt rock hard and not particularly fresh, and I figured it may not be super easy for Americans to find anyway, so you can substitute light brown sugar or turbinado sugar. The orange blossom water may be difficult to find. I found it in a Mediterranean grocery. If you simply can’t find it, you can try a few drops of orange extract, but be aware the orange blossom water has a floral component you will be missing. It is, however, a fairly subtle flavoring.

2 oz, or scant 1/2 cup almonds, ground (measure before grinding)
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
heaping 1 Tbsp baking powder
heaping 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (unpacked) light brown, light muscovado, or turbinado sugar
2/3 cup corn oil
1 cup soy or other non-dairy milk (I used hemp)
zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp orange flower water (also known as orange blossom water; can be found in Mediterranean and other specialty grocery stores)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grind the almonds, pulsing to ensure they don’t turn to a paste.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. If you don’t have a sifter, you can just use a strainer, as I’ve done here.

Add the sugar and almond meal to the bowl.

Zest the lemons; you can do this right into the mixing bowl.

Mix the dry ingredients together well.

Juice the lemons and set aside.

Measure the oil – I barely had the 150 ml I needed, but here it is in both American and metric sizes:

Add it to the bowl, then measure the non-diary milk.

Add the milk to the bowl and mix well. Then add the orange blossom water and vanilla extract and mix well again.

Grease a cake pan. I’ve used an 8″ square baking dish. I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen a 6″ cake pan.

Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes.

Let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then place an upside down cooling rack over it …

… and invert. Let cool.

I didn’t have any fresh mint or strawberries, so I just topped with vegan whipped cream. Strawberries and mint would have been delightful though. Interestingly, Mark thought the cake smelled of strawberries, but in fact it tasted quite lemony, as you could probably have guessed from the ingredients list. It was very moist; I used the lower amount of liquid recommended and can’t imagine having used any more. I had it with tea, which was perfect, especially since I think a cup of tea was drunk on at least every other page of PopCo.

PopCo, with its emphasis on math (mostly as it relates to cryptology) proved to be an unintentionally interesting segue to my next book, which I’d been on the wait list for at the library and which finally arrived: The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, what with Dirac being a very mathematically inclined physicist. (Well, all physicists are probably mathematically inclined, but until he became enamored with relativity, math was Dirac’s direct calling.) This is a strange book for me to be reading because I very rarely read biographies. I find I simply don’t care enough about anyone to read an entire book about them. I largely prefer to read fiction. But from the reviews I’d read of this book, it’s pretty heavy on the physics – it was written by a physicist – which I like. And it’s been a strange reading year so far: exactly half of the 8 books I’ve completed have been non-fiction. Compare that to the 93.6% fiction (of 109 books) I read in 2009. I don’t know how I’m tolerating all these facts!

Speaking of the library, I also checked out Vegan Soul Kitchen. Anyone have any favorite recipes from that book I should definitely try?

And now, Brachtune takes a bath…


(She’d just finished yawning.)

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My Mother's Cobbler

I mentioned to my mom the other week that I had made French vanilla ice cream using the recipe from the ice cream e-book from Hannah of BitterSweet, and she wondered if I wouldn’t like to make the cobbler recipe she’s been playing with this summer to accompany the ice cream. I don’t make many desserts, as you may have noticed, but cobbler sounded right up my alley: easy, fast, fool-proof, fruit-filled (and therefore healthy, right?), and in this case, served in cute little individual portions. I’ve made the peach cobbler version here, but suggestions for other flavors, per my mom, follow.

Renae’s Mom’s Peach Cobbler

4 cups peaches, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp non-dairy milk
4 Tbsp vegan margarine, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the peaches and place in a bowl. I assumed 4 peaches would equal 4 cups and was right on the money.

Stir together the cinnamon with 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl.

Toss the cinnamon sugar with the peaches.

Divide the peaches amongst four 10-ounce oven-safe custard cups.

Whisk or stir together the flour, baking powder, and remaining sugar.

Add the margarine and non-dairy milk and stir until just mixed.

Spoon the batter evenly over the peaches.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown (I baked for 25 minutes).

Enjoy with vanilla ice cream or vegan whipped cream. Or just eat it plain like we did since I haven’t had a chance to make ice cream this week.

Other flavors, per Mum:

Blackberry: As above, but eliminate the cinnamon. Mom used a pint of blackberries and found that it made 6 10-ounce cobblers, so if you make it with blackberries, either eat 1/3 of the pint first, or make 1 1/2 times the batter to cover 6 custard cups.

Apple: As above, but add 2 teaspoons lemon juice and replace the 1/4 cup sugar with 6 tablespoons brown sugar.

This was quite tasty and so easy. I whipped them up as a late evening treat and was so fast and stealthy about it that when I presented Mark with his cobbler, he was shocked: he had no idea I’d been baking anything. (Actually, he’s always shocked when I make a dessert. I’m just more a dinner person.) I think I need to make ice cream to go with the remaining two cobblers though!

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Guest Post: Smucky Bakes!!

Note from Renae: one of my best friends in the world, whom I recently visited in Sydney, surprised me tonight by sending me a guest post! This is shocking because he’s a meatatarian…and didn’t even own a decent kitchen knife when I showed up at his doorstep. But I think you’ll agree after reading his post that he’s making huge, delicious strides in the way of vegan eating and cooking, and in fact, I’m hosting a small dinner party this weekend and now I’m planning to make Smucky’s banana bread for dessert! And with that, allow me to introduce Smucky!

Hi, everyone, welcome to my guest post! My name is Mark, but Renae Myers usually refers to me as Smucky, or Smuckalert. This is me pictured below, with my sous chef Max Powers below.

It has long been a dream of mine to make an ieatfood guest post, however there has always been two primary complications keeping me from achieving my lofty aspirations:

1. I am not vegan – I eat meat almost exclusively, and
2. I can’t cook

But, I am not deterred easily! Thanks to some mentoring from another vegan friend of mine, I have been able to create a dish that is not only 100% vegan, but also what I like to call, ‘the business’. I am referring of course, to banana cake! Note that this is my first time cooking, so the fact that this worked is somewhat remarkable. OK, here we go…

First of all, the ingredients:

2 ripe bananas
2 cups flour
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup soy milk
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 tsp cinnamon
Spray canola oil
4 cups love

The products pictured are all available locally here in Australia. Note that you guys call bi-carb soda baking soda apparently. Also, my vegan friend (who is also American) told me that vanilla paste is unavailable there, so instead you need to use vanilla essence or something like that. I know the bananas look like they’re past their prime, but this is how they’re supposed to be for banana bread.

You will need several kitchen implements also. Although I owned a few of the things I needed, I didn’t know what they were for or what they did (mum had bought them for me at one stage). So, when my vegan friend visited she made me get all the other stuff I needed. Basically, buy this stuff:

The following instructions can be used for converting all of the above seemingly unspectacular products into a little slice of heaven:

1. Preheat the oven to 177C (350F)
2. Blend the bananas like so

3. Combine the 1/4 cup soy milk with 1 tsp of vinegar into a small bowl.

Note that I used “light” soymilk – a health-conscious move that is nullified by the unruly amounts of sugar that go into this.

4. Pour the 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp bi-carb soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp cinnamon into the mixing bowl. It will looks like this:

5. Mix it all together with a spatula so that it looks like this:

6. Add the blended bananas, 1/2 cup margarine, 1/2 cup cream cheese, soy milk mixture, and 1 tsp of vanilla paste. You should now have something like this:

7. Mix the shit out of it. (Make sure u set the mixer on low and put the beaters in first, otherwise everything flies out all over the kitchen in a comedic manner.) You should now be left with this:

I don’t think you’re meant to eat the mixture but I totally did, and I advise it:

8. Spray your bread pan with canola oil for some reason to do with sticking stuff, and then put the mixture into it:

9. Put it in the oven and leave it on for 50 mins or so. BAM, done. My mentor advised me that the best way to test if it’s ready is to stick a skewer in it, and if nothing sticks to the skewer, it’s done. Otherwise, the mixture inside hasn’t baked fully, so you need to wait longer. It should look like this at the end:

ADDITIONAL ICING BIT

And now for the icing on the cake, you can add some icing on to the cake. This is really easy – you can do it while the banana bread is cooking. Here are the ingredients:

1. 2 cups icing sugar
2. 1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
3. 1 tsp vanilla paste

Icing sugar is called powdered sugar over there I think. Usually the packaging will give some sort of indication of awesomeness. To make the icing:

1. Clean all your kitchen implements
2. Put all of the above ingredients into the mixing bowl. It should look like this:

3. Mix on low again, you will be able to tell when it has become money, because it will look like this:

4. When your banana bread has cooled, apply icing:

5. Serve

My presentation skills are a little messy, but that banana bread tastes like God’s love. Gordon Ramsay even asked me how I got it so tasty*

* Based on events that never actually happened.

–It’s me, Renae, again. Isn’t Smucky awesome? I’m so proud that he actually baked something – and made it vegan! Many thanks to the other vegan in his life. He’s visiting us next month and I can’t wait to see him! Maybe I’ll teach him how to cook something too – his other vegan friend is outdoing me! In the meantime, here’s a picture of us in downtown Sydney:

And here’s ol Smuckalert in his natural habitat:

You can tell from the Opera House in the background!

I’m super excited Smucky hosted another food-loving friend – who amazingly happens to be vegan as well – shortly after I left in March, because now he has all these fancy new kitchen appliances I can play with the next time I’m there. Hell, his oven didn’t even work when I was there! And I had to buy him a knife!

Anyway, try Smucky’s banana bread: if it’s vegan and Smucks will eat it, it MUST be good!

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