I don't really bother with desserts. It's not that I don't have a sweet tooth - I do, as much as the next fat man. Rather, I have a technical problem with them. Specifically, the prohibition under the laws of kashrut to mix milk and meat.
Whilst we're banned from combining milk and meat in recipes - nyet to chicken kiev for example - we also have to wait an extended period of time between eating meat and eating dairy products. The gap I observe is 3 hours. Which is why I don't really bother with dessert. Dessert is all about milk, cream or butter, so really what is the point.
Some people get around this by going to town on the multitude of substitutions available but I consider them to be abominations. I also think that generally after a relatively heavy meal, some fresh fruit or sorbet is not the end of the world.
But I have hankered for some time after a decent dessert that I can pull out of the bag when necessary. Something beyond lokshen pudding (bread and butter pudding, without the bread or butter) or almond cake in orange syrup (a Sefardi/Spanish favourite). And I just may have found one in Tea with Bea: Recipes from Bea's of Bloomsbury.
As the name suggests, this is the first book from Bea Vo, owner of the eponymous Bea's of Bloomsbury. Over the years of blogging, tweeting and eating I've got to know Bea fairly well. I can tell you this about her: her cakes are outstanding, she's a voracious collector of cookbooks, she's a great source for sourcing hard to find produce and she knows her way around the restaurant industry. I implore you to try her cakes, if that fails buy her book so you can try them yourself, or if that fails, just follow her on Twitter. Unlike others, she doesn't spend her time self-promoting and is happy to engage in fairly broad ranging debate, when she's not baking.
So, I bought the book because I'm a fan and an acquaintance. I also was hoping to learn a bit more about baking from it because I haven't had much experience and I'm not very good at it.
Flicking through the book from back to front, as I always do with new cookbooks, my eye was caught by the Vegan Chocolate Cake. At first, I was a bit horrified. Bea is not a lady who panders to whims and I feared she had sold out to the whiny-brigade. It then dawned on me that I have a claim to be a member of that particular army and Bea might just be a saviour and perhaps I could overlook my substitution snobbishness and accept soy milk in a recipe.
The cake was a revelation. The sponge tasted of Oreos - a good thing - and the icing was simply very rich chocolate. It was delicious.
I should admit that whilst it tasted lovely, mine looked like a disaster, a reflection of a few issues I had baking it. For example, after making the chocolate mousse filling/topping, it looked like someone had staged a dirty protest in our kitchen. Further, being an impatient baker and egged on by a young child, I decided to layer on the chocolate icing before the cake had fully cooled. Therefore I cut the sponge before it was cool and put chocolate on top of warm sponge. Not very accomplished.
As per Bea's note at the start of the recipe, you don't need to bother telling people it's vegan when you give it to them, it might put them off. Then again, this does have its advantages, such as there's more for you to eat and in my experience the sponge benefits from a being a day or so old.
The recipe I give below is for my version of the chocolate cake. The main difference with the one that Bea has in the book is that I'm lazy. I didn't include the raspberries, strawberries or crystallised violets she suggests incorporating into the mousse. They do sound good though.
For the cake
- 23cm round cake pan, greased and baselined with parchment paper
- 275g plain flour
- 100g natural cocoa powder
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 450ml unsweetened soy milk
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 320g caster sugar
- 320ml sunflower oil
- 2 tbsp vanilla extract
For the mousse
- 800g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (or in my case smashed) into pea-sized pieces
- 600ml hot water
- lots of ice - I used about 400g
Preheat the oven to 160C, gas mark 4.
Put the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and sift twice through a sieve.
In a separate bowl, whisk the soya milk, vinegar, sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until well combined. I took that to mean a consistent colour throughout the mixture.
Spoon the lot into the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40-55 minutes. Bea suggests that you can test when it's done by inserting a wooden skewer into the centre of the cake. If cooked, the skewer should be crumb-free when you pull it out. She also says that when the cake is ready, if you press the middle of the cake it should spring back, rather than sink. If it does sink, or your skewer is crumb-laden, return the cake to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes and check again.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan, probably with the aid of a knife and cool on a rack for 1 hour.
While it's cooling you can make the mousse.
Put the chocolate in a large, wide heatproo bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Don't let the base of the bowl touch the water. Leave the chocolate until it is melted, then stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and glossy.
Remove from the heat.
Pour the hot water into the bowl of chocolate and mix until nice and smooth.
Sit the bowl in a dish filled with ice cubes. Using an electric whisk, quickly whisk the chocolate and water mixture thoroughly and quickly until a stiff mousse forms.
Don't forget my warning about the dirty protest. The kitchen re-decoration wasn't helped by my mousse not thickening. So, as per Bea's suggestion, I melted more chocolate and whisked that in quickly and suddenly it became a mousse.
She suggests that if it gets too thick, you can add a touch more warm water, or espresso, or whisky to thin it out.
Then cut the cake horizontally. She suggests 3 layers, but I didn't risk it and opted for two. Then again, mine was in a near state of collapse given my haste and refusal to let it fully cool.
You then spread the mousse between the layers and on top of the cake. If you're using the various berries and sweets, now's the time to add them.
Eat and enjoy.