Which vegetables work best in sweet bakes?
“I don’t know why we stopped at carrots,” says baker Lily Jones, founder of Lily Vanilli in east London. “Vegetables add a wonderful and unexpected depth of flavour, are a great source of moisture and yield a lovely texture.” Plus, it’s never a bad thing to up your veg quota.
Tamal Ray’s courgette and carrot cake is a case in point. Courgettes mean you don’t have to rely on the likes of oil and dairy for a moist end result, explains pastry chef Nicola Lamb, founder of pop-up bakery Lark! “As the courgette bakes, it releases a lot of water, so, as a conduit to add hydration, it makes total sense.” Just be sure to squeeze out any excess liquid from those courgettes, says Jones, who adds carrots and hazelnuts to her own courgette cake. “Water content varies, and any excess will leave you with a soggy end result.”
Vegetables also bring an “unusual complexity to sweetness”, says Thalia Ho, author of Wild Sweetness. “Carrots, when met with brown sugar, develop an even sweeter, caramelised taste.” While carrots may be the obvious vegetable choice, they are the classic choice for a reason, sitting happily in cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and pancakes. “One of my first recipes was a spin on carrot cake using beetroot, parsnips, carrot and sweet potato,” Jones says. “I still love making it today.” Or turn them into decorations: “Candied carrots look impressive, are easy to make and a great way to use them up,” Lamb says. Simply peel, simmer in sugar syrup and leave to dry.
Sweetcorn is another good shout (when the time comes). “It goes really well with raspberries,” says Lamb, who mixes a handful of kernels (“chop a few up, leaving some chunky bits”) into scone batters, crumble cakes, muffins and even cookies. “The earthiness of the corn pairs really well with sweet berries.” The batter isn’t much of a looker, she admits, but you’ll end up with a nice texture and something that’s “so yum”.
Ho favours root veg – beetroot, parsnip, sweet potato, ginger – for their earthiness, as well as the ease with which they can be incorporated into bakes. A handful of grated beetroot in a chocolate cake batter, say, ginger shavings in cookie dough and, come winter, parsnip cake topped with tahini frosting. “Pureed pumpkin, sweet potato and starchy things work really well in anything creamy such as cheesecakes,” Lamb says.
Food writer Mark Diacono’s spiced fudgy squash cake in his book A Year at Otter Farm is one good example: he combines boiled and mashed squash with sugar and honey, then stirs through eggs, ground almonds, cinnamon and ginger, spoons the lot into an oven dish, tops with a blitzed almond crumble, and bakes. All-round baking guru Dan Lepard, meanwhile, turns to baked sweet potato in brownies, to keep “that trademark texture and flavour, but at the same time making it less fattening”.
Then, of course, there’s rhubarb: “Lately, I’ve been toying with a tart of rhubarb, rosemary, honey and sharp citrus zest,” Ho says. “The discoveries are endless.” Emma, you could do a lot worse than a rhubarb pav right now.