Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

It’s getting cold here, and there’s a lot on my mind. Had a rather therapeutic and somewhat emotional talk with a stranger this morning. It’s hard to admit that one needs therapy, let alone talk to others about it. Nevertheless, it was oddly, strangely therapeutic. I’m even thinking of starting some sort of online blog to chart progress. It’s mostly to do with a great deal of self-doubt and esteem issues, possibly stemming from some stuff that happened in the past. I don’t know who reads my blog, as old as it is now, but it does help to type things out, because although the daily journal does help a great deal too, sometimes my brain runs too fast and it’s just a tad more gratifying to see everything immediately leap from brain to post. It’s also juicier stuff that I can instantly plop onto here, too, for my (hopefully more regular) blogposts. And if it helps just one person today, then that will be all the more rewarding.

Before me: French Toast. So let me describe it to you. The crusty, almost too-hard outside is deceiving, there is a world of golden softness within. The right degree of egged saturation, not too soggy, although that would still be better than stiff or overdone. A pile of whipped cream and melted berries. Some fresh, some frozen, all warmed up to let a bounty of juices seep out. French toast is like a person. You don’t know what he/she is really like until they open up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice, big breakfast like this. Some days I forget to have proper meals and it all ends up being a big mess of sugary snacks all the way through the day, which I know sounds like child’s play but sadly it’s true, at the grand age of 22 (coming on to 23). You’d think I’d have at least a healthy side to me… Not to say it’s non-existent, but it could definitely be 3.5x better. It’s a bit disappointing; sometimes I imagine my younger self thinking about the woman I would be now in 2019, and although I’m not too far off, I do wish some bad habits which I currently harbour were not so etched into my sense of self that the sense of self is, ultimately, warped, half-false.

In times like these, when I feel out of control, I always have to remember to come back to my element. That meditation on the sweet, can help one see the sweet things in life. But there should be a careful line drawn between allowance (of the sweet stuff) and dependence (on the sweet stuff). I can’t classify my love for sugar as a sickness, but it would do me good to be mindful, and not always have the French toast at every café I visit (ok who am I kidding). It is only a distraction if you let it be that way. Some fleeting thoughts that I’m not sure may resonate with any of you:

  • Fresher’s week here at Oxford a couple of weeks ago was overwhelming but I met a good number of incredibly interesting individuals. It does seem therapeutic to engage in conversations with these people, it’s a nice peek into the grander problems of the world, and I’m whisked away into the real world, that of heavy issues that I can be part of a solution to, away from the trivialities of my own head. I do tend to get stuck in my head a lot, forget about the big picture. Why I’m here, why I love it here, why I love doing what I do.
  • I met people who I really got on with, but many are here just for a year. I’m trying to figure out who I can truly connect with over my 3 years doing a PhD here.
  • Talking about PhD, I still don’t quite know what I’ve gotten myself into, ha.
  • Looking at babies makes me happy. Oh, the innocence and bluntness.
  • I hate the way nails split or crack at the most undesirable places.

Today isn’t a recipe for French toast, but that for an olive oil chocolate cake. Yes, olive oil and chocolate. I had this wonderful olive oil cake with my friend Zoe back when I was still living in London, at the famous Towpath café overlooking the lanky swishing river. I wanted to recreate such a cake, airy and flavourful without feeling like you’re just glugging down tablespoons of pure olive oil. More flavour, less grease, I guess you could say. I had a half mind to leave out the chocolate entirely, but 1. Everyone loves a chocolate surprise and 2. The olive oil taste here is pretty strong so the chocolate addition is actually complementary, if not necessary. It’s dense and sticky, so if you prefer a more cake-like cake then add slightly more flour and reduce the volume of olive oil.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

An easy process of mixing, in a single bowl. Almost an hour in the oven yes, but it’s worth it, especially when paired with something dairy or dairy-like, such as vanilla ice cream or coconut yoghurt. Eat this warm while looking outside, crisp air heralding the new season. My favourite season.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Olive oil chocolate cake (makes one 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

240ml (1 cup) olive oil)

2 tsp salt

240g (1.75 cups) sugar

250g flour

½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda

3 eggs

120ml milk (of your choice, such as oat, almond etc)

80ml yoghurt

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a 8 or 9-inch cake tin. In a bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients except the flour, chocolate, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the remaining ingredients and fold in until you get a rather wet batter. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes in the preheated oven. After baking, leave to rest for 10 minutes before cutting in and serving with yoghurt or ice cream.

Matcha Scones

4368180 Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

First, yet late, post of the new year. Ready to make some changes and start anew despite a slightly rough start, such as being more regular on this platform…! I realised that, despite how much I love Instagram and how such a platform exposed me to like-minded, passionate individuals, it’s this more personal, open space that, on occasion, does feel more like a space that induces more openness and lengthy talks about nothing and everything. How a simple matcha scone can offer so much pleasure, how a bleak future and more job losses thanks to AI actually may create more jobs, how my screen now has a small but rather obvious crack, how Thursdays may be better for starting new habits than Mondays… you know, that sort of thing. Everything and nothing. Instagram isn’t made for excessively long captions, and the algorithm has blinded me to some of my own dear friends’ posts. That’s annoying. So here’s to not panicking over these silly minutiae of daily life, and start embracing what truly makes us happy, even if it seems as if no one is looking or listening. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but isn’t that the point? Here, I don’t have to care.

 

Matcha scone, oh matcha scone. I haven’t made something so simple and delicious in a while. These quite literally are effortless, so if you do have an oven, there is no excuse not to at least try. Yes, I know matcha powder can be quite unnecessarily pricey, especially here in London, so experiment with whatever other bold flavour you may have hanging around in the house. An element of bitterness or tanginess will add a unique aftertaste, hence I used matcha powder, but mix in a cluster of frozen berries, or cocoa powder, and you will still end up with a similar effect, embodied in something especially flavourful and special.

 

The beautiful thing about this batter is that the vegan butter, which is naturally soft on its own, doesn’t have to be left out for a while to get to room temperature. Simply scoop however much you need right from the tub, and dump it straight into the dry mixture. Of course, use normal butter if you already have that on hand. You will first be enraptured by the smell of these baking, and there’s no going back once you sink your teeth into the soft flakiness of the scones. You can go the extra mile and up the flake level by cubing your butter first and putting it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before mixing it into the dry mix, but I was, well, lazy, and still had incredibly flaky yummy scones. These are too perfect right out of the oven with a cup of tea or coffee. If storing them in the freezer, leave to thaw before consuming. I recently discovered that cutting one scone along its length and toasting each half made it feel and look as if the scone was fresh out of the oven.

4458697 Processed with VSCO with c8 preset4368180 Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

Ingredients

For the scones:

245g plain flour (alternatively, use half whole-wheat and half white)

115g sugar (white or coconut)

1 tbsp baking powder

½ baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

2 tbsp water

2 tbsp matcha powder (I used the one by Matcha Reserve, which is my favourite brand so far)

120ml (half a cup) plant milk of choice– I used almond

90g (6 tbsp) vegan butter (alternatively, use normal butter)

 

For the icing:

60g (a half cup) of icing sugar

1 tbsp plant milk of choice (I used almond again, you can use whichever you prefer– coconut/oat etc)

 

 

Directions

In a little saucer, mix together the ground flaxseed and 2 tbsp of water and set this aside to form your flax egg.

Preheat your oven to 220C (425F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, matcha powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then add the butter and milk, and mix with your fingertips until the dough comes together. Don’t overmix this scone batter otherwise you will get rubbery dough once it’s baked. The batter should not be too dry– the butter should make it slightly moist to the touch but not slippery or wet. Once everything has roughly come together, place the mass of dough onto the parchment paper and slightly flatten it into a rectangle mimicking the shape of the baking tray, about 2 inches thick. Use a knife to cut the dough into 6 triangles. They may or may not be equal in size. Keep it rustic, right? Place the tray into the preheated oven and bake it for 25 minutes, or until you see the tops go slightly golden-brown. While the scones are baking, make the icing by whisking the icing sugar and milk with a fork in a bowl.

 

Once the scones have fully baked, leave them to cool for 10 minutes before drizzling on the glaze. These are best eaten once straight out of the oven, but they can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Soufflé Pancakes

As the year passes, in too quickly a manner, there has been a burgeoning demand for precious moments and their savouring.

D53B4ADF-6422-4800-9252-AE5936E6B080

One of those precious moments happened last year, or perhaps a little before that, when I successfully made these Japanese soufflé pancakes. And since one of my life missions has been to having a professional feel for developing accurate, DELICIOUS vegan or plant-based reproductions of my favourite, usually nostalgic, breakfast or baking recipes, I couldn’t miss the chance to do so this time. I haven’t had these pancakes in ages, but they really are beautiful things. Admittedly, their sky-high, pillowy nature makes them not quite so pancake-like in the books of many purists, whatever continent may be in. Eating them, nevertheless, is pure ecstasy, and that’s what really matters. Each bite is weightless, teeth effortlessly sinking into these fluffy bodies. The little bit of sugar added to these pancakes suffices, coming through clearly purely due to all that air in each tower of a cake.

The addition of pumpkin purée here comes in handy after Fall, when you may still have half-cans of the stuff lying around. It adds the texture and flavour of egg yolk, which is what I originally use in the ‘normal’ recipe, without being intrusive with pumpkin’s own natural flavour. As for the Japanese (kewpie as it’s called) mayonnaise that’s one of the main stars in the normal recipe, vegan mayonnaise is used. I use the one by the brand Follow Your Heart, which tastes astoundingly like the real thing– crazy! The only thing here which isn’t exactly comforting is the use of white sugar, since I learnt that it’s common for the stuff to be made from bone char, and I am still trying to cut down on the use of refined sugar in general, since its general effects, both physically and mentally, just aren’t very desirable. However, I had some lying around and did not want to waste it, so that happened. Would be very grateful for any recommendations for substitutions!

D53B4ADF-6422-4800-9252-AE5936E6B0802818562 Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Soufflé pancakes (serves 1-2)

Ingredients  

4 tbsp pumpkin purée (sub: 2 egg yolks)

1 heaping tbsp. vegan mayonnaise (sub: normal mayonnaise if you’re not vegan)

The liquid from 1 can of chickpeas (aquafaba; sub: 2 egg whites)

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp white sugar

5 tbsp cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

some vegan butter for the pan during cooking

Directions

Prepare your pan and ring molds– you will need 3-4 4-inch wide ring molds for this. I actually did not have this on hand so I improvised and stapled together rings of aluminium foil to get the same effect. Note to self: use ring molds next time. The foil works but you have an increased chance of leakage at the bottom!

In a bowl, briefly whisk together the cake flour and baking powder. Then add the pumpkin purée, salt and vegan mayo. Whisk these together until you get a thick, dark yellow, almost paste-like mixture.

In a separate clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the aquafaba on high until frothy and mostly white throughout. Once you reach this frothy point, add the sugar and continue beating on high until you get a thick consistency. Aquafaba takes longer to whip up than normal egg white so be patient here– this can take up to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place your pan on the stove to preheat it on medium heat. Once thickly whipped, add the aquafaba to the pumpkin mixture and gently fold with a spatula (I recommend a rubber one) until you get an incredibly light and airy consistency. At this point, your pan will be rather hot. Place your ring molds on the pan and add the batter to one of the molds until it is ¾ full. Cover the pan with its lid and wait 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid– once you see that the top is rather firm, use a flat pancake spatula to flip the pancake with the ring mold still in tact, to cook the other side. Remove this pancake and put it on a paper towel on a plate to rest while you cook the rest of the batter.

 

Cornflake-crusted Stuffed French Toast

4639330 Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Well, hi guys, it’s been a while. With everything seeming to happen at the same time, it feels almost strange to be typing on this platform again about things closest to my heart (aka sugar, spice and all things nice).

Above all, and most importantly, let there be french toast. The one food I will gladly eat every day three times a day. The one thing I love so much that I have a whole section in my recipe page dedicated to it.

There have been pockets of time in the past few weeks which have granted me access to memories only of the sweetest kind. I’ve tried making all sorts of fancy french toast get-ups, usually never with any regret (hello bagel french toast and black sesame french toast), although I have to say this childish cornflake-crusted banana-stuffed one is  not only a weekend winner, but a fanciful play on all things childhood-sweet. It’s any golden childhood memory on a plate– swinging through falling leaves on a swing, drinking hot chocolate by a fire.

3406785 Processed with VSCO with f2 preset2968802 Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

I understand that french toast isn’t considered french toast unless made with real, proper egg, so perhaps me going plant-based (it’s been over a year now) has put, on a subconscious level, the idea of good weekend french toast aside. But coming across multiple mouth-watering french toasts on Instagram and elsewhere on the www has made me determined to recreate a vegan version that’s just as good, and possibly better, than what most of us may find out there in the cafe-sphere. So if you’re quite the purist, go ahead and use real or vegan egg. But perhaps just once, try this combination of mashed banana, cinnamon and milk, which saturates your soft bread to the most ideal degree, resulting in french toast that’s neither too soggy nor rubbery. Oh, rubbery is the worst, isn’t it?

As human beings we require simple sustenance. But sometimes the simplest matters turn out to be the most delicious, and the smallest twist using something as ubiquitous and childish as cornflakes makes all the difference. Making a most delicious french toast right in your own kitchen is truly the most rewarding thing. Not much fuss, no wallet-burning, and a 100% goodness guarantee. So you can make this, and get back to whatever you’re doing the rest of the day, all the while knowing you’ve done something terribly good for yourself.

Quote of the day: ‘We are human beings, not human doings’

E517B76E-208B-4B1C-8507-4E187771B87B

4001039 Processed with VSCO with av4 preset

Cornflake-crusted Cinnamon Banana French Toast (serves 1)

Ingredients

2 slices vegan brioche/ any soft bread of your choice

2 bananas, one mashed, and one sliced thickly at a slight angle.

60ml (1/4 cup) almond milk

1 tsp ground cinnamon

handful of cornflakes

3 tbsp brown sugar

vegan butter for caramelising

handful of frozen berries (optional)

icing sugar (optional, for decoration)

Directions

Place the cornflakes in a bowl and use your (clean, hopefully) hands to crush them into chunks. Pour the cornflakes into a shallow dish. Don’t worry if you are left with quite a few larger chunks– this will only give more texture to your french toast. In another bowl, use a fork to briefly mix together your french toast batter– the mashed banana, almond milk and cinnamon. Don’t worry about little chunks of banana in there. Add a pat of vegan butter or oil to a medium nonstick pan to start making the caramelised banana.

Once the pan is hot, add a little more vegan butter to the pan, together with the brown sugar. Add the sliced banana to the hot pan and let it caramelise for a minute. Once the side facing down is a nice caramelised golden colour, use a spatula to flip the banana slices and cook the other side. Once the bananas are nicely soft and caramelised, set them aside in a bowl while you make the french toast. Leave the pan on medium heat.

Dip both sides of one of the bread slices into the mashed banana mixture, then dip one side into the crushed cornflakes. Repeat for the other bread slice. Place the cornflake-side of one bread slice onto the hot pan to cook, add the caramelised bananas on the side facing up. Add the handful of berries if you wish– I think it adds a lovely tang to cut through all that sweet chimerical flavour. Then close your french toast sandwich with the other slice of bread. Once the side facing down has been cooking for a minute or so, use your spatula to check if that side is golden-crisp and cooked. If it is, flip the sandwich over and cook the second side.

Once finished, cut your french toast sandwich on the diagonal, then top with any leftover caramelised banana you have, and a sprinkling of icing sugar. Serve with more berries and a splosh of yoghurt. HELLO Saturday.

No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake

FDD9AC97-1DD7-42D3-9403-98D7B2DE68DE

Rain, outside. Currently listening to Millie Vernon’s That Old Feeling, and feeling swingy. I haven’t given enough verbal weight to the importance of smooth jazz to my creations. Its silky notes have a way of churning the cogs up there. The rain is helping, too.

Cheesecake, cheesecake! Inspired by none other than my favourite Ben&Jerry’s ice cream flavour as a child. Am I the only one who thought it was better than every other flavour they had? Phish food was fine, Cherry Garcia was an atrocity only because I had no appetite for cherries in any form at that age, the banana thing was a no. It was a picky phase, I could only stick to solid chocolate and cheese sort of flavours, and anything nutty or fruity was sacrilege. Except for strawberry cheesecake.

I approach most vegan cheesecake recipes with caution. Cashews and coconut? The furthest things from that signature dairy taste? I think not. But this one proved me (and will hopefully do the same to you) wrong. A good soak of your cashews will yield a fine, smooth texture, similar to your typical New York cheesecake, I promise. I kept this one base-less to keep the focus on the pure filling, but you can use this crust if you wish. That crust is also featured in my recipe for a classic vegan cheesecake, if you wish to try a proper baked one instead. It’s good to remind oneself of why it’s important to use more plant-based foods and proteins in anything you cook and bake. Just look at the power of cashews, the main star of this event:

  • They are almost a quarter total protein
  • 62% of its fats are monounsaturated, and have less fat than most other nuts
  • They are brimming with a sort of flavonol that starves cancer tumours
  • They help manufacture enzymes involved in the formation of haemoglobin and collagen, and are therefore key in skin and hair health
  • I keep forgetting that full stops don’t belong in bullet points

So you see, I guess this whole cashews-not-milk-plus-save-cow-exploitation sort of headspace isn’t so bad. The better you blend all this up, the better your result. You really want it to be as smooth and creamy as possible. What’s great about this recipe is also that i’s no-bake, which means it satisfies all you lazy bakers (me included sometimes).

IMG_4316

FDD9AC97-1DD7-42D3-9403-98D7B2DE68DE

Ingredients

250g raw cashews, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in lukewarm water, and drained. You can leave the cashews in the fridge or on the counter. Alternatively, you can add boiling water to the cashews and let this sit for half an hour before using.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed from about 3-4 lemons

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

80ml maple syrup

60ml vegetable oil (sub: melted vegan butter/melted coconut oil)

3 heaped tbsp coconut yoghurt or any yoghurt you like (sub: applesauce or milk)

3 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

Directions

Blend all ingredients except for the jam in a high-speed, powerful blender. Continue to blend until you get a smooth, pale consistency. It should be thick and runny. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the strawberry jam and then use a spatula to fold the jam in, creating a ripple effect. Tip this into a 8 or 9-inch cheesecake pan with a removable bottom and place it into the freezer to set.

*To create the swirly effect as you can see above, take the cheesecake out of the freezer after 30 minutes, and run a small knife or spatula in the formation of a spiral from the outside to the inside. You may get this all messy the first time, especially as the cheesecake starts to thaw, but don’t worry, the fact that the cheesecake thaws easily means it’s also easy to scrap whatever pattern you’ve done and start again. You can also put the cheesecake back in the freezer and take it out 10 minutes later to re-mold whatever pattern you want. Enjoy with coconut yogurt and strawberry jam.