Why baking vegetable cakes is more than just a fad.

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By Sally Berrie at Cookify

In 2015 the Food and Nutrition element of the New Curriculum for Design and Technology has been applauded by teachers, parents and nutritionists for its focus on teaching the practical skills to cook healthy meals from scratch. For older students it also places a greater emphasis on learning about food provenance, seasonality and the principles of nutrition.

Within this fundamental shift of attitude there has been a move from the traditional ‘Home Economics’ style school recipes of cakes, biscuits and sweet dishes such as Rock Cakes to savoury dishes and family type meals, such as Shepherd’s Pie.

When visiting a Secondary School open evening recently, held for prospective parents and students. I was very impressed by their approach to showcasing Food and Nutrition at their school, through Key Stage 3 to GCSE. They had used Food Dehydrators to demonstrate how fruit and vegetables can be dried out to make a healthy and preserved snack. The current students were enthusiastic about explaining how the dehydrators worked, by drying out the vegetables and fruits more slowly than oven baking methods, and this preserved more of the vitamins and nutrients. They even created handy snack backs for us to take home and enjoy later!

However, the centre piece of the Food and Nutrition demonstration with the real wow factor was some vegetable cakes which the students had baked. We were able to sample a Chocolate Beetroot Brownie and a Lemon and Courgette Cake. Firstly, both were utterly delicious and enjoyed by parents and children alike. But perhaps what impressed me the most was the creative thinking and baking outside the box. Yes, they were serving us cake, but were also able to talk to us about the principles of seasonality and nutrition they had been learning about. Whilst providing a step towards the recommended five a day.

Parenting blogs are full of ideas for cooking dishes with ‘hidden vegetables’ and advice on how to sneak vegetables into your toddler or picky eater’s diet. From a nutritional perspective I can see the merit of introducing vegetables into meals by stealth, in the hope that as the child matures, their palate develops they will continue to eat vegetables by choice.

However, what really appeals to me about baking vegetable cakes, such as the classic Carrot Cake and the more experimental Courgette Cakes and Sweet Potato and Parsnip Cakes is that the vegetable is the star of the show and firmly on the menu for all to see. Kids can take away the message – you enjoyed this tasty Courgette & Carrot Muffin because courgette and carrots are delicious!

Inspired, I sought out a recipe for Chocolate Beetroot Cake to try out of the family at home – this is an adaptation of user submitted recipe found on popular parenting site Netmums:

 

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

Makes 8-10 small square portions

Ingredients

225g self-raising flour

2 medium eggs

110g caster sugar (golden works well)

25g cocoa powder, (we used Green & Blacks Organic Cocoa powder as it’s robust flavour works well in cooking)

1 tsp baking powder

110g caster sugar (golden works well)

75g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

75g butter, melted

110g raw beetroot, grated

Method

  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 4/180’C/350’F and grease a baking tray or use a non-stick silicon baking tray
  2. Mix together the sifted flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a large mixing bowl
  3. Melt the dark chocolate either in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water or in the microwave
  4. Melt the butter gently in a pan.
  5. Stir in the sugar, grated beetroot, melted chocolate, melted butter and eggs to your mixing bowl and combine well.
  6. Pour the mixture into the baking tray and bake for about 50-60 minutes until the cake still feels spongy but is firm. You can test with a cake skewer (link) which should come out clean.
  7. Leave to cool - once cooled, cut into squares to serve

If you are tempted to try this at home I hope you (and your children) will also appreciate the moist texture and the rich flavour that comes from the beetroot. There is a natural sweetness but it is more subtle than the artificial ‘hit’ from sugar and its artificial alternatives. I also believe that the denser texture makes the cake more filling. A small square is very satisfying.

So yes – vegetables can and should be included in our cake baking. It is very encouraging to see how the secondary schools are incorporating Vegetable Cakes into the KS3 Food & Nutrition Curriculum, and these recipes could easily be adapted to be made suitable for younger children to cook at school.

As always at Cookify, we hope this blog will inspire you to experiment and develop a deeper love of baking and understanding how ingredients can be combined to bake some magic.

We would love to see your Vegetable Cake pictures and recipes ideas.