I once put courgette in a chocolate cake, on purpose, but the mistakes didn’t stop there. Taking pieces on a plate to my (then much younger) children I presented my creation triumphantly. They said “Is there something weird in it?” “No” I replied, feeling justified by the ambiguity of their question. As they tasted it their faces betrayed enough for me to see that it wasn’t going to end well. Since that day they have never trusted my ability to make cake without cramming a vegetable or two into it.
It isn’t just cake with vegetables that gets a bad press. In these days of sugar avoidance and clean eating it can feel like a guiltier pleasure than ever, but that’s a shame because there is so much about making and eating a cake which is good for us.
Cake & Mindfulness
This afternoon it was raining and, having made a chicken soup for my poorly daughter, a further culinary hug was needed. For me, pottering about in the kitchen without having a defined timescale, without the radio or TV on, and without anyone else in the room is a time for glorious introspective reflection. Yes, of course I could think about the week past and the one to come. I could imagine the stories that people will tell me tomorrow and the day afterwards, but I can also allow myself to be in this moment, weighing this flour, smelling these spices and fruits, measuring the oil and sugar, and feeling the big wooden spoon in my hand turning everything over in the bowl. Oh, and grating this butternut squash.
It’s easiest to be mindful when doing something repetitive and simple. Something which engages the senses but doesn’t overwhelm them. The simple baking of a cake is good for the mind.
Cake As Connection
Most people I know like cake. We don’t want to eat the whole thing, or at least if we do, we have enough self control to resist doing so. When there is a new cake in the house there is a requirement for tea or coffee, and when there is tea of coffee there is a moment for sitting down and being together. Homemade cake does this best, because an almond fancy from Mr Kipling didn’t take anything out of you, and so there is no real emotional reward in sitting down with loved ones and replenishing what you’ve given. Cake is a connector because it invites us to stop for a moment and be with people. Used incorrectly, eaten secretly in the kitchen when everyone is out of the house, it has the opposite effect. It can create feelings of guilt and shame, because it’s meant to be shared as a part of a relationship, as a marker for togetherness, and not as the other half of a relationship itself.
Cake To Increase Self Worth
Never mind what it looks like, or even if it doesn’t taste amazing, the creation of something with our own hands is a mark of our ability and beautiful uniqueness. Nobody can make a cake like you do. You and I could follow the exact same recipe and there would be subtle difference between our bakes. This is what it means to be human, and to be human and alive has a value in and of itself. You can never be more or less, you just are. A cake you have made is never more or less, it just is, because you took the time and the trouble to make it.
I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that the particular cake that follows is good for you nutritionally, even though it has butternut squash in it. The point is that not everything which is good for you needs to be nutritionally beyond reproach. Life lived well is a life lived in balance, and I for one, want cake on at least one side of the scales.
Butternut Squash & Apricot Cake
You could use carrots instead of the squash, but you won’t be as hip and cool as me. In case you are wondering, my children love it.
225g grated butternut squash
50g grated apple
150g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g light brown muscovado sugar
175ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
80g chopped dried apricots
20g dried cranberries
2 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
Peel and grate the butternut squash and the apple
In a bowl mix the flours with, spice, the dried fruit, the bicarb and the salt.
Add the peeled squash and apple to the dry ingredients and mix well.
In a separate bowl whisk the sugar and the oil (you might want to sieve the sugar first if it has lumps in it). Then add the eggs and whisk it all into a smooth emulsion.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold in together until everything is combined.
Grease and line with baking paper a 1kg loaf tin (use a round cake tin if you like, I’m not a pedant) and pour the mixture in.
Bake in a pre-heated oven to 180c (170c for a fan oven)/ 350f or Gas 4 for about 75 minutes. Be careful to make sure that the top doesn’t burn before the cake is cooked, and if it looks as if it will just put a bit of foil over the top of the cake. It is cooked when a skewer thrust into its midst comes out clean.
Leave to cool, then enjoy with friends, family and mugs of tea and coffee. Not to be scoffed from the tin late at night because that’s not good for you physically or mentally, and that’s not what we’re about is it?