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Go beyond carrot cake with Kathy Slack’s sweet vegetable cake recipes, from luscious brownies to a flower-topped celebration bake.
Once upon a time, the idea that vegetables should be the main event in a dish – and that that dish could feel exciting, delicious and indulgent, rather than depressingly worthy or frugal – would have seemed laughable. But you only have to visit restaurants including Root in Bristol (specialising in vegetable-focused small plates) and Berber & Q in London (where the cauliflower shawarma is the most iconic item in the menu’s rotisserie section) to know that veg can easily play a starring role in recipes.
This vegetable-centric message is at the heart of new book From The Veg Patch by Kathy Slack, who left behind an advertising career in London to work at the famous Daylesford Organic Farm in the Cotswolds (founded by Carole Bamford, whose cookbook A Love For Food has also been championed by Stylist).
As Slack recovered from the depression and burnout she’d experienced in the capital, she found solace in growing vegetables – going on to become a cook, food writer, recipe developer and supper club host, cooking with harvests from her garden.
In From The Veg Patch, Slack shares delicious, innovative recipes for everything from peas and tomatoes to beetroot, squash and kale. “Every recipe puts a hero vegetable or fruit centre stage and builds a dish around it,” says Slack. “I want to give each harvest its moment in the spotlight, parading it in a flurry of trumpets to the dinner table.”
Crucially, Slack shows that vegetables are versatile. While mostly focused on savoury recipes, her cookbook features a smattering of delectable desserts with veg at their heart – and they’re as succulent and sweet as anything based around fruit, nuts or chocolate. “It’s a chance to see what wonderful things happen when you make that hero plant the main flavour in the dish,” says Slack.
Below, Slack shares three standout vegetable baking recipes. Carrot cake fans will love the pumpkin and sage cake with thyme and feta frosting, and the beetroot, tahini and almond brownies are deliciously moist, rich and nutty. The courgette cake with lime buttercream, meanwhile, can be customised to work for celebratory parties as well as casual tea breaks. Time to renew that veg box subscription…
Pumpkin and sage cake with thyme and feta frosting
Kathy says: “I know this sounds a bit odd, but really it’s just a carrot cake that took a wrong turn in life and ended up somewhere more interesting. The herbs add a floral, garden air to things, and the citrus twang of feta makes the cream cheese frosting pleasingly eccentric.
“You can use any winter squash or pumpkin, but some varieties, usually the paler ones, can be rather watery when grated, in which case, you should squeeze out the water from the gratings before adding to the batter. This is a pudding-y cake, equally at home with an afternoon cuppa as it is with a chilled sweet wine for dessert.”
1 hour 10 minutes, plus cooling time
- 300g self-raising flour
- 250g soft light brown sugar
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1⁄2 tsp flaky sea salt
- 200g butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 4 eggs
- 500g winter pumpkin or squash, peeled, deseeded and coarsely grated (see intro)
- 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
For the frosting:
- 75g feta cheese
- 200g full-fat cream cheese
- 200ml double cream
- 75g runny honey
- 2 tbsp chopped thyme leaves, and a few thyme flowers if you have time
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Line two 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment.
Mix together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the cooled melted butter and eggs in a jug. Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir together. You will think, ‘No good can come of this,’ but trust me. Add the grated pumpkin or squash and the chopped sage and mix well.
Divide the batter equally between the lined cake tins, levelling off the tops, then bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cakes.
While the cakes cook, make the frosting. Use a spatula to smudge the feta into a paste in a large bowl. Add the cream cheese, double cream, honey and 1 tablespoon of the chopped thyme, then mix together briskly until it forms soft, billowy peaks.
Once cooked, take the cakes out of the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Once cool, spread a third of the frosting on the top of one cake, pop the other cake on top and cover the whole thing liberally and messily with the rest of the frosting.
Sprinkle with the remaining thyme leaves and flowers (if you have some) and serve.
The cake will keep in an airtight container in a cool place (but not a fridge) for a couple of days.
Beetroot, tahini and almond brownies
Kathy says: “When I worked at Daylesford Organic Farm, the bakery made chocolate brownies that were out of this world. They were dark, fudgy and flecked with nuggets of white chocolate. I would buy one at the end of my shift in the kitchen garden, unable to resist tucking in straight away despite my mud-engrained fingers. They have been my brownie benchmark ever since, and so when I came to this recipe (beetroot and chocolate, after all, being a classic combination I could not omit), I knew mine too must be broodingly dark and have those signature morsels of solid chocolate hidden within.
“The result is a grown-up brownie, almost savoury, thanks to the beetroot and tahini. Good for dessert with a dollop of sour crème fraîche as contrast.”
Makes 9 brownies
1 hour, plus 1 hour to cook the beetroot
- 300g whole, raw beetroots
- 175g good dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), chopped into small chunks
- 175g butter, cut into cubes
- 2 eggs
- 85g caster sugar
- 70g demerara sugar
- 100g plain flour
- 1⁄2 tsp baking powder
- 160g rich milk chocolate (I use one that’s 55% cocoa solids), chopped into small chunks
- 4 tbsp tahini
- 50g whole, blanched almonds, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan/gas mark 61⁄2. Wrap each beetroot in foil, then place them on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour. They will be almost cooked through, but still slightly firm to touch.
Unwrap the parcels and leave to cool, then peel and grate the beetroots using the coarse side of a box grater. Should the beetroot be very watery once grated, squeeze out the excess water and pour away. Set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 185°C/165°C fan/gas mark 41⁄2 and line a small roasting tin or square cake tin (roughly 20 × 20cm) with baking parchment.
Put the dark chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water underneath) and let everything melt together gently, stirring only occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and both sugars together until thick. This will take a good 5 minutes in a freestanding mixer or with an electric whisk. The mix should be thick, ribboning, pale and quadrupled in volume. If you find the odd grain of demerara sugar still floating about, don’t worry – it will dissolve with cooking.
Next, add the melted chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs mixture and fold together until just combined. Think calm and gentle thoughts so the mixture stays airy.
Add the flour and baking powder and fold together once more. Finally, stir in the rich milk chocolate chunks and the grated beetroot.
Pour into the prepared roasting tin or cake tin and level off. Drizzle the top with tahini, swirling it in with a skewer so some stays on the surface and some whirls into the mixture, then scatter over the almonds.
Bake for 30–35 minutes. It should be springy to the touch and set on top, but the middle should stay quite soft and moist – a skewer inserted into the centre should come out sticky.
Remove from the oven and cool completely in the tin, before turning out and cutting into squares.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days – but you’ll have eaten them before then.
Courgette cake with lime buttercream
Kathy says: “I will put plants in puddings given the merest hint of encouragement. And an abundance of courgettes, their bright, trumpet flowers winking at me like orange hazard lights in the veg beds, is all the invitation I need.
“This is a very simple cake, not nearly as odd as it sounds, and the answer to so many situations. Forget the buttercream and simply dust it with icing sugar for elevenses; or smooth out the buttercream icing and festoon it with flowers for a rustic celebration cake. The version below is somewhere in between the two.”
1 1⁄4 hours, plus cooling time
For the cake:
- 2 eggs
- 120ml sunflower oil
- 175g soft light brown sugar
- 165g plain flour
- 1⁄2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 175g courgettes, trimmed
- courgette flowers, or any edible flowers, to finish (optional)
For the buttercream:
- 60g unsalted butter, softened
- 120g icing sugar
- 1 lime, zest and juice, plus extra zest to finish
Preheat the oven to 195°C/175°C fan/gas mark 51⁄2 and line a 21cm round cake tin with baking parchment.
Beat the eggs and sunflower oil together in a jug until combined. This is your wet mix.
In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. This is the dry mix.
Add the wet mix to the dry mix and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Grate the courgettes on the coarse side of a box grater, then squeeze out the excess water and add the courgette gratings to the mixture. Fold everything together.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and level off the top. Bake for around 40–45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the tin as soon as your fingers can manage it, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Simply beat the butter and icing sugar together in a freestanding mixer until pale and fluffy. It will take several minutes.
Add the lime zest, then gradually add the lime juice, beating well before adding the next drizzle of juice to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Once the cake is completely cooled (and it must be stone-cold, otherwise the buttercream will melt), place it on a cake stand or serving plate and slather the buttercream over the top.
Finish with a grating of lime zest and a few edible flowers if you have them to hand. Courgette flowers would be especially neat.
The cake will keep for 2–3 days at room temperature and another day longer, though less gracefully, if put in the fridge after that.
From The Veg Patch: 10 Favourite Vegetables, 100 Simple Recipes Everyone Will Love by Kathy Slack (Ebury Press, £25) is out now
Photography: Kathy Slack