Hayley McKee
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Tara Pearce, Tim Hillier

Vegetables are particularly versatile in baking, yet are so often forgotten. They offer a broad scale of flavours, provide form, add moisture and create texture. Root vegetables crop up in cakes, with carrots, pumpkins and beetroots being the most loved and well known, but turning to your salad bowl for inspiration can provide even more flavour ideas.

My most-loved vegetables add earthiness and a hint of nature to cakes, cookies, slices and pies. There are other vegetables that I’m sure are compatible with baking but, for me, if they don’t hit the flavour mark then they’ve not been included (I’m looking at you, cauliflower). Just because you can find a clever way to incorporate a vegetable into a dessert, doesn’t mean you should.

So, when it comes time to pluck your veggies from your garden (or a local farmers’ market), instead of turning to the same savoury classics, try exploring this alternative collection of recipes made especially for your sweet tooth. For instance, say goodbye to your annual flood of zucchini fritters and hello to coffee, banana and zucchini loaf (page 68).

Flavour notes

Some of the vegetables in this section are technically fruits but, because their taste and use are generally more associated with the vegetable family, I’ve kept them in the gang.

AVOCADO With the texture of butter and the taste of fresh, grassy cream, avocados make an easy leap into baked sweets. Incorporate them into buttercreams or to give soft body to batters and doughs. Their delicate, fatty base notes work equally well with bright acidic flavours or oaky, dark chocolate. As an aside, their cool lusciousness makes them a good ally for mousses, ice creams and no-bake pie fillings.

BEETROOT (BEET) Whether used roasted, steamed or raw, dense, crimson beetroot adds a unique taste lying somewhere between a deep, robust funk and a sweet, floral perfume. Baby beetroots are more manageable to work with and roasting them is the least messy mode of preparation. Use golden beetroots or the candy-striped Chioggia variety for eye-catching garnishes, and use the juice as a natural food dye.

CARROT Sweet, juicy carrots are the most classic of cake buddies. They belong to the same flowering plant family as celery and parsley, which you can taste hints of when you eat them raw. Use heirloom carrots for their rainbow colours of red, white, yellow and purple.

CHERRY TOMATO Vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, warmed by the sun, are the reward that every home gardener savours. Leafy, acidic and jammy in flavour, tomatoes can be reminiscent of strawberries, so substituting them in your favourite berry recipes makes a great starting point.

EGGPLANT (AUBERGINE) Eggplant is sublimely buttery when roasted and makes an excellent vehicle for absorbing other flavours. Always soak your eggplants in cold, salted water to draw out any hidden bitterness.

FENNEL I am a sucker for this plant. Sweet anise perfume gives it an unmatched flavour. From bulb to fronds you can eat all parts, including the seeds and pollen. The liquorice tones of the bulb can be very subtle; for more of a kick, use ground or whole fennel seeds.

GREEN LEAVES Spinach, kale and rocket (arugula) are my go-to greens in baking. Mostly I use them to add a whisper of colour, but kale crisps can add a nice crunch to desserts, while a smidgen of rocket can be an interesting bridge between sugar and spice.

MUSHROOM There are only a few mushrooms suitable for sweets; the earthy, chocolate depth of porcini make them my favourite, though shiitake and pine mushrooms can bring a creamy, woodland element too. Because of mushroom’s intensely concentrated flavours, sliced and dried are better than fresh.

PARSNIP Parsnips should be every baker’s friend – they have similar fruity tones to bananas and apples and their spicy complexity gives a suggestion of nutmeg, coriander (cilantro) and parsley.

PEA This rambling, tiny veg can bring a pop of grassy freshness to creams and custards. Steamed and then blended, pea purée is the best way to infuse baked goods with the taste of spring.

POTATO Don’t overthink it, just incorporate them as they’re best loved – either as a fluffy, creamy mash or crisped up and salted. Faintly buttery and sweet, spuds add earthy depth and moisture to cakes or a fun crunch to cookies and crusts.

PUMPKIN (WINTER SQUASH) Ninety per cent water, pumpkins can be turned to for an injection of rich moisture. There’s a fruitiness to them that mimics rockmelon (netted melon/canteloupe), and they have an amazing ability to delicately colour buttercreams and fillings.

RHUBARB Tart, herbaceous rhubarb has long been associated with winter puddings and crumbles, and rightly so. With its citrus-like punch and suggestion of rose petals, this is a beautiful vegetable to pair with nuggets of dark chocolate and lashings of whipped cream.

SWEETCORN Except in Latin American cuisine, sweetcorn is an underused companion for desserts. Include the juicy, starchy kernels as a base for custards and pastry creams, or experiment with golden sweetcorn juice as a milk substitute in recipes.

SWEET POTATO Brown butter and honeycomb come to mind when I think of these burnt orange roots. There’s a light nuttiness to this vegetable that makes it a dream to create recipes with. Just like pumpkin, it brings a silky finish to cake batters.

ZUCCHINI (COURGETTE) Because of its watery texture, zucchini needs support when baked. Squeezing the liquid out of it is the secret. Once drained, it will inject whatever you are making with lots of moisture and a mild, cucumber-like flavour.

Techniques and methods

ROAST Roasting vegetables to a creamy consistency is the best method for drawing out their true, rounded flavours. Adding a dash of olive oil or butter to the roasting pan is fine, just remember to hold the salt.

STEAM When you’re poor on time, skip the roasting and steam your veg instead. Steaming keeps the form and colour of vegetables intact far better than boiling them.

JUICE Brilliantly coloured vegetable juice is great to use as a natural food dye, a liquid substitute in recipes or a shrubby base for syrups and caramels.

INFUSE Give pastry creams and custards a blast from the garden by gently simmering the milk with grated vegetables. Strain before use.

PURÉE Blitz your cooked vegetables to a purée and strain them through a sieve to remove excess moisture or lumps. Swirl the purée into batters or freshly whipped cream, or pipe it into the centre of muffins.

GRATE Grated vegetables add structure and bite to desserts by delivering extra texture. For juicy vegetables, use a standard cheese grater on its coarse side. For woodier root vegetables, pick up the microplane.

PRESERVE Bubble up a jam, make a quick pickle for some bite, or candy some micro vegetables to create an edible miniature garden topping.

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