Monday, June 1, 2009

Cookbook Case Study - Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake - Vegetarian Cooking Without

Vegetarian Cooking without: Recipes Free from Added Gluten, Sugar, Yeast, Dairy Products, Meat, Fish, Saturated Fat

The lemon and poppy seed cake is based upon the same recipe as the gingerbread cake; however, for this flavour I used almond flour and stevia instead of the dates. I'd never cooked with stevia before, and made a trip to a natural health store for supplies. After working out which form of stevia I should buy, I selected and took home pure stevia powder. Opening it up to see what it looked like, I found that the bottle was full to the brim, and some powder sprinkled out over me and the table. I dipped the tip of my finger in the spilt stevia and licked it, aware that it would be sweet. Still, the intensity came somewhat as a shock, with the sweetness so sweet it was almost bitter - like the so-cold-it-burns sensation you sometimes get with ice water. The recipe only calls for 1/4 of a teaspoon, so I suspect the small jar I bought will last some time.

To be honest, I thought this recipe would be easier than the gingerbread cake one. First of all, I wouldn't have to stew dates! I was quite wrong...

The first issues I had were with the lemons. The recipe calls for two lemons. One is zested, and then they are both juiced. From this, you are told to conserve 1/4c of the juice. Well, I was lucky I had another lemon on hand, because I needed three to get 1/4c juice. While my lemons are smaller than store bought lemons, they are very juicy, so I was surprised that two lemons were expected to yield 1/4c. The recipe then instructs you to "remove the pith from the second lemons skin and cut the skin into fine dice". Apart from that last bit sounding like questionable English to my kiwi ears (dice as a noun being unusual in a recipe), I wondered if there was a way of removing the pith from the skin, rather than the skin from the pith.

Lemon juice, and lemon zest in two forms
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Finally conquering the lemon, I read the next step several times, trying to find something between blending the different elements of lemon in the food processor, and pouring the mixture into a loaf tin. Nope - nothing. I guessed that all the ingredients were to go in the food processor at the same time.

Right - time to grind the almonds. Where are the almonds? I remember buying them, almost $10 worth. Where are they. Not in here, here, here.... here?... ummmm. I can't find the chestnuts I bought that day, either. I look in the lounge where all my bags are stowed, I look in the bedroom, I look in the spare room, I look in the bathroom (you never know!), I look in the garage... I try to picture the bag of rubbish we put out last night. I consider riding into work to see if I've left a bag of groceries there.

I despair - then I remember thinking about how nuts should be stored, and I looked in the fridge. Oh, that's right - I put them in the fridge. Lost almonds conquered - I pour out some to grind. Well, I think next time I will buy almonds already ground. By the time there are no more large pieces of almond, I have something resembling almond butter. It was okay, I snacked on that while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

Ground Almond Fail
Ground almond...
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Finally, all the ingredients in the food processor, I processed. This batter had a really weird texture - really seriously weird. Very thick (perhaps it was my almond-butter consistency almonds?).

Ingredients beforeIngredients after
Food Processing
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Loaf before
Before cooking
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When I removed the baked cake from the tin, a piece fell off, which I used as a tester. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was the kind of cake that disintegrated into crumbs as soon as (or before) it's in your mouth. Leaving it to cool for a little while, I hoped it would firm up, but no such luck. I cut the heel off for us to share for dessert, but we both found it a little too dry, much too crumbly, and not flavourful enough. Beeing sugarless and using only a small amount of stevia, it didn't have enough sweetness to complement the lemon flavour, and as a result, I could hardly taste the lemon.

Loaf after
Cake out of the oven
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Crumbly cake bits
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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
Sliced cake
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I had planned to take the cake to work for a shared morning tea, but since even I didn't like it, I thought that wasn't such a good idea. Also, it would surely fall apart in transit. (Instead, I cut up some celery to take, to go with dip - at least I'll have something savoury.)

Whenever some food doesn't work, I try to come up with a way to rescue it. The gingerbread cake was best with some butter/spread, but that will not be enough for this cake. In fact, I wouldn't like to try to spread anything on it. At least it tasted okay with a generous drizzle of golden syrup; but the texture was still impossible.

With Syrup
Cake no longer sugar-free
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So, in the final evaluation: FAIL! I would not make this recipe again.

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