Sunday, 5 July 2015

"Normal" life week 2 - No sugar, no cry

Over the past few years we've learnt a great deal about processed sugars and, rightly so, the sweet stuff has gotten itself a very bad rep. Whilst studying at Le Cordon Bleu I learnt all about sugar and its importance to patissieres the world over AND, on the flip side, I read a huge number of news reports and many healthy lifestyle books which told me, loud and clear that sugar is a poison and a drug that should be avoided at all measures. Having heard both sides of the story its hard to know which way to turn. I feel stuck between a sugar lump and a hard place! On one hand, refined sugars have been used for many years now in cakes and pastries and everyone has, on the whole, been OK. We can reply upon them from a consistency point of view, supply is high, costs are low and...well... the sugar we know and love does taste pretty darn good. 

All that being said, I appreciate that the scientific reports can't be wrong, not these days, we just know too much and so I've been trying out a couple of alternatives in my baking in a bid to lower mine and my friends sugar intake. And let me tell you, whilst working at a gourmet doughnut bar, lowering my sugar intake has been challenging to say the least. My first sugar tweak came about when I made a friends birthday cake. Rather than using my trusty friend, Tate & Lyle caster sugar, I tried substituting half the quantity with coconut sugar. Coconut sugar, although not advertised as being good for you is significantly better for you in comparison to its refined cousin. Coconut sugar is a far more natural product, made from the dried sap of the coconut tree therefore it goes through less processing and retains its nutrients. The taste of coconut sugar can be likened to demerara - its sweet, caramelised, nutty and has a delightful depth to its flavour. 

The cake went down a storm and it was lovely to think that those eating it weren't being subjected to quite as much nasty, processed white sugars and would actually be retaining some natural nutrients as a result of my ingredient tampering. 

I had some great feedback so thought why stop there! A couple of years ago, after a trip to Australia and my discovery of real chai tea, I designed a recipe for spiced chai latte cupcakes. Made using refined sugars, they have always been a hit but I wondered if made the recipe in the form of a loaf cake (cupcakes have so had their day), with only coconut sugar, if this moist and tasty sponge would still be as popular? 

When making my chai cupcakes I'd usually whip up a batch of light and fluffy Italian meringue buttercream to pop on top but like the sponge, this also contains a large amount of white sugar so I thought I'd try making a very lightly sugared, desiccated coconut glaze instead. For the chai, I used second hand spices from the lattes made at Crosstown. Having only been steeped once there was plenty of flavour left over and the chai blend they use, Prana Chai is heavenly and only full of the good stuff.  

With far less sugar, this loaf cake still isn't healthy, but it was super tasty and if you were to argue it out with a scientist, it is better for you.

If you fancy giving the recipe a go, here it is:
150g butter or Stork with butter baking margarine 
150g self raising flour (I only ever use Shipton Mill
150g coconut sugar 
3 eggs 
40ml milk - warmed and steeped in chai spices (2 chai tea bags soaked in the milk for 10 minutes will do the job if you don't have a chai blend to hand) 
¼ tea spoon cardamon 
¼ tea spoon cinnamon 
¼ tea spoon cloves 
¼ tea spoon nutmeg 
1 tea spoon vanilla extract

1. Grease and line your loaf tin  
2. Measure out 40ml milk into a cup or pan and warm (on the hob or in a microwave) - once warmed, pop the chai blend or two chai tea tea bags into the milk and leave to soak for a good ten minutes
3. Cream together the butter (or Stork e) and coconut sugar until light and fluffy
4. Lightly beat 3 eggs and pour in a third of the egg mix along with a third of the flour stirring gently into the sugar / butter mix so as not to knock out too much air and so as not to over work the gluten in the flour. If using a mixer, use a low setting. Continue this process until the eggs and flour are fully incorporated into the mix
5. Next add the 40ml of chai steeped milk, a little at a time. You may not need the full amount, use your good baking head to tell you when you have enough. The mixture should be soft, a little drippy and batter like, as with any cake mix but not too runny
6. Next, lightly mix in the spices, again on a low speed if using a mixer 
7. Finally, add the vanilla extract, mix in and spoon out into the prepared loaf tin
8. Bake for 50 minutes, or until cooked all the way through - test with a cake pokey stick to ensure the batter has set. The sponge will be light and fluffy and speckled with delicious spices   

For the glaze I simply mixed equal quantities of desecrated coconut and icing sugar, adding water a little at a time until I achieved the perfect glaze consistency. Let me know what you think if you decide to try it out! 

For my third and final sugar medaling experiment I made a traditional rum cake but, you guessed it, without refined white sugars. Rum loves coconut so I wasn't nervous at all when making the switch. The recipient of the cake was none the wiser and it tasted delicious if I do say so myself. 

With my bag of, rather expensive, coconut sugar all used up I returned to my trusty friend Tate & Lyle to whip up a birthday cake for a very special lady. My Nan. 

Sadly I can't say much about it as I'm NDAd up to my ears but a few weeks ago I was invited to THE bake off tent to spend a couple of days on set working with the home economist working on the show. Not only was this, for me, the ultimate baking experience but I also had the absolute pleasure of meeting The Mary Berry and The Paul Hollywood during my time in the tent. My Nan is a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off and as I was on set on her birthday I didn't feel I could let the opportunity to do something special for her pass me by. 

The cake I made for her was simple, a deliciously light and fragrant Grand Marnier soaked orange cake topped with wild flowers from the garden. This alone would have been enough for Nan but when accompanied by the card you'll see below, it was met with tears of happiness and birthday joy. 

To conclude, sugar isn't good for you. Cake it's good for you either but my heavens it tastes amazing, it makes people smile and if we can't enjoy cake whilst living out our time on planet earth why are we here?!! I've said this many times on my blog, if you are going to indulge in a sweet treat try not to worry too much about the sugar content, unless of course you need to do so for medical reasons. Instead, hunt out the best of the best and enjoy patisserie for what it is. By all means experiment as I have done and if you feel you need, but I'd recommend that you try and lower your sugar content else where in life and don't begin your compromising with patisserie, I beg of you :o) 

Next time on my path to patissiere who knows what I'll be covering! Regular readers may have noticed my lack of posts over the past couple of months. Now that I'm no longer studying my opportunities to bake have significantly diminished but I have plenty of birthday and wedding cakes in the diary so I hope not to disappoint. I was over the moon to discover that I've now had over 10,000 hits on this site and thank you once again for taking the time to read my cake ramblings. 

I shall leave you with a selection of bakes that I've whipped up recently, and a few of cakes that I've had the pleasure of indulging in. Eat cake and be merry! x


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