AS SUMMER turns to autumn, it’s a good chance to make the most of the last of the season’s vegetables.
You’ll find that vegetables like carrots, courgettes and courgette flowers, as well as greens like fennel, spinach and watercress, are no longer at their best after September, so now’s the time to enjoy them while you still can.
A great way to use up the end of the season’s vegetables is to create some delicious soups, especially tasty as the weather starts to cool. In our house, we also like to use them in baking. With a little creativity, vegetables can make a great addition to cakes and bakes, and it’s a brilliant way to make them a little healthier. In fact, if you’ve got some fussy eaters in the house, it’s a clever way to get your kids eating more vegetables, and indeed helping with the cooking.
This summer, we’ve had a great time in the garden with the kids, trying to make the most of the sun. For those of you lucky enough to be able to grow your own vegetables or visit a local farm or producer, the rewards can be a joy and there’s nothing better than seeing the results of all that nurturing and hard work.
I can still remember the days I spent picking strawberries as a teenager and then, during summer, packing broccoli on a local farm. Being so close to produce like that really allows you to enjoy your vegetables as fresh as can be and it’s wonderful to be able to teach kids about where the produce they eat comes from.
Even a visit to a local farmers’ market gives kids a chance to understand more about food and its origins. Taking the carrots and courgettes home still a little misshapen and muddy from the ground is all part of the journey. Getting the kids to help with the peeling, grating and indeed the home baking can be so much fun, and eating the baking, still warm, fresh from the oven is magical.
This carrot cake recipe was one I fell in love with when our pastry chef at The Kitchin started making small petits fours for our guests to enjoy after dinner. I took the recipe home and tried it with our two eldest boys and ever since then it’s become a firm family favourite.
Most of us will have sampled carrot cake before, but another of our family favourites is this courgette cake. I first made it after a visit to a local school where the pupils were growing their own vegetables and making similar cakes with the courgettes they grew. I’ve developed my own recipe since and it’s such a simple recipe for kids to help with, yet it’s a tasty treat the whole family can enjoy. Great British Bake Off – here we go!
MINI CARROT CAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE TOPPING - MAKES 12
a little butter for greasing
190g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
95g desiccated coconut
4 medium free range eggs
135ml vegetable oil
190g soft dark brown sugar
400g peeled carrots, grated
270g cream cheese
230g icing sugar, sifted
160g unsalted butter, softened
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
finely chopped carrot and grated orange zest to finish
Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 30cm x 20cm baking tin with baking parchment. Sift the flour with the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl. Stir in the desiccated coconut.
Using an electric hand whisk or electric mixer, whisk the eggs, vegetable oil and brown sugar together until fluffy and thick.
Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold the flour and coconut into the mixture until just combined. Finally, add the grated carrots and fold in gently. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, spreading it evenly and into the corners.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a fine skewer or cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave the cake in the tin for ten minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the topping, beat the cream cheese, icing sugar, butter and vanilla seeds or extract together for at least five minutes using the mixer or electric whisk, until the mixture is fluffy and white.
Cut the cake into bite-size helpings and pipe a generous dollop of the cream cheese mixture on top. Finish with a sprinkling of finely chopped carrot and grated orange zest.
COURGETTE CAKE - SERVES EIGHT
120g caster sugar
1 courgette grated (8oz)
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g cream cheese
125g icing sugar
2 cake tins
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Beat the eggs and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add the grated courgette (reserving a little of the courgette for decoration), flour, baking powder and vanilla essence until mixed well. Separate the mixture evenly into two cake tins and bake for ten to 15 minutes. For the icing, beat the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar together until light and creamy. Once the cake is cool, spoon and smooth half of the icing between the two cakes, and pipe the remaining icing on the top. Sprinkle with finely chopped courgette.