gardening for cake: zucchini-carrot bundt cake

sometimes, you have to resort to bribery.  to attract volunteers to the demonstration garden, we tell perspective volunteers that there will be cake to snack on.  we also tell them that there are plants and produce to share but the cake seems to get their attention quicker.  but baking a cake every week means that i have to find a recipe and secure the ingredients.  every now and then, someone comes out to the garden with a dietary issue that can make it especially challenging.  we recently had a few volunteers who followed a vegan diet and that makes baking cakes a real challenge.

believe it or not, butter adds moisture and flavor to cakes as well as texture from the fat.  eggs strengthen the structure and help add volume by holding the air that is mixed in during the baking process.  milk and buttermilk add flavor as well as moisture-try substituting water sometime, you will taste the difference.  let’s not forget, a true vegan diet also means no honey since the harvesting process kills bees and honey adds moisture, helps retain moisture with its hygroscopic nature and honestly, it tastes really good in a cake!  when you have to eliminate these items, it can make baking a good cake difficult, even for a pro.

with the garden in full swing now, there are so many possibilities.  berries, figs, peaches, carrots, summer squash and let’s not forget an abundance of herbs to choose from.  in my own garden, i had a few zucchini and some carrots to harvest and they both work well in cakes.  since this is a vegan recipe, i had to make a few changes to the original recipe.  the current darling of the diet world is coconut.  this recipe utilizes both coconut oil and an unsweetened coconut milk beverage rather than the traditional kind in the can.  to find these ingredients, check the natural food section of the grocery store.  the oil is sold in jars and is semi solid at room temperature.  the coconut milk beverage is packed in quart sized cartons and is sold alongside soy and rice milk.  substituting the eggs is tricky.  to get a nice texture with a small crumb, i find that ener-g egg replacer works the best and this can also be found in the same section of the store.

and for those of you that are not interested in baking a vegan cake, this recipe can be quickly converted.  substitute and equal amount of butter for the coconut oil, buttermilk for the coconut beverage and 3 large eggs rather than the equivalent amount of egg replacer.

vegan zucchini-carrot bundt cake
makes 1 bundt cake serving 10-12
1 medium to large carrot
1 zucchini
1/3 cup pecan pieces
4 1/2 teaspoons ener-g egg replacer (or 3 large eggs)
2/3 cup coconut oil (or 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft)
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (or 1 cup buttermilk)
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.  grate enough carrot and zucchini to measure 2 cups.  place the pecans on a baking tray and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.  let them cool before using.  whisk the egg replacer into 3 tablespoons warm water and allow it to sit while you begin mixing the batter.
cream the coconut oil with the brown sugar and the salt.  the oil will liquefy as it mixes so it is not necessary to mix for more than a couple minutes.  add the egg replacer and mix well, scrape the bowl too.  sift the flour, baking powder and spice blend over the batter.  fold it in a few times.  sprinkle the coconut beverage over the top of the batter and fold together.  sprinkle the zucchini and carrots over the top and fold together completely.  scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

carrot bundt cake with dried apricots and fresh pineapple

carrot cake-you either love it or hate it.  personally, i am in the middle on this one.  while i like raisins, i do not like them in a carrot cake.  raisins in the batter-pass!  give me a carrot cake with lots of coconut, walnuts, pineapple chunks and of course, shredded carrots, and i am a happy baker.  so how can you improve on this perfection, besides slathering it with cream cheese frosting?  quite easily, actually.

when i wrote my first book, i was thinking of a carrot cake that i could serve at our holiday festivities with my cousins.  several of them have sensitivities to peanuts and for a while, tree nuts were suspect too.  that had me thinking…carrot cakes almost always have walnuts in them.  so what if i switched over to walnut oil rather than the usual vegetable oils and left the walnuts out.  that way, i could easily make the cake with a vegetable oil if the need arose.  ok, nut issue solved!

but what about the other stuff?  freshly grated carrots-no changes needed here.  shredded coconut; nope, it stays as is.  pineapple???  of course, let’s switch this to fresh, ripe pineapple.  not bad, only about 100 times better than the crushed stuff in cans.  but what about the texture?  now that there aren’t any chewy nuts, it isn’t very exciting.  in stepped a bag of dried apricots and history was made.  chewy, tart and full of apricotty goodness.  now that’s what i’m talkin about!  so, is it possible to improve any further?  you betcha, put it in a bundt pan and you’re golden.  and for the one i made to take to the garden recently, i threw caution to the wind and added some toasted pecan pieces, have mercy on my soul, for i am just a baker with a well stocked larder.  i didn’t mean anything by it…

carrot-apricot bundt cake
1 (10-12) cup bundt cake serving about 16
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup wild flower honey-the darker ones have more flavor
1 cup oil-can be walnut, hazelnut or any other vegetable oil that is liquid at room temp
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh pineapple-drained
1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts
2 1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the cake pan.  in a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, honey and oil.  whisk it until combined.  add the ginger, carrots, apricots, pineapple, coconut and nuts if you are using them.  whisk to combine.  place the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt into a sifter and sift it over the batter.  using a spatula, fold the batter until it is combined and no streaks remain.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.  invert onto a rack to finish cooling.  give it a little sprinkle of powdered sugar for decoration if you like.  enjoy and may the force be with you.