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Borough Belles: Grace Essex

Categories: Reflections and opinions

The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Grace Essex

I am a little bit of a WI newbie, and I won’t lie: the opportunity for baking was a big part of the initial attraction. I went to my first meeting on the WI centenary in September 2015 and joined as a proper member this year. The baking part is great, but it’s not the reason I keep going to the meetings. Put simply, the Borough Belles WI is a bunch of fabulous women from my local community who hang around together a few times a month, sharing stories, knowledge and laughs and learning new things. And there is almost always cake at meetings. What more could anyone want?

I love baking—it makes me happy because delicious cakes make other people smile. In my group of friends (my London family), I am the person who covers birthdays and special occasions. I have an endless hoard of cake-carrying equipment that helps me transport cake wherever it needs to go. I am probably seen carrying my cupcake caddy more regularly than I am with a handbag.

Usually my cake adventures are planned, although as I am known by my friends as a ‘mad cake lady’, I am sometimes called upon to make emergency cake. I have learned that the best way to approach these cake emergencies is to go vegan—vegan cakes don’t require any perishable ingredients, so can usually be made with things that I have in the cupboard.

For vegan cakes, you basically replace any butter, eggs and milk with oil, a bit of extra baking powder and some form of plant milk (for example, coconut, almond, soy or rice). Then just go ahead and add any flavouring you like: carrot, banana, dark chocolate, citrus, honey (not strictly vegan, but non-perishable and probably found in your cupboard), berries and about a million other flavour combinations that might exist in your pantry.

The point is, baking should be fun, easy and give you the freedom to experiment. That’s why I love it.

Grace’s carrot and cardamom cupcakes
Pop 200ml coconut milk and between five and 10 lightly crushed cardamom pods (depending on your taste) in a pan on a low heat, then leave to simmer. Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together 300g plain flour, 3 tsp baking powder, 100g dark brown soft sugar, 75g desiccated coconut, 5g cinnamon and 5g ground ginger.

After 5-10 mins, once the cardamom has infused into the coconut milk, remove the pods and keep to one side, then pour the liquid into another bowl with 100ml sunflower oil, 1 tbsp golden syrup and 1 tsp vanilla essence, then mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, together with 200g grated carrot. Mix together until smooth and not too thick. Add a little extra coconut milk if it is too lumpy.

Fill 18 cupcake cases until three quarters full. My preferred method is to fill a sandwich bag using a pint glass, then snip a tiny bit of one corner off and use it like a piping bag. This means you fill the cases evenly, without spilling bits all over the muffin tin.

Bake for 12 minutes at 180C, while making a start on the icing. Blend the reserved cardamom pods and 3 tbsp coconut milk until a smooth paste. Add this to 250ml coconut cream and 1 tbsp golden syrup, then whip. Start mixing in 200g icing sugar a few spoons at a time. Pop the icing in the fridge to chill.

When the cakes are out of the oven, leave for a few minutes to cool in the tin before transferring to a cooling rack. Once completely cooled, take the icing out of fridge and spread it on the cupcakes. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut and enjoy!