When Abigail Saffer started Manchester Cake Club, I immediately signed up. Given my previous post on the Heatons Cakes bake off, it's not really that surprising. I really do love cake.
Unfortunately, due to generally being a bit of a busy bee, I couldn't make the first meeting. But the second, oh yes, I would be there with bells on.
This second meeting was to be a more specialised talk, on vegan baking. Given by the Cottage Cupcake Company's very own Jenny Gradwell, it was to be a look into why, what and how. Given I have vegan friends and have always felt a bit worried about what I'm feeding them at any point, I was looking forward to an informative evening.
On arrival at the Slug and Lettuce in Didsbury, I was greeted by a group of other cake loving individuals,tucking into some of Jenny' s creations. Not one to be left out, I soon picked up one of the beautifully crafted cherry bakewell cupcakes.
Light cake, creamy frosting, sweet fresh cherry. And yes, completely vegan. Eyeing up the other treasures on the table, including a huge Victoria sponge, destined for a raffle winner, I selected a small piece of rocky road brownie before settling down for the talk itself.
Jenny, proved to be an enthusiastic speaker and quickly put us all at ease. She has been a vegan for 5 years, and until doing so, hadn't cooked or baked on a regular basis. She now runs a successful cake business, creating celebration cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
Beginning with such a mixed audience, she wanted to see how much we really knew. I confess I am somewhat of an innocent when it comes to vegan matters. I understand the concept, feel the frustration some of my friends have when we go out, or eat together, but despite cooking and baking often, it's something I'd worry about rather than enjoy.
So, Jenny went on to describe what a vegan is:
Placing in front of us several items, including a plate of Co-operative jam doughnuts and a plate of custard ones, not to mention chocolate Jammy Dodgers, we were asked how much of these were vegan. The non-vegans amongst us drawing a blank, it was up to those more knowledgeable at the event to educate us.
The answer, all of it.
Suitably surprised, Jenny went on to the more scientific elements of baking - the bit, I have to confess, I love. If you bake, you'll understand the basic concept of a cake: dry ingredient (usually flour), fat (butter/margarine), sweetener (usually sugar) and a binder/leavener (usually eggs). There are different ways to manage this in vegan cooking, but generally the method Jenny uses involves a 'buttermilk' created from a milk (rice milk, soy milk, almond milk etc etc) and a small amount of a white vinegar. This is blended with self-raising flour, vegetable oil and an alternative to eggs - whether this is fruit puree, an egg substitute, or something like silken tofu (not just for your miso soup or deep frying). The self-raising flour then provides the raising agent, baking powder reacting with the acidity in the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda reacting with the moisture in the batter and you have yourself a vegan cake.
There was also a useful insight into sugar - not all sugar is vegan. Some is sifted through charcoal made by burning animal bones. If that's not enough to put you off your cup of tea...
Finally, the bit we were all most curious about. Frosting. How do you create buttercream without butter? Ganache without cream? There's no denying that the cherry bakewell cupcake I'd just scoffed was gorgeous - but what was in the frosting?
The answer is very simple - fat again such as a vegan margarine or Trex etc, blended with icing sugar, a touch of soy milk and a flavouring (vanilla extract, melted chocolate etc). Peanut butter frosting is also an option and coconut butter frosting (leave your can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight, for the fat to rise to the top) both of which I have to try for myself very soon.
With us all suitably educated, it was time for us to mill around, meet each other and, as every Manchester Cake Club member knows, eat more cake.
And the winner of the fabulous Victoria sponge? No, not me - that would be Susan of Susan Styles you. Lucky lady.