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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

The Great Vegan, Gluten-Free Bake off

A cookery comedy of errors. Not one for exacting measurements means baking disasters are aplenty.

Over the last few weeks, I have been gripped by the Great British Bake Off. Eagerly willing each contestant to succeed as they are suspended between Mary Berry’s reassuring presence and Paul Hollywood’s no-nonsense brashness. Inspired by all the sugar flowers, piping, and sculpting, I too fancied myself an amateur baker, despite having never actually baked before. Except for that one time I made a cake when I was 10 years old and accidently used caster sugar instead of flour. It was not delicious.

I decided to look up vegan, gluten free brownie recipes since I am now on a Peter Rabbit diet consisting mainly of bitter clown tears and lettuce. I managed to find two recipes that I decided to combine. One of the recipes called for beetroot, chocolate and Xantham gum (which I didn’t have) whilst the other used a simpler form of chocolate and gluten-free flour. Therein lies the problem, I imagine Paul Hollywood saying. This, as it transpired, would mark the first of an unfortunate series of baking events.

Like all aspiring ‘bakers’, I set up my workspace with the ingredients I would need. I began by puréeing the beetroot and adding a heap of dark chocolate. I say ‘heap’ because I was going by my baker’s ‘instincts’, those of which it turns out I don’t really possess. I discovered fairly early on into the process that we didn’t have a measuring cup or scales in our under-resourced kitchen. Undeterred by this minor obstacle, I persevered. I added the almond flour, honey and baking soda as recommended by the first recipe. Not being one for precision, quite a key ingredient in baking as I would soon learn, this did not dissuade me. Instead, I again used my “intuition”, mistaking excitement and the need to eat brownies for raw, natural talent. A mistake I would later come to regret.

Delighted with myself, I popped it in the oven imagining a smiling Mary Berry beaming at me proudly. I was covered in flour and chocolate, and I had beetroot under my fingernails. I was a proper baker. I gave myself a virtual pat on the back for my efforts. Feeling rather smug, I concluded that I should go one step further and make icing. Yet again, this called for a google search. I had already begun making a recipe I found using silken tofu and chocolate when I discovered a recipe using lemon. I decided that sounded much tastier so I chucked in some lemon with the chocolate for good measure because I was too lazy to start again. As it turns out, lemon with tofu and chocolate is also not delicious.

I spent the remainder of the process with my face pressed against the oven as I anxiously awaited the fruits of my labour. Ten minutes in, I remembered I had forgotten to put a timer on. I also realised that both recipes had different recommended baking times and couldn’t find them. My baking “intuition” told me to just go with a longer baking time. I estimated how long it had been in the oven and decided to keep checking it to see if it was rising. After 30 minutes had passed, it had still not risen. I surmised that it must have been that the tray was so high it probably just looked like they hadn’t risen. I was unhelpfully only told after the fact that I had not used a cake tray but a roasting tin, apparently entirely unsuitable for baking brownies. I'm sure at this point anyone who bakes regularly is in actual physical pain reading this.

I grew tired of waiting, who knew baking took so long? Endowed with the self-control of a gnat, I retrieved the slightly sunken, purply mixture from the oven and displayed it proudly on the table. A big fan of the odd humble brag, I was of course expecting praise. Praise I did not receive and I was mortally affronted when I was told they “looked interesting”.

I was convinced that my lemon, chocolate icing could save them. I decorated each one with decadent looking swirls, each topped with a walnut. This is where I believe the “never judge a book by its cover” warning comes into its own. I cut the brownies into pieces and brought them as a post-dinner “gift” for my brother and his girlfriend.

“Beetroot brownies! Dig in!” I cried. “I made them especially!”

Obligingly, everyone took a brownie. To my annoyance, not only did they fail to eat it but they refrained from having another as they were “simply too full”. My brother didn't even indulge me and just spat his out. His girlfriend politely churned it around in her mouth a few times while she told me they weren’t “that bad”.

I conceded defeat. They were sadly, fairly revolting. Instead of the chocolatey gooey richness the recipe(s) promised, the chocolate part of the chocolate brownie was largely absent leaving in its wake soggy beetroot gunge mixed with a hint of lemon. All of which left a distinctly bizarre taste in the mouth. Perhaps baking is an exact science after all. I felt like Bridget Jones. “Four hours of careful cooking… and a feast of blue soup, omelette and marmalade.” Two hours of (not so) careful baking and I had created a sunken beetroot and lemon mush. At least my presence was a gift...


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