Sweet pea and basil mini cakes with vanilla and lemon frosting
This month my eldest has her birthday. The entire month, that is, because due to school weekend activities and family members being on holidays, her birthday celebration is being stretched over a period of five weeks. This can mean only one thing: lots and lots of cake! Because she reached the age of elegant young girl, this week I made her this stack of elegant, pastel green mini cakes and they went down a – almost elegant – storm.
These mini cakes consist of two layers of airy vanilla sponge cake, topped with a fresh lemon frosting. The pretty green colour is all natural, due to the addition of a rather unusual cake ingredient: peas. This was inspired by food writer Kate Hackworthy, who uses all kinds of veg to make the most glorious cakes and who made a particularly beautiful pea and vanilla cake. Kate’s cakes are classic, rich, butter and egg sponge cakes. For these mini cakes, though, I made a slightly lighter, veganised sponge base. I replaced eggs and butter with fresh coconut yogurt, lemon juice and rapeseed oil, to end up with a vanilla sponge that was nutritious, light as a feather, yummy-tasting AND extremely easy to whip up – I’d say a win on all accounts!
Vegan baking bears the risk of turning out dense or dry, but this sweet pea sponge ticks all the right boxes: it’s moist, light and beautifully risen, with a rich vanilla and a delicate pea flavour which made my girls and their class mates immediately ask for more. I added a bit of chopped basil for a herby touch and a springtime feel – it was snowing while I shot the pictures, but a girl can dream, right?
I must say I hesitated when it came to the choice of frosting. I tried two different versions on my family: a classic lemon buttercream frosting using soy margarine and a fluffy lemon topping made from whipped coconut cream. When I asked my family which version they preferred, the verdict came out 50/50. The margarine frosting is creamy and sweet, but it takes a lot of sugar to get it that way. The coconut cream is naturally sweet already. By adding just a tablespoon of sweetener and a bit of lemon juice, you get a light and tangy topping. Since the birthday girl and myself favoured this last version, this is the one featured in the recipe below. If you prefer a rich buttercream topping, though, you can find the recipe for that one here.
Now simply add some fresh flowers or herbs for decoration and let the festivities begin!
Sweet pea and basil mini cakes with vanilla and lemon frosting – makes 4 not quite so mini – 8 real mini cakes
for the cake
- 275 g fresh or frozen peas
- 100 g coconut yogurt
- 150 g granulated sugar
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 250 g plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 10 g basil leaves, finely chopped
- 60 ml rapeseed oil or other neutral-flavoured oil
for the frosting
- 2 400 g tins of full-fat coconut milk, chilled for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight
- 1 tbsp. agave syrup
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
Plus: fresh flowers, or lemon zest, basil leaves, pea shoots or other decoration of choice
Make sure the tins of coconut milk are in de fridge.
Heat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas 3. Line a square 23×23 cm cake tin.
Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add the peas, boil them for a few minutes, then tip them into a sieve. Refresh them under cold running water, then drain well. Purée with a hand blender until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the coconut yogurt and the sugar. Add the pea purée, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract and stir until smooth and bright green.
In a second bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt and chopped basil. Stir the flour mixture into the pea mixture. When combined, fold in the oil using a spatula.
Spoon the batter into the cake tin, smoothing the top. Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
If you like, you can do all this the day before you want to serve the cakes. In this case, wrap the cake in clingfilm after having cooled completely and leave the rest to the following day.
To make the frosting, scoop out the thick white cream from the tins of coconut milk. You can freeze the remaining water for later use in soups or stews. Add the agave syrup and lemon juice to the coconut cream and whip until thick and fluffy. Keep in the fridge until using.
Using a round cutter, cut 9 ∅7 cm or 16 ∅5 cm circles from the cake.
Spread half of the circles with a thin layer of the coconut frosting. Take the remaining cakes and press them onto the coconut layer, bottom sides up to make a smooth top. Spread the tops with the remaining coconut cream. Decorate the cakes with fresh flowers or other decorations of choice. Preferably enjoy the same day.
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