At the moment, I’m loving the chill in the air that signals early Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are drawing in and there’s already a sense of anticipation about the ‘C’ word. I also want to eat nothing but orange vegetables. Carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash become a staple of my weekly trip to the greengrocers. Most often I roast them with spices such as cumin and cinnamon, but also enjoy them simply boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt.
Sweet potato is so versatile, being equally at home in sweet and savoury recipes. The unassuming knobbly vegetable lends itself really well to being baked into cakes. Vegetables in cakes is nothing new – if you go beyond the undeniable cliché of carrot cake there’s a whole new world out there. I’ve got a whole cookbook dedicated to cakes which contain all manner of vegetables, from courgette and lemon cakes to aubergine in brownies (yes, really).
My friend Clare and I thought that some gentle Sunday afternoon baking was in order. So we decided to use the sweet potato to make some savoury muffins, utilising the natural sweetness of the vegetable to combine with the sour goats cheese. We used a combination of wholemeal, plain and polenta flour in this recipe, giving the muffins a slightly grainy texture and a more full flavour. But if you don’t want to faff around with this just use plain or wholemeal. The general muffin method is to mix together all the dry and all the wet ingredients and fold one into the other. The highlight for me of making these muffins was mashing the boiled sweet potato together with a frankly obscene amount of butter into a gooey puddle, then eating a sneaky spoonful (or three).
If someone had said to me a year ago that I would bake a vegan muffin that tasted ‘just like the real thing’ I would have given a derisory snort of disbelief. But in my new wholesome existence, thanks in no small part to becoming friends with Paris (the founder of the lifestyle website called Avocado Please, nonetheless), I have opened my mind to the possibility that you can bake something delicious without butter. Yes, some things will always need dairy – cheese scones for example – but muffins, I have recently discovered, are not one of them.
For our last Vegessential recipe using beetroot, we opted for the well-known and loved combination of chocolate and beetroot. We used a combination of ‘Beyond Dark’ 85% chocolate chips and melted chocolate, for a double whammy of the good stuff. The beetroot gives a deep, rich flavour and provides the moistness that is so essential for a good muffin. There is a ‘secret’ ingredient that flummoxed everyone who tried to guess it: avocado. This binds the mixture together, and gives the muffins a smooth, buttery texture. Paris sums the muffins up rather well, describing them as combining ‘a vibrant purple complexion, an earthy aroma and nutritional brilliance’. Well said, Paris.
The styling team (me and Paris) had great fun creating ‘muffin chaos’ shots on my bedroom floor, arranging bits of muffin haphazardly in amongst chocolate chips and beetroot leaves. The chocolate drops melted in the sweltering July heat, leaving shiny little circles on the slate that we gleefully scooped into our mouths once we’d finished the shoot. That thing that is slopped on the side of the muffins is a rather remarkable banana and cashew ice cream (recipe coming soon.)
You can find the recipe on Avocado Please here.
You will require a muffin tin and an open mind.