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Dairy-Free Bake Off

Picture a traditional cake, made with butter and eggs, sadly out of the reach of a dairy-free diet... Now just imagine a completely dairy-free, egg-free cake. "Surely not" I hear you cry. "Surely it's not possible to bake a dairy-free cake!". I have personally had various disasters with recipes that use substitutes like vegetable oil and fruit puree, most of which came out resembling lumps of lead... But it is possible to make an actual dairy-free, egg-free sponge cake! Through the use of a special magic ingredient...

You can have your cake - but can you eat it too?

I'd already established that the dairy-free margerine works OK in baking, my biscuits and apple crumble were coming out well. Eggs were the problem. I hadn't really thought about it before but they are a wonder of nature. Not only can you boil them, fry them, scramble them, poach them and a million other things (I'll try not to go on about eggs too much for those of you who can't eat them). The point is that they make cakes distincly cake-like. How this came about, given that they are designed for nurturing baby chickens, is something of a mystery to me.

A magic ingredient!

Anyway, one day in a health food shop, I spotted some powdered egg substitute. I thought to myself aha! This could be the answer - could I make a cake using this stuff?

Then I thought about how my previous dairy-free baking experiments don't always turn out very successfully. Perhaps our (aging) oven doesn't always get to temperature, or maybe I didn't sieve the flour properly - that sort of thing. Does it sound like I'm making exuses here?!

And then it struck me - I could make half a cake using 'normal' ingredients and half using the dairy-free and egg-free ingredients. This way I could approach it vaguely scientifically. Which would come out better? Can you taste the difference? I wanted to find out.

Time for a bake-off!

In the yellow corner...

The recipe I used was a basic "victoria sponge" cake from Delia Smith's "Classic Collection". Wanting to do things properly, for the traditional cake I decided to use Stork margerine (supposedly 'ideal for baking') and free-range eggs.

And in the brighter yellow corner...

In the dairy free corner we had 'Pure' dairy-free spread and 'Allergy Care' vegan powdered egg replacer.

Let's be scientific about it now

The neutral ingredients

Both cakes were made with the same flour, caster sugar and baking powder. I used the same set of weighing scales, mixing bowl and beaters. I decided to do the dairy-free half first, to avoid any dairy contamination. It was fairly straightforward, the only change was that you have to add the powdered egg subsitute with the dry ingredients, and then a relevant amount of water. I followed the instructions on the packet for this.

Ready to go

So far, so good. I then followed the recipe for the other half of the cake using the ingredients as suggested. I put a pinch of cocoa powder on the dairy cake so I could tell which was which, although the dairy-free mixture did come out slightly paler.

Drum roll please!

You can see the difference

After the appropriate length of time in the oven I removed the cakes. From above the halves looked pretty good. However on inspecting from all angles, its fairly clear that the dairy-free cake did not rise as much (or as uniformly - which I take full responsibility for). This was disappointing as I had high hopes for the egg replacer.

A cake is still a cake after all

Not to be deterred, I pressed on and made a dairy-free chocolate topping using melted plain chocolate, no dairy of course, and a splash of rice milk. I cut each cake in half and sandwiched them together with a bit of rasberry jam. Mmmm!

I have to say I was quite pleased with my efforts at this stage, and both cakes were looking edible. Although it was clear on comparison that the traditional cake was certainly taller than the dairy-free one.


The moment of truth

So for the taste test! Our two testers had quite innocently come round to our house to watch a DVD and Martin and I took the opportunity to offer them a piece of cake (or two).

Without telling them what was going on, we gave them a sample of each cake to try and eagerly awaited the reaction. By now they could tell that there was something a bit funny going on, due to our unusual behaviour.

After some trepidation and my assurance that "no, honestly, there's nothing wrong with it" both cakes were tasted. The outcome was that the dairy cake did have a better texture, but in terms of taste there was no clear winner. They didn't immediately guess what the difference was.

Generally it was agreed that whilst the dairy-free cake was a little flat, it was indeed edible, and actually quite tasty.


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