The words “raw” and “cake” aren’t seen together very often. Most of us assume that anything called a cake has been baked. So when I saw the cover of British baking expert Joanna Farrow’s new book, entitled “Raw Cakes” (Spruce, $12.99), I was intrigued.
In a former life, I made desserts for a busy East End restaurant, and the memory of that extremely hot and busy kitchen drives me to avoid the oven in my own house during the summer. At this time of year, I rely on no-bake desserts, including icebox pies, trifles and tiramisu. I would love to expand my repertoire with a few cakes that don’t heat up the kitchen.
Farrow’s creations tempt with fresh flavors and wholesome ingredients. A chilled chocolate mousse cake, made with coconut oil, avocados, cocoa powder and agave nectar is rich in healthy fats and antioxidants as well as flavor. No-bake carrot cake, consisting of carrots, raisins, oats, dried pineapple and dried figs appeals to my inner health food nut, while the fluffy frosting made with ground cashews, almond milk, lime zest and maple syrup is just as creamy and tangy as conventional cream cheese frosting.
The recipes and photos, along with an email exchange with the author gave me inspiration to last through August:
Where did the idea for this book come from?
It just came out of the blue, really. I’ve written many cake books, regular baked ones that is, and my publisher and I were looking for something different. Despite my love of all cakes, I’ve been trying to reduce my sugar and gluten content. Raw cakes seemed like a really good way of enjoying treats the healthy way.
So this isn’t just a book for people on a raw food diet?
The obvious audience is those who are trying to eat well, but who still like treats, particularly on special occasions. It’s also relevant for vegans, as the recipes are both egg and dairy free. Anyone on a raw food diet will love the recipes but of course the book’s designed for all those who like good food whether they’re into baking or not.
What are the advantages of using agave syrup, coconut sugar or maple syrup instead of sugar when making desserts?
The advantage that these sweeteners have over regular sugar is that they contain additional nutrients not found in sugar.
What are your other favorite ingredients for making raw cakes?
I love nuts, which are fortunately a vital ingredient in raw cakes, either ground, chopped or whole. I also love all coconut products, particularly coconut oil, which is just brilliant, and coconut cream, which can be whisked to make a fabulous alternative to regular cream. I’ve made a few discoveries during the course of writing the book, including the delicious uses of cocoa as a base for raw chocolate recipes and that sweet, jammy dates make a delicious caramelly tasting sauce when whizzed up in a blender.
The photos in the book are really beautiful. Do you have any general tips for decorating raw cakes?
I think it’s best to keep decorations simple. Fresh fruit, of course, works as a treat, as does a scattering of herbs such as mint and lavender. Herb flowers always look fabulous, particularly on a birthday cake or special dessert.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one, but my favorites would include the salted pecan brownies, raw banoffi pie, lime and avocado plate pie, carrot cake, and blueberry and vanilla cake.
Raspberry, pistachio and rose semifreddo
Recipe adapted from “Raw Cakes” by Joanna Farrow
Generous 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
Generous 1 cup raspberries, plus extra to serve
2 (5 1/2 oz.) cans coconut cream, chilled overnight
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon rose extract
1. Put the pistachios in a bowl, cover with cold water and let soak for several hours or overnight.
2. Line a small 2 1/2 cup loaf pan or similar-size freezer-proof container with plastic wrap.
3. Coarsely mash the raspberries with a fork. Drain the nuts, then coarsely chop.
4. Scrape off the thick layer of coconut cream into a bowl. Discard 1 tablespoon of the water left in each can, then add the remaining water to the bowl. Beat until thickened and softly peaking. Beat in the agave nectar and rose extract.
5. Gently stir in the pistachios and raspberries and tip the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the surface level and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight until firmed up.
6. If frozen overnight, transfer the semifreddo to the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving. Invert onto a plate or board and peel away the plastic wrap. Cut into slices and serve scattered with extra raspberries. Makes 6 servings.