Meet the Professionals The Veg Plot

Grow you own cake: meet Holly Farrell, cake baking gardener

Grow your Own fennell cake

While we actively encourage anyone to grow whatever they can in order to turn it into booze, Holly Farrell has other priorities from her plot: cake. The author’s new book, ‘Grow you own Cake’, published by Frances Lincoln, shows how garden produce – from berries to beetroot – can be used to make delicious cakes, biscuits and tarts. It’s a splendid looking book with mouth watering photography by Jason Ingram, clear instructions, and plenty of sensible grow-your-own advice. So good that we got in touch with Holly to find out more…

What gave you the idea for a cake recipe book with home grown ingredients?
Well, I’ve never met a gardener who doesn’t like cake, myself included. To my cake-orientated mind, it seemed a logical use of what I was growing!

You have nearly 50 recipes in the book. That must’ve been a lot of baking trying all of those out?
So much baking… Especially the days before Jason was coming to photograph – I ran out of places to put them. I must have washed up the bowl on my mixer thousands of times. Fun though (the baking, not the washing up).

What are your favourite home grown cake ingredients?
I’m not sure I have a favourite, it changes all the time. Whatever is newly in season tends to be my favourite!

We’re big fans of parsnips, using them to make wine, so we’re pleased to see you have a parsnip cake recipe in the book. What would you say to the parsnip sceptic about why it’s such a great cake ingredient?
It has such a great flavour – especially when you pair it with honey (we always roast our parsnips in honey for Christmas dinner, which was the driving force behind that cake). It deserves to be much more than the animal feed it is on the continent. Don’t forget, using veg in cakes doesn’t mean it is actually going to taste overwhelmingly of that veg, it’s just a basis for a flavour profile.

Other unusual ingredients include sweet potato, beetroot, tomato and lavender. What was the most surprisingly successful ingredient you used?
I do really like the fennel and chocolate cake. At first glance you might think eugh, but actually, the aniseed flavour works so well in cake.

And are there any ingredients you tried that just would not work?
No, although I did abandon attempts at a red velvet cake using beetroot. Using beetroot by itself works really well (the beetroot cake), or with a lot more chocolate as in the beetroot brownies. I think the problem was I’m just not a fan of red velvet cake…

The book also has lots of practical gardening advice. For anyone new to grow-your-own what’s a good cake ingredient to start with?
Definitely start small, until you know how much time you have/want to devote to growing. Herbs are therefore a brilliant starting point, especially those you can’t get fresh in the shops, like lavender or lemon verbena. And once you’ve tasted a home-grown strawberry, picked when perfectly ripe and warmed by the sun, you’ll never go back to the insipid supermarket offerings again!

And for any novice bakers, such as ourselves, what recipe should we try out first?
Hopefully my recipes are foolproof! In fact, my brother, an inexperienced baker, started with the four-tier, Italian-meringue-frosted Shades of Berry cake, and (as he put it) nailed it, so I’d hope you could too! The currant friands are also a good one to try, as they can be adapted to use seasonal fruit and don’t need any kind of mixer to make. Eat them warm from the oven…

Finally, it’s a lovely sunny day, you sit yourself in the garden after a light lunch and piece of cake… what beverage do you reach for to while away the afternoon?
Either a glass of elderflower cordial (I make my own like you, so much better than the ones you buy, which always taste a bit metallic to me), or a cup of fresh herb tea – probably peppermint, lemon balm or lemon verbena.

Grow your own cake Holly Farrell

To order a copy of Grow your own Cake visit the Quarto Knows website

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