Vegetables: Digging Deep for Inspiration

Vegetables: Digging Deep for Inspiration

Who says we need to eat our veggies first? Australian Baking Business looks at the bakers who are turning to vegetables for a savoury twist on classic recipes.

Naturally moist and sweet, and with a uniquely earthy characteristic, corn adds flavour and texture to baked foods. In its natural state, corn has been a popular ingredient in baking throughout the Americas for hundreds of years. Sweet corn pie is a signature dish of several Caribbean countries, particularly Trinidad and Barbados, while savoury corn tarts are commonly served up as part of Mexican fiesta menus.


Cornflour and cornmeal, on the other hand, have long been embraced by European baking traditions and are now commonly accepted foundations for bread, scones, pies, cakes and dacquoise, and biscuits. While the recipe below uses cornmeal, it’s not uncommon to see grilled or pan-fried corn kernels – from the cob, rather than the can – added to traditional cornbread recipes for a rustic and spongy texture.


“Cornbread is the staple bread in the southern states of the US. Traditionally, it is flavoured with bacon fat, but you can substitute butter, lard or olive oil.

“You can stir various things into the batter to give the bread a different character – crisp pieces of bacon, for example, of fried onions, blanched sweetcorn kernels or, as here, some hot chili and spring onions.

“Cornbreads are particularly good with fried and barbecued foods, like chicken and ribs.” – Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington

120ml milk
90g unsalted butter + extra for the tin
240g cornmeal
240g plain white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon Maldon salt, ground
1 egg
120ml plain low fat bio yoghurt or buttermilk
1 fresh green chili, finely shredded
2 spring onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20cm round deep cake tin and line the bottom with buttered greaseproof paper.
2. Warm the milk in a small pan, then remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to melt off the heat.
3. Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Beat the egg with the yoghurt or buttermilk and the buttery milk. Stir in the chili and spring onions, then fold this mixture into the dry ingredients
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the bread firm to touch.
5. Turn out and cut into wedges while still hot.


Zucchini is one of the most versatile summer vegetables when it comes to baking. Like carrots, zucchinis retain their moisture when baked, leading to tender cakes and breads. The vegetable also retains its flavour, so if you don’t want a clearly distinguishable zucchini taste, wash
and shred it finely so it dissolves in the oven. Shredded zucchini should be pressed well, with paper towels, to soak up excess moisture to prevent whatever you’re baking from becoming too soggy.

Courgette Cake

“This cake was first introduced to us by our friend, Daisy, in the UK. It has since been a feature at many picnics, birthdays and tea parties. Like it’s cousin the carrot cake, the courgette helps to make the cake moist and sweet.”
– Jessica, Georgia and Maxine Thompson
Preparation time: 30 minutes + 10 minutes draining
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves eight

250g courgettes (zucchini), grated
125ml sunflower oil
2 eggs
150g caster (superfine) sugar
225g self-raising flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime

200g cream cheese, at room temperature
90g icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted, plus
extra for dusting
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
200g pistachios, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease two round 20cm cake tins and line the bases with baking paper. Coarsely grate the zucchini,
place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze out the excess moisture.

2. Put the sunflower oil, eggs and sugar into a large bowl and whisk until creamy. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking
powder and stir until well combined. Stir in the grated zucchini, lime zest and lime juice and mix until just combined.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared tins and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch and golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from their tins and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. To make the filling, combine the cream cheese, icing sugar, lime zest and lime juice and mix until smooth and well combined. Stir in the pistachios, cover, and set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

5. Spread the cream cheese filling thickly over the top of one of the cakes. Top with the second cake and dust with icing sugar. Cut into generous slices to serve.


Pumpkin’s earthy flavour and dense, fibrous texture, makes it perfect for baking cakes, pies, scones, bars and muffins. Increasingly, the vegetable is even being incorporated into doughnut recipes, where powdered sugar glaze is replaced by nutmeg and cinnamon.

Spiced Pumpkin and Chocolate Muffins

“The pumpkin and spices in these muffins give them a taste of America, while adding chocolate brings a little luxury and familiarity.”
– Dean Brettschneider
Makes 12 large or 24 medium-sized muffins

450g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
170g soft brown sugar
170g caster sugar
25g baking powder
5g Chinese five spice
150g milk chocolate drops
5 small eggs
330ml milk
120g puréed pumpkin
100ml vegetable oil, such as canola
100g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cinnamon sugar
12 chocolate buttons, chopped
Icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Line two six-hole large muffin trays with paper muffin cases and set aside.
2. Sift together all flours and sugars, baking powder and Chinese five spice powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the chocolate drops and set aside. In a separate bowl, place eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, oil, melted butter and vanilla extract and gently whisk together with a hand
whisk. Be careful not to incorporate too much air into the mixture.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, mix until the batter just comes together. Take care not to over-mix, otherwise the batter will toughen.
4. Fill each paper muffin case to the top with batter. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and chocolate buttons.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30–35 minutes until muffins are firm to the touch when pressed with your finger.
6. Remove from the oven and leave muffins to settle in the trays for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are smooth, creamy and subtly sweet – so it’s not surprising they are a popular choice for baking. In fact, the densest, starchiest vegetables deliver the creamiest texture when pureed, meaning sweet potato can even obviate the need for dairy.

Sweet Potato Nut cake with amaretto frosting

By Katherine Monahan. Reproduced from Eggton

“We had three sweet potatoes left over, so I started with this Bon Appetit recipe (from But I deviated from the recipe – I would never put dried cranberries on sweet potatoes if I cooked them, so putting them in a sweet potato cake sounded weird. And, I love nuts, so I threw in a lot more of those and amped up the spices. I also added molasses, candied ginger and poppyseeds.

“I split the flour into whole wheat and white, and switched the frosting from orange cream cheese to amaretto cream cheese. The result was delicious. If you like carrot cake, you will like this.”

– Katherine Monahan

3 medium sweet potatoes
1½ cups white flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
1 jar of poppyseeds
½ tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
4 eggs
1 ¼ cup nuts (1 cup walnuts, ¼ cup pecans)
2 tbsb candied ginger
1 tsp vanilla

400g cream cheese
10 tbsp butter
2-4 cups confectioner’s sugar
4-5 tbsp amaretto liqueur.

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Poke at the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake the sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet with their skins on for about
one hour. Remove sweet potatoes, peel them, and mash two cups worth.
2. Reduce heat to 170°C.
3. Toast the walnuts and pecans, and chop thoroughly, or pulse in a food processor for about 15-20 seconds (the nuts should be finer than roughly chopped). Chop the candied ginger into small pieces.
4. Cream together the sugars, molasses, oil and vanilla in a mixer. Add the eggs.
5. In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger and allspice. Slowly add the flour
mixture to the mixer with the wet ingredients.
6. Fold in the nuts, candied ginger, poppyseeds and sweet potato.
7. The batter will be thick. Pour it into two greased and floured 22cm round pans and bake at 170°C until a toothpick comes out clean (about 30 minutes). Let the cake cool.

8. Beat the cream cheese with the butter in a mixer until fluffy (this is easiest if the butter is at room temperature). Beat in two cups of powdered sugar.
9. Add amaretto and adjust sugar to suit your taste. I do not like sweet frosting, so two cups of sugar may not be enough for you.
10. This is not a frosting that will form stiff peaks, so if it looks too goopy to spread comfortably on the cakes, chill the frosting in the  refrigerator for an hour before assembling the cake.


Carrot cake is one of the most widely practised vegetable-based baking recipes. What many bakers may not be familiar with, however, is the fact this notoriously moist cake is also rich in carotenoids – organic pigments that rejuvenate the skin and are thought to prevent some
forms of cancer.

Farmhouse Carrot Cake

“This has to be my all-time favourite cake. The cake is moist and flavoursome and the cream cheese icing is smooth and creamy. Serve it
with a dollop of unsweetened yoghurt. You will find it hard to stop at one slice.”
– Dean Brettschneider
Makes one 20cm cake

200g plain flour
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs
170g granulated sugar
170g light or dark brown sugar
275ml vegetable oil
150g grated carrot
90g walnuts, chopped
70g canned pineapple, crushed

105g cream cheese
90g butter, softened
190g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp lemon zest

70g dried apricots, chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
¼ tsp poppy seeds

1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease and line a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with non-stick baking paper. This is necessary to avoid overbaking due to the long baking time required.
2. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, mixed spice and cinnamon into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add eggs, both types of sugar, oil,  carrot, walnuts and pineapple and mix for one minute on slow speed. Scrape down the sides and mix for another two minutes on medium
speed one.
3. Pour batter into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for one hour. A skewer inserted into the centre of thecake should come out clean.
4. Remove from the oven and leave cake in the tin for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. While the cake is cooling, prepare the cream cheese icing. Place cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and lemon zest into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until the icing is white and fluffy. Use immediately.
6. Using a palette knife, spread the cream cheese icing evenly over the top of the cake and decorate with dried apricots, pumpkin seeds and poppy seeds, as desired. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt.


As well as being an excellent natural food colourant, beetroot makes cakes, brownies and cookies that little bit sweeter.

A natural pairing for beetroot is cocoa – the cocoa offsets the earthiness of the beetroot, which reciprocates by lending moisture.

Beets can also be blended with vanilla in ice cream or panna cotta for a treat that would not be unheard of in kitchens throughout the US, particularly in Philadelphia, which seems to use the vegetable’s sweetness for everything from fudge to pot de crème (French dessert custard).

In recent years, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have both released hugelypoplar beetroot and chocolate cake recipes. The recipes simply combine raw beetroot – which is roasted, peeled and chopped – with a chocolate cake and ganache recipe.

Think Outside the Box

Of course, bakers don’t need to be limited to these vegetables. Experiment, substitute one ingredient for another and utilise the wealth of literature on the subject available on the internet.

• Rhubarb:
Apple and rhubarb crostata – rhubarb is very acidic so increase the sweetness with sugar, honey or maple syrup

• Eggplant:
Eggplant and chocolate torte – use cacao powder for a paleofriendly recipe

• Parsnip:
Parsnip and fruit loaf – add lemon drizzle for a fresh take on the traditional fruit cake

• Cabbage:
Chocolate and sauerkraut cake – Germans have added sauerkraut to cake recipes for generations, not for taste, but for moisture

• Peas:
Green pea flower bread – try pea flower for a soft, sliceable loaf of gluten-free bread

• Broccoli:
Curried broccoli cake – bake blanched broccoli, turmeric, cayenne pepper, curry powder in a plain cake mixture and slice like bread

• Onion:
Caramelised onion bread – soft, fluffy bread with an intense aroma

• Fennel:
Top a lemon upside cake with fans of candied fennel, bathed in golden syrup

• Celery:
Celery seed bread – a quick and easy bread with Italian origins

• Artichoke:
Spinach and artichoke bread pudding – artichokes can be an intimidating and time-consuming vegetable to prepare, but once baked, they are aromatic and have a rich, nutty flavour.

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