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Vegan baking gluttony: Lemon bars, smore's, and scary apple cake

Do you ever have days when everything you touch in the kitchen goes right? No? Me neither. So when I had one of those the other day, I was absolutely astounded. Let me tell you about it.

I'm a sucker for a fruit or vegetable that I've never seen before. If it's a new plant, I can't resist taking it back home to try it out. If you labelled carrots as 'orange parsnips', I'd think 'I've never had an orange parsnip, I'm totally buying half a kilo for Sunday lunch'. When the place I buy my veg from was advertising bergamot lemons, I bought a packet.

Bergamot lemons are very close in appearance to normal lemons, but dinkier and with a divot near the end. You're probably most used to them as the thing that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive taste. I'd never seen the actual bergamot before, so I was intrigued to give them a try.

After a quick thumb of my cookbooks, I stumbled on the lemon bars from Veganomicon. After a bit of reservation about making a separate biscuit and lemon curd top, I knuckled down and got on with it.

Biscuit mixed, cooked, cooled, curd made, poured on top, stuck in the fridge for a while, while you check your watch and wish the bloody thing would hurry up and set. Final stage: stand and admire handiwork.

Here's what it looked like:

The curd top was so pretty! I used annatto rather than turmeric to colour the top, and it turned out like blown glass.

And the bergamot? It had all the tangy citrus glory you'd expect from a lemon, but with a really floral background note. It was moreish, and the lemon bars didn't last long.

The next baking extravaganza wasn't really much in the way of baking at all. I thought I'd experiment with some Rore's (I coined that name for something half way between raw and smore's, and I'm sticking to it.)

Something I probably should mention - smore's just don't exist in the UK. We don't have them. If you stopped 100 people in the street and asked them what a smore was, you might get one who knew the right answer. It's only because I hang around on American vegan blogs that I've seen smore's before.

I know you're meant to use Graham crackers for the smore's, but Graham crackers don't exist over here either! So, I thought why not make something raw to balance out the toasted marshmallows? I blended some oats, banana, walnuts, and dates and dehydrated a bit. Well, about 12 hours in the end, I think. Then got some chocolate chips, toasted some marshmallows and sandwiched them all in between my dehydrated biscuits.

I was happy with the result!

Bear in mind I've never seen a proper smore up close (nor do I know whether the singular for smore's is smore), so I've no idea if this looks like it should, but it tasted mighty fine. When the biscuits ran out, I just took to toasting the marshmallows on my gas stove and sticking them straight into my mouth.

OK, you might need to sit down for this next photo, because things get a little weird.

My other half brought me news that vegan cake had been sighted in our particular corner of South London - and not only that, he had brought some back home to try. Needless to say, I was fairly excited at the prospect, and a great chunk of apple cake was laid before me.

I tucked in.

I gagged. 

It wasn't good. It wasn't good at all. It was dry and had a chalky, chemical taste to it. It was meant to be gluten free and I have a horrible feeling that it was made my someone with not a lot of experience in vegan or gluten free cooking who had been heavy handed with the egg or gluten replacer. I know that gluten free and vegan cakes can be amazing (cf Cookies and Scream) so this was a huge disappointment. I'm hoping the cake stall in question was having an off day and I'll be going back to try them once the memory of this scary cake chunk has left me.

In general, I prefer to buy my cake from all-vegan bakeries - they're generally better (see sorry case in point above) and there's none finer than Brixton's Ms Cupcake. I used to live a lot closer to that wonderful establishment than I do now, but the other week I got an excuse to stop in. (Excuse = visiting a friend who won't let me in the door without a batch of Ms Cupcake cakes).

There were a couple of new additions (new to me, anyway, maybe not to Ms Cupcake): Nanaimo bars and red velvet oreo brownie. 

They got a bit mangled in the journey from the shop to my friends, but they still tasted fine enough to bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened vegan cake fan

The Nanaimo bar in particular was warmly received by the friend. No surprise there - a great big chocolatey, coconuty base with a river of custard and a topping of chocolate thick enough to need a pickaxe to get through. They may not have been overly photogenic when I got them home, but tasted amazing nonetheless.

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  1. Mmm... I think lemon bars are my favorite dessert in the world, and these look amazing! I can see why they wouldn't last long! How interesting about the graham crackers. I know that s'mores come from the Girl Scouts, thereby understandably not in the British vernacular, but I didn't think about the crackers not being around! I wonder where they originated. Too bad about the apple cake - time to make one!!

  2. I'm probably the only vegan on earth who doesn't own a copy of Veganomicon — I'm even ashamed to admit it — and when I see things like your lemon bars, I realize that I really should get a copy. They look perfect!

    I think your s'mores look much more interesting than the run-of-the-mill graham cracker variety. Well done!

  3. Such a pretty color on the lemon bars! Nicely done! The s'more looks awesome too! Bummer on the apple pie, at least you got Nanaimo bars and red velvet oreo brownie to make up for it. :-)

  4. red velvet oreo brownie - oh my that sounds amazing! shame about the apple cake - it is just a reminder that vegan and gluten free baking is a skill to be learned as I can forget on blogs with so many amazing bakers! Smores are never seen in Australia either though I hang around American blogs enough to know about them. But bergamot! I am really jealous. When I drank regular tea many years ago I had a thing for earl grey tea and still love the smell of bergamot - glad you slice turned out well - it looks really pretty!

  5. Super jealous of your bergamot lemons! I would never think to make lemon bars out of them, but that's such a good idea. I love bergamot so much. I think your Rores look delicious :). I'm not sure if you're gluten free or just gluten free friendly, but if not I have a great recipe on my blog for homemade vegan graham crackers. They're not raw (therefor they wouldn't make Rores), but they're really good if you're making smores again soon! http://www.housevegan.com/2013/07/homemade-graham-crackers-and-icing.html

  6. I have been to Ms Cupcake once and keep meaning to go back - the inspiration is definitely to be found in this post! I love your creations too, the bergamot lemon bars especially. Can I ask where you found the lemons? I've never had them either & I want some!!

  7. I had my first nanaimo bar last week too! My friend made them from the recipe in the Ms Cupcake book. Bergamot lemons sound fab - I've never seen them anywhere! What a shame about the cake. I had a similar experience with the scone stall on our once a month farmers market. The stall holder was making really nice vegan scones but then she decided to also make them gluten free. They were like hockey pucks, completely inedible. I even tried again the next month just in case but they were just as bad :( So sad when vegan baking goes wrong.

  8. Ms Cupcake is my favourite baker in the world - everything I've tried from her shop (or recipes from her book, come to think of it) has been amazing. It's probably a good thing I don't live in London, I'd be in there every day!

  9. I've never made lemon curd so far. These bars look so well made and they sound very fragrant. I love the colour. I remember making my first nanaimo bars a few years ago. They turned out really good but boy were they rich! I froze them in the end and they lasted months.


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