Vegetable cakes and desserts are the most fun way to eat five a day, writes Ysanne Spevack.

Why aren’t we using vegetables in dessert? That seems obvious – they’re not as sweet as fruit. Until you think more and realise that a lot of fruits are quite tart to taste, and many veggies are quite sweet. We all know there’s a spectrum – every child will tell you that many vegetables are really fruits, including avocados, tomatoes, peas, sweet corn, courgettes, and bell peppers. In fact, so many vegetables are technically fruits, this book could almost be called ‘Fruit cakes’, or ‘Cakes made with fruits that aren’t as popular as apples and pears’!

I’ve made sure however to include not only veggies that are secretly fruits, but also ones that are 100% bona-fide vegetables, such as carrots, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower and onions. Why conform to the norm, let’s embrace the strange, and say yes to vegetables in unusual places!

Vegetables are delicious, and they can all be sweetened, either by being marinated and mixed with something sweet (and healthy), or by having their natural sugars caramelised – or both.

Many vegetables offer us other plus points, like outrageous colours, or surprising textures. Take beetroots – how could you turn down such a wonderful colour? And lotus roots – the crunch and the shape are too extraordinary to refuse. The gorgeous spiralling shapes of the fiddlehead ferns make a tart of true artistry.

And, of course, there are the health benefits of eating more veg. Many people struggle with ways to eat their recommended five (or more) a day, and parents often worry about getting vegetables into their children without a fight. Children are savvy to every trick to smuggle veg into their dinner, and can find the evidence of a speck of green in a veggie burger within seconds. But, give them a cake with a big cauliflower inside, and the silliness of it gets a foot in the door. The pure anarchy of putting soft leaves inside a layer cake or loaf engages most people’s sense of humour. Other ideas are things of pure beauty, whether cascading radish slices offering unexpected juicy crispness to a pavlova, or swirls of purple radicchio adorning a rich and creamy cheesecake.

Widen your perspective and enter into a brave new parallel world of possibilities. These recipes may feature some of the most familiar ingredients in your fridge, but in an enlightening and often entertaining way. Lastly, but most importantly of all, the cakes, bakes, cookies and treats that follow are all absolutely wonderful to eat - which is our aim, to indulge in the pleasures of baking and eating, with a side helping of health along the way.

Eat more vegetables – that’s a simple aim for people everywhere. It’s the one thing that unites all healthy eating philosophies – vegetables. There’s not a single diet that doesn’t encourage you to enjoy more veg.

But, vegetables don’t need to be limited to the savoury course. Why stick to vegetables as sides, or salads? These wonderful fresh ingredients have so much more potential. So here’s how we can expand our repertoire, be more creative in the kitchen, and eat more vegetables: by including them in cakes!

At first, it sounds unappetising, until we remember that we’ve always loved carrot cake. In America, zucchini bread is a classic dessert – and then there’s pumpkin pie, as pervasive as apple pie. Including vegetables in dessert recipes and bakes is not new, but we can feature more varieties of vegetables in more varied ways, and making sure they are used in higher quantities, to sing at the heart of each recipe.

Courgette Financiers

Financiers are so-named, it is thought, for the shape of their traditional rectangular tin, which resembles a bar of gold, or because it suits the copious rich ingredients they contain. ... and yet another theory is that they are called this because Parisian stockbrokers tucked them into their jacket pockets! I’m no stranger to vegan cakes, but the financier is one cake that demands oodles of brown butter. Add to that a hefty serving of ground almonds and pistachios and you have the basis for luxuriant little tea cakes. These are topped with curls of courgette, adding twists of glamour to a quietly confident and (underneath the vegetable and rose petal topping) actually rather old-fashioned recipe. Unexpected at first sight but definitely elegant; if not quite your grandmother’s (or stockbroker’s) idea of a financier, they are something she’d enjoy nonetheless.

1/2 courgette

25g/1oz pistachio nuts

80g/3 1/4oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

80g/3 1/4oz plain flour

80g/3 1/4oz ground almonds

5ml/1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of pink or sea salt

3 egg whites

30ml/2 tbsp maple syrup

Edible dried rose petals


1 Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6 and grease 10 small individual loaf tins, or special financier tins if you can find them.

2 Prepare the toppings by peeling thin ribbons of courgette using a vegetable peeler, and lightly crushing the pistachio nuts (in a pestle or mortar or with the back of a knife; it’s nice to keep a few decorative larger pieces).

3 Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat then simmer for 3 minutes or until it starts to brown. Take the pan off the heat.

4 Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg whites and syrup. Stir thoroughly until you have a thick batter. Mix in the brown butter.

5 Fill the prepared tins with equal amounts of the batter and top with the courgette strips, pistachio nuts and rose petals. Bake for 15 minutes.

COOK’S TIP Place the ribboned courgette in a bowl of water to keep fresh whilst you prepare the cake batter.

Beetroot Cheesecake

Candied beetroots in a beetroot reduction on top of a creamy cashew mixture that contains – yes, more beetroots! This is an intensely coloured cheesecake.

The cookie crumb crust is made from scratch, and the cheesecake layer is based on cashews, so while this isn’t a vegan cake, it’s much lower on dairy than most cheesecakes. Beyond that, there’s nothing to say except that this celebration of the splendidly-hued beetroot is truly gorgeous to behold. Ruby. Garnet. Pure blood-red love on a cakestand.

For the topping:

250ml/8fl oz beetroot juice

15ml/1 tbsp maple syrup

2.5ml/1/2 tsp vanilla extract

225g/8oz peeled and steamed beetroots, halved but leaves intact

For the base:

80g/3oz cold butter, cut into pieces

100g/3 3/4oz wholemeal flour

60g/2oz rolled oats

30ml/2 tbsp coconut sugar

For the filling:

450g/1lb peeled and steamed beetroots

225g/8oz unroasted cashew nuts, soaked overnight

100ml/3 1/2fl oz coconut oil, warmed, plus extra for greasing

Juice of 1 lemon

75ml/2 1/2fl oz maple syrup


1 First, make the topping. Boil the beetroot juice and maple syrup in a small uncovered pan for about 15 minutes until reduced to half of the original volume.

2 Add the vanilla, then pour the hot liquid over the halved beetroots in a shallow bowl. Set aside to marinate and cool to room temperature.

3 Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Grease a 23cm/9in springform cake tin with a little coconut oil.

4 To make the base, in a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour, oats and coconut sugar to make big crumbs. Loosely press into the tin, and bake for 10 minutes, until lightly golden. Set the base aside to cool.

5 Meanwhile, little by little, blend all of the filling ingredients in a high-speed blender until creamy. This will be best achieved in a few batches, using a spatula to make sure everything is blended. Transfer the filling on to the crumb base and smooth with a spoon, then place in the freezer.

6 Take out of the freezer after about 20 minutes, and remove from the springform tin. Place on a serving platter.

7 Arrange the macerated beetroots decoratively on the cheesecake, pour over their syrup liquid, and serve at room temperature.

These recipes and the excerpt above are taken from Vegetable Cakes by Ysanne Spevack, with photography by Nicki Dowey, published by Lorenz Books, RRP £10