Passionate cooks live in constant pursuit of new ways to approach the classics, and I am no exception. Lately I’ve had my sights set on mastering vegan baking – particularly, on finding natural, vegan-friendly egg substitutes. I’d used vinegar successfully before (much to my surprise) but was excited to learn of a slightly more exotic ingredient that often lived in our pantry: chia seeds.
Chia seeds are tiny mottled black, white and grey seeds, that somewhat resemble poppy seeds, packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Originally from Central and South America, they’ve taken the West by storm in recent years. We often use chia seeds in smoothies and oatmeal. I’d admired their jelly-like consistency when mixed with water and rosewater in a famous Persian drink, Sharbat e Tokhme Sharbati. Yet I’d never made the connection between chia seeds’ texture and that of eggs, or known that they are a common vegan substitute for them.
Armed with this new knowledge, I grabbed the seeds from the counter, mixed them with water (1 tbsp chia seeds + 1/3 cup water is the equivalent of one egg) and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Lo and behold, they turned into gel, slightly thicker than an egg but remarkably similar in texture.
I worried momentarily that using the black chia seeds I had would lend an unsightly color to the cooked cake, as they had turned the batter slightly grey. Not so – the finished product was bright and studded with the little seeds, practically translucent by that point. The lemon zest, tart blueberries and crunchy brown sugar topping added interest to the moist cake, and ended up turning this late night experiment into a grand success.
Many grocery stores sell chia seeds now, in the health food aisle. But, if you can make it to a Persian or Middle Eastern store, or a farmers market, you can often buy them in bulk for a fraction of the cost.
- 2 tbsp white or black chia seeds
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/2 cup canola or mild flavored oil
- 3/4 cup sugar (I use raw)
- Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 cup plain/all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 2-3 tbsp light brown sugar (or, coconut sugar)
Preheat oven to 170C / 325F. Line a loaf tin with baking paper, so that the paper overhangs by 1-inch on either side - this makes it easy to lift the cake out of the tin.
In a small bowl, mix the chia seeds with 2/3 cup water. Let sit for 10 minutes or until gel-like in texture. Stir to smooth out any lumps.
Combine the chia seeds with the oil, sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla extract and applesauce until well mixed.
Add the flour and baking powder and fold together until just combined.
Pour the batter into the lined loaf tin. Top with blueberries and sprinkle with brown sugar.
Bake 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes in the tin, then pull out and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Serve.
This cake freezes well, for up to 4 weeks. Wrap snugly in plastic, then place in a freezer bag. Defrost in the fridge overnight then allow it to reach room temperature before serving.
Black and white chia seeds are both suitable for this cake - the black ones will not discolor the finished product. Use whichever are more readily available and cost effective for you.
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