To celebrate the launch of healthy baking extraordinaire Henrietta Inman’s much anticipated cookbook Hens Clean Cakes, we sat down with Henrietta to discuss all things wellbeing, baking alternatives, and the top ingredients every healthy baker should have in her kitchen.
What is your personal wellbeing ethos?
Wellbeing encapsulates many things. For me it’s about finding a way of eating that is delicious, healthy and that you really enjoy and finding ways to exercise that you love too. But it’s not only about diet and keeping fit, sleep is so important, as is keeping hydrated, laughing and learning how to switch off and relax. As soon as I get stressed and anxious or begin to have negative thoughts, I really try to turn them around into positive beliefs, take a step back and just breathe. Personally I have found that I feel great on a plant-based diet eating lots of vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds and fruit, I just love it, and I drink loads of water and herbal infusions. I really enjoy yoga, pilates, running, swimming, walking and getting as much fresh air as possible and above all, I just try to remember to laugh, smile, think good thoughts and enjoy myself, life’s too short not too!
Have you always been interested in healthy cooking?
Yes! I grew up in rural Suffolk, a region that is well known for its amazing producers. We have always had our own vegetables garden, fruit trees and fruits bushes, so I have always been aware of the importance of eating in season and local. As a family, we’d always cook together and I learnt a lot from my parents who are both great cooks. Cooking from scratch and knowing where your food is from and what you are putting into your body is the key to eating well.
What was the catalyst that inspired you to pursue a career as a healthy dessert chef?
I have always loved and appreciated food and from a young age, I would always be the one to make the birthday cakes or any puddings for Sunday lunch and celebrations. I loved creating wonderful flavours and textures but also things that were beautiful to look at too, so after university, I decided to pursue a career as a pastry chef. I enrolled on the Professional Pâtisserie Scholarship at Westminster Kingsway College, London and graduated with distinction two years later. I went on to work as a pastry chef in a range of award-winning kitchens, including the Lanesborough Hotel, London.
When I moved home in September 2013 to Suffolk to start my own business, create my own food and be my own boss, I soon realized that I was still using the same old ingredients that we associate with baking, namely plain white refined wheat flour and caster sugar. I had been using these ingredients for years in my career as a pastry chef but also at home in day-to-day baking and to be honest, I was getting quite bored of them! There are so many varied, versatile and exciting ingredients available today, I asked myself, ‘why do we limit ourselves to baking with the obvious staple ingredients?’
Like more and more people, I love eating heathy real food myself, cooking from scratch and knowing what I’m putting into my body. I noticed that finding healthy alternatives for pudding and sweet treats that deliver on flavour, texture and look great too were often difficult to find. So I decided to spread my love for healthy wholefood eating to the sweeter things in life: to pudding, to tea time, to the cake! I’m still a pastry chef through and through, I’m really happy that I’ve done my training, learnt the classics and been able to apply the skills and techniques I’ve learnt to different ingredients; I just like to call my Clean Cakes my ‘new patisserie’, it’s a new way to cook and bake that will make you smile from the inside out.
What is the Clean Cakes philosophy?
Clean just refers to the ingredients I use that are pure, natural, unrefined and unprocessed. I’m not on a mission to convert the world to ‘clean eating’, these cakes are still a treat and still contain sugar, but it’s about finding a way to make your favourite things in a nutritious way that is also totally delicious, banishing the misconception that healthy food is bland and boring as it certainly is not. My Clean Cakes are all about taste, texture and beauty – beautiful to look at and beautiful to taste. I want the flavours to really sing.
My philosophy is not about focussing on what I’m cutting out or the cakes being ‘free-from’ gluten and dairy (I do this so that those with allergies and intolerances can enjoy them too and they can reach out to everyone, keen cake makers and healthy enthusiasts alike), it’s about what I’m putting in, it’s all so delicious- wholegrain buckwheat flour with a lovely nutty flavour, caramel-y coconut sugar, sweet chestnut flour… I make sure that all the ingredients I use taste amazing, it’s just a big bonus that they happen to be good for you too!
What are the ingredients every healthy baker should have in their kitchen?
Whole-grain flours (see below), alternatives to refined vegetables oils (see below) or if you do eat dairy, always choose grass-fed options, preferably organic and raw if possible too like raw milk and butter; goat’s and sheep’s milk, yogurt and butter are also good alternatives if you find cow’s dairy hard to cope with; unrefined sweeteners (see below). Good quality dark chocolate above 70% cocoa solids. Nuts and seeds. These are all the base ingredients, then we need to lift things up a notch- flavour enhancers are so important, my key ones are lemons for their juice and zest to really freshen flavours up; Himalayan pink salt or Maldon sea salt to lift flavours up and cut the sweetness (though I never over-sweeten my Clean Cakes anyway, it’s just not natural and not necessary); spices like cinnamon, cardamom and mixed spice to give things a real depth of flavour; and vanilla extract and pods for their natural sweet smooth taste.
Featured heavily in conventional desserts, what are your favourite alternatives for the following…
Gluten – I use only wholegrain gluten-free flours. I love buckwheat, brown rice, teff and oat flours and for grain-free bakes, chestnut flour, coconut flour and ground nuts like almonds and hazelnuts are great.
Dairy – avocadoes are great for making creams, mousses and icings; soaked and blended cashew nuts are perfect added to raw cakes to give them a creaminess and help with setting; instead of heat-processed vegetable oils, use extra virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil to give cakes a lovely nutty, earthy flavour or coconut oil or butter for a lighter flavour; coconut milk is a great alternative to cream as are nut and seed milks ideal for replacing cow’s milk. And who could forget COYO yogurt, great for icings and making cakes and tea breads wonderfully soft.
Sugar – coconut sugar and coconut nectar syrup, Palmyra nectar powder (jaggery), local raw honey, maple syrup, dried fruits like Medjool dates, figs and unsulphured apricots and date syrup.
Healthy cakes and desserts sometimes tend to have overly complicated ingredients lists and cooking methods – are the recipes in Clean Cakes suitable for novice bakers to try out or are they more suited to more advanced home chefs?
I think that my book has a great variety of cakes, tarts, biscuits, brownies, energy-boosting bars and bites, muffins, loaf-cakes and tea breads, raw desserts, petit fours and even some savoury recipes too, there’s really something for everyone. If you want something a bit more complicated, a real show-stopper for a party, there are layer cakes with delicious icings and jams, a stripy bitter chocolate orange ice cream cake with a glistening cacao glaze or a chocolate, banana cream and passion fruit pie with sea salt sticky toffee sauce! BUT, at the same time, there are quick and easy one bowl recipes for brownies, blondies, bars, cookies, cakes and breads with short and simple ingredients list. The recipes are for everyone and cater to all bakers, no matter what your level. With baking, there is always a certain amount of concentration involved so my top tips are always to read the recipes through before starting, be precise and get a good set of digital scales!
What are your top 3 must-try recipes from Clean Cakes?
It’s hard to choose but I’ll try… for a warming and scrumptious pudding in colder months, you must try my Baked banana, date and pecan loaf with cardamom and start-anise spiced caramel sauce, it’s incredible, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding but so much more! In the summer it’s a joy to pick local blueberries and make my Blueberry lemon mousse cake, light, fresh and irresistible, finished with whatever flowers are out like scented geraniums or rose petals, everyone will love it. And for a quick snack or pick me up my Coconut-cacao-quinoa bars are just dreamy, like a Bounty but better… oh, or maybe a Dark chocolate dipped peanut butter and raspberry jam cookie!
Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman, photography by Lisa Linder, is published by Jacqui Small (£20)
Interview by Zsa Zsa Vella