Lesley from SLAB bakery: My top tips for the perfect bake

Lesley from SLAB bakery: My top tips for the perfect bake

I love cooking and baking. I think I get this from my mum and dad: my memories of childhood are filled with my mum baking bread or making apple pie on her days off work.

So, as a consequence, I like cakes and puddings to taste like ‘homemade’ cakes and puddings: full of flavour, not just a mouth full of sugar!

I’m in the habit now of checking ingredient labels on food that I buy, as I need to be careful with some. It’s amazing how many cakes and puddings have so much sugar in them. Even some recipes are laden with sugar.

There are lots of ways to cut down on the amount of sugar in your own baking and cooking, if that’s something you’re aiming to do:

·        If you’re making a cake, cut the sugar by 20%. You won’t notice, honestly! It will still taste delicious.

·        Look for alternative sweeteners that will provide the right flavour, but without the sugar. A good way of doing this is by using spices. Cinnamon is a great natural sweetener and is fabulous in porridge. I use it as a natural sweetener in apple crumble.

·        Try adding vegetables – yes, vegetables! - in your cake recipe. They keep the cake amazingly moist, and also add natural sweetness so you can cut the sugar in the recipe down. Good examples are carrot, courgette, avocado, or beetroot. Ideally, blend the vegetables before adding to your recipe. If this is something you’ve not done before, give it a go! Start with 150g of vegetable for every 250g flour. The cake may need to bake for an additional 5 minutes or so, if you add veg with high water content.

·        For recipes that use syrup, which is common in drizzle cakes, try substituting with juice instead - either apple or orange is good. I use fresh juice in my polenta cakes.

All of my cakes and puddings are gluten free, and my goal is that they taste so good, you’d never taste the difference compared to ‘normal’ cakes. Having said that, my recipes will work just as well with regular flour.

I’ve included one below that works as gluten free or not, as cupcakes or as a single round cake and is easy enough for even a first-time baker. You don’t need a food mixer either – it’s a great recipe for kids to try. This recipe happens to be vegan, to keep it really simple.

Chocolate cupcakes recipe

These taste super chocolatey. The recipe makes 10 - you’ll need cupcake cases and a cupcake baking tin.


175g self-raising flour

200g sugar (I use unrefined demerara, but any will do. Feel free to cut the amount of sugar down.)

40g cocoa

1tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

225ml water

75ml vegetable oil (ideally sunflower or rapeseed rather than olive oil)


1.      Preheat the oven to 170C on a fan oven (190C if it’s not a fan).

2.      Mix all of the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl, ensuring that they are fully mixed. This ensures that the baking powder is evenly distributed.

3.      Add the water and oil and mix thoroughly. If you don’t have a mixer use a spoon - it will work just as well. Ensure you have a smooth, lump-free batter.

4.      Add to the cupcake cases and bake for about 20 minutes.

5.      If you’re planning on making one large cake, grease a round cake tin and cook on 170C, for about 25 minutes. Check before you take it out, to make sure it’s cooked in the middle.

These cupcakes are great as they are, but also good warmed in the microwave for 10 seconds, as a chocolate pudding. Serve them with cream, ice cream, or even custard.

 Enjoy! Lesley

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