Simple Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

These little shiny cupcakes are based on brilliant fail-safe recipe I have used many times, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (with a few personal amendments). After a trip out to a local cafe, who had sold out of vegan cakes… Iolo asked if we could make our own! Instead of getting messy with a piping bag and buttercream, I opted to glaze them with a lovely ganache instead and a few pretty rose petals. They were soft and delicious and didn’t last long in our house.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Rose Petals
Makes 10 large or 12 medium cupcakes

1 cup almond milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup caster or granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable or rapeseed oil
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup almond milk
100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp agave syrup
2 tbsp Rose petals

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and line a cupcake tin with 10 or 12 liners. If you use a muffin tray, the mix will only make 10.
2. Whisk together all the wet ingredients with the sugar in a jug and set aside.
3. Sieve all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.
4. Gently stir the liquid into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, adding gradually and stirring until no large lumps remain.
5. Spoon the cake mixture into the liners, distributing it evenly amongst them all.
6. Bake for 18-20 mins. They are cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
7. Place the cupcakes on a rack to cool completely while you prepare the ganache.
8. Bring the milk to a boil in a small pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and agave with a wooden spoon, so it melts.
9. Pour the ganache over the cupcakes and then top with petals.


The Classic Banana Bread

Banana Bread with Blueberry Orange Sauce
One of our all-time favourite recipes, from Viva!’s Vegan Recipe Club


  • 3 large, very ripe bananas (those spotty ones on special offer are just the job. Cheap, too)
  • 60g/2oz vegan margarine, eg Pure, Suma, Biona or Vitaquell OR 50ml vegetable oil (mild-flavoured type, eg refined plain veg oil or sunflower)
  • 100g/generous 3oz soft brown sugar
  • 250g/9oz self-raising flour. We like using half each fine wholemeal SR* and white SR, but all-white works too. GF flour works too
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence (not flavouring)
  • 5 tbsp soya milk or other non-dairy milk
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped dates or other chopped fruit of your choice. NB Ready-chopped dates are on sale in larger supermarkets and many health food shops
  • Optional: chopped walnuts/pecans/brazils – or sunflower seeds


1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 – a little lower if using a fan-assisted oven. Grease a large non-stick loaf tin with low-cal oil spray or a light coating of margarine/oil.  Add a base layer of greaseproof paper too. Alternatively, use a loaf tin liner OR use a silicone loaf tin placed on a tray!
2. In a large bowl, mash the bananas in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. Add the margarine and cream it all together well – that is, mix it so it has a fairly creamy texture.
3. Add the sugar and mix in well.
4. Sieve the flour and baking powder then add the banana mixture and stir well.
5. To this, add the soya milk and vanilla essence a little at a time, mixing in well.
6. Add dried fruit – and nuts/seeds if using.
7. Spoon batter into the loaf tin and cook for 40-50 minutes until cooked through and golden brown on the top. Test after 40 minutes, using a toothpick – it should come out clean if it’s ready – otherwise, put the cake back in the oven for another 10-20 minutes.
If using a silicone baking tin, leave on the metal tray until cooled completely as otherwise the cake will split.
8.  Leave to cool for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and let it cool completely.

Hearty Winter Stew with Dumplings

There is something rather satisfying about cooking to the seasons, in line with the weather – hot or cold, or with your mood –  fresh and light or warm and comforting.

Stew and Dumplings summed up my mood the other night. The curtains were drawn, it was raining and I felt like eating something hearty and dough-like.

If you look carefully, some shop-brought dumpling mix is suitable for vegans (possibly from the Co-op if my memory serves me correctly). But I haven’t been able to pick up any recently – so I thought it was time to just make my own.

They are flavoured with shallot and herbs and cooked in a deep, rich, gravy-based sauce with carrot, courgette and potato. I challenge you not to feel all cosy inside after a portion of them for dinner!

Vegetable Stew with Herb and Shallot Dumplings
Serves 2
Preparation/cooking time 1 hour

1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
250g/9 oz self-raising flour
125g/4½ oz vegan margarine
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
Small handful parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small onion, chopped
2 courgettes, chopped into disks
1 carrot, chopped into disks
3 small potatoes, cubed
1 litre vegetable stock
4 tbsp vegetarian gravy granules
½ tsp yeast extract
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper

1. To make the dumplings, begin by frying off the shallot in oil until soft. This will take a couple of minutes. 2. In a bowl, rub the margarine into the flour and add in the herbs and shallot. Season with salt & pepper. Taste a bit of raw dumpling to test the flavour.
3. Knead together with your hands so that all the fat combines with the flour and make 12 dumpling balls. Set them aside.
4. For the stew, fry the garlic and onion in oil until soft. Now add in your vegetables and continue to cook for a few minutes.
5. Transfer the vegetables to a large pot with a lid and pour the stock over the top of them. Mix in the gravy granules, yeast extract and bay leaves. Stir well.
7. Simmer the stew for 30 mins, before adding the dumplings and continuing to cook until they are swollen and tender.
8. Serve in deep wide bowls.

Image: Photo by Andretti Brown from Pexels

The Famous Affinities Cake

The Affinities Cake
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 mins

200g (7oz) plain flour
75g (2¾oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g (7oz) golden caster sugar
100g (3½oz) ground almonds
A small pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
400ml (14fl oz) prune juice
Fresh pink rose petals, to decorate
For the ganache
170g (6oz) good-quality dark chocolate
150ml (5fl oz) almond milk

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Grease the insides of a deep 20cm (8in) round cake tin, or loose-bottomed 20cm (8in) cake tin, with olive oil and line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper. If you are using a loose-bottomed tin, double-line it with greaseproof paper (line the base, the sides, then line the base again to seal the lining), to prevent the mixture leaking out.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl, then add the sugar, ground almonds and salt. Make three holes in the dry mixture with a spoon. Put the vanilla in one hole, the vinegar in the second, and the oil into the third. Pour in the prune juice and mix well. Bubbles will start to rise to the surface. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove the cake from the tin and leave it to cool on a wire rack.

To make the ganache icing, blitz the chocolate into crumbs in a food processor. Place the crumbs in a heat-proof glass bowl. Heat the milk to boiling point in a heavy-based saucepan, then pour the milk over the chocolate. Gently mix the chocolate with the milk, working from the centre of the bowl outwards with a rubber spatula, until you have a smooth and glossy emulsion. Let it cool to room temperature, then spread it on top of the cooled cake.

NB this cake usually takes about 1 hour 15 mins to cook! Keep testing it, but don’t take it out of the oven to do so, otherwise it may sink.

Soda Bread

This is a fantastic recipe for quick, delicious, fresh bread in a hurry. It’s a favourite on retreats, toasted and spread with vegan margarine, avocado or nut butter. It is adapted from a Paul Hollywood recipe.

250g/9oz plain wholemeal flour
250g/9oz plain white flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
420ml/15fl oz plant milk
Juice of one lime or lemon
extra flour for dusting

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the two types of flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
  2. Add the milk and lime juice and mix until a sticky dough forms.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough onto it.
  4. Gently roll and fold the dough a couple of times to bring the mixture together. Do not knead.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball gently with your hand. Score the dough with a deep cross dividing it into quarters. Dust the bread with flour.
  6. Place onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake for 30 minutes at 200C/400F/Gas 6. The loaf should be golden-brown.
  7. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy on the same day.


Helen’s Retreat Dahl

Over the last few years I have learned there is a lot more to making Dahl than a load of old lentils. Moving to Bristol 10 years ago really opened my eyes to this. Eating out at lots of decent Indian restaurants and buying fresh Dahl made in the kitchens of Asian supermarkets taught me a few lessons. At their simplest, Dahl recipes often involve little other than red lentils, onion, tinned tomatoes and curry powder. Some of these recipes are quite nice, but in my mind, rarely compare to an authentic Dahl served in a good Indian restaurant. These tend to be silky smooth, rich in flavour and very special.

Previously, the closest I’d come to perfecting a really good Dahl was from following a recipe in a Hare Krishna recipe book someone gave me for free on the street, called The Higher Taste, but even this has room for improvement.

So here is my Tarka Dahl recipe (meaning garlic Dahl), which is largely inspired by conversations I’ve had with people who have family or friends of Pakistani origin, who have shared some of their methods and secrets.

Key elements include; adequate soaking time, amount of garlic, chili and salt ratio and a golden rule not to stir too much.

Here I used Moong dahl (skinned and split mung beans), as they form a wonderful velvety texture when cooked. I served my Dahl with Quinoa; but it’s also delicious with brown or basmati rice or homemade chapati.

Helen’s Retreat Dahl
Serves 2
Preparation/cooking time 1 hour, 10 mins, plus soaking time

2 cups Moong dahl (or 1 cup red lentils, 1 cup yellow split peas)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped into large pieces
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 handfuls of spinach, washed

Spice mix (also known as the baghaar or chownk)
2 tbsp of vegetable or sunflower oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric

1-2 cups of water to mix in at the end
Splash of lemon juice
Sprinkle of fresh or dried coriander to serve

1. Cover the Moong dahl with water and soak for at least an hour.
2. Rinse them through, place in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with fresh water.
3. Add the four garlic cloves, first half of onion and the teaspoon of cumin seeds.
4. Bring to the boil, then cover and turn down to simmer for an hour. Mix only very gently. The aim is to keep the dahl intact.
5. Towards the end of the hour, add the spinach to the mix, so it wilts in.
6. Heat the oil for the spice mix in a small frying pan. Soften the onion and garlic before adding the rest of the spices. Brown everything off in the oil, but do not have the heat too hot or allow to burn. It should be golden and aromatic.
7. Pour the spice mix into the Dahl and incorporate gently.
8. Add 1-2 cups of water at the end if needed, plus a splash of lemon juice, to create a Dahl of your desired consistency; either like a soup, or thicker to be scooped up in a chapati!
9. Serve with fresh or dried coriander sprinkled on the top, with a spoon of dairy-free yoghurt or chutney.

Picture taken for the Viva! Cookbook.

Creamy Cashew and Chia Seed Pâté

Let’s face it, if you are in the know-how, there are much healthier things to spread on your toast or oatcakes in the morning than margarine, let alone butter…such as a homemade plant-based pâté.

Why not make something that tastes great but also gives you a fabulous nutritional boost to start your day.

This pâté is made using heart-healthy cashew nuts, packed with monounsaturated fats, copper and magnesium, which are great for bone health; teamed with brilliant Organic Black Chia Seeds, which are rich in Omega 3 and 6 (needed for good cell health, brain and nerve function). They also contain good levels of fibre and protein.

Creamy Cashew and Chia Seed Pâté
Makes 3 medium pots
Preparation time 12 hours soaking plus 5 mins

200g/ 7oz cashew nuts
4 tbsp Black Chia Seeds
3 tbsp sunflower 1 tsp salt
Black pepper (to taste)
1 tsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 sprig fresh parsley
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 tsp zatar spice (optional)
1 tsp salt
Black pepper (to taste)
Sprinkle cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tsp lemon juice (or to taste)

1. Place the cashews, chia seeds and sunflower seeds in a bowl and cover with water. Leave to soak overnight.
2. The next day, mix in the rest of the ingredients apart from the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Blend with a stick blender until thick but textured. Now add in the final three ingredients to taste.
4. Spoon into pots and allow to chill, before spreading on quinoa crackers or bread!

No-Knead and Wholesome Homemade Bread

Spelt Bread
Spelt Bread

Homemade bread really is amazing. It’s addictive too. Once you start making it, it’s hard to go back to buying loaves from a shop. Now I’m at home all the time, we have retired the bread machine and have been doing more ourselves.

I often make my Focaccia Bread with the help of the Magimix, or bake two straight loaves of half white half wholemeal and knead the dough by hand.

But if you want homemade bread but find the kneading and double-rising process too time consuming, I have the answer.

My mother in law Jean has kindly given us a fantastic bread recipe, which produces a lovely loaf in less than an hour. It uses spelt flour; doesn’t require kneading and is only left to rise in its tin, once. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed, just impressed!

Jean’s Spelt Bread
Makes one medium-sized loaf
Preparation/cooking time less than one hour

450g/ spelt flour*
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
½ sachet easy blend yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
400-450ml lukewarm water
2 tbsp seeds for topping, eg sesame

1. Mix together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle with a wooden spoon.
2. Mix in the water and oil and stir to form a smooth, wet dough.
3. Spoon wet dough mix into a well-oiled bread tin. Top with seeds.
4. Cover and set aside somewhere warm to rise. The bread won’t rise a lot, usually just reaching the top rim of the tin. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7.
5. Bake for 25-30 mins. Remove from tin. The loaf should sound hollow when tapped. If it doesn’t, return to the oven for a few minutes, out of the tin.
6. Cool on a wire rack.
* You can use standard bread flour too.

Kale and Walnut Pesto

Kale is such an amazing food. I’ve recently been eating lots more of it, after my friend Ruth told me about ‘massaging’ it with olive oil. If you haven’t tried this, do give it a go! Here is a link to an article about it from the Huffington Post.  Kale is so fabulous – containing vitamins A, C and K as well as minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. A cup of fresh kale has only about 40 calories but packs almost three grams of protein.

So I thought I’d try making a pesto or dip with raw kale, as another way to enjoy this super-green. Enjoy stirred through warm pasta, or spread onto some lovely wholemeal bread.

Kale and Walnut Pesto or Dip

Makes one medium pot

2 handfuls of chopped kale
4 tbsp walnut pieces
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 tsp sea salt
Pinch black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes or 6 medium tomatoes, chopped

Place all ingredients together in a high-speed blender, like a Nutribullet and blend until smooth or a consistency you like is reached. Taste and add more seasoning if you need. If the pesto/dip is too thick, add more oil, or a splash of plant milk if you prefer. Enjoy!