A week ago was my birthday! When I was much younger, my birthday signalled a special occasion where a trip to the bakery was in order, either for a luscious fruit tart, or chocolate-nut torte, my favourites. I was an avid baker at home but my marzipan flowers (and I don’t think I even owned gelatin to glaze fruit!?) paled in comparison to those trained in the art of pâtisserie. Anyways, there was also something special about having someone else prepare your birthday dessert for you. Nowadays, I might be tempted to indulge in a cultural favourite when travelling, like chocolate in Vienna and baklava in Turkey, but I am much more excited about the prospect about crafting a cake that is healthy – because who doesn’t love a beautiful dessert that you nonchalantly get to go back for seconds! I might have even had this for breakfast a couple of times… Although maybe at this point I’m inflating its status as a torte, haha. This mixed berry torte features juicy berries, a very dense and moist crumb, and a light and not-too-sweet coconut-vanilla cream. It is also sugar-free, dairy free, and best of all can be seasonal!
Enter the month that is February in Canada: a winter wonderland that can be both very white and very gray, depending on the time of day. The sun sets earlier and we are all wrapped in parkas and heavy boots. Needless to say, not much grows here at this time of year, unless it’s in a greenhouse or indoors. As for what brave trees are proudly standing, they have got to be at least partially hibernating. Fruit tortes being my favourite, I would generally be asking for a miracle of nature in February for local fruit, or in most cases we take advantage of the miraculous development that is globalization. Raspberries from California and strawberries from Guatemala. The cool thing about this torte is that all the ingredients can be local, as berries are easily frozen and thawed for this recipe (use fresh if they are in season), the sweetener can maple syrup and/or honey, depending on where you live, and for what your locality can’t grow, it’s fair trade to import (somebody call me when a coconut palm goes up in Canada). These ingredients are either canned or dried – two safe methods of preservation. Just watch for preservatives in your shredded coconut (buy organic) and avoid the sugared versions, and buy full-fat coconut milk with no other added ingredients. Light versions of coconut milk will prevent a thick cream from coming together.
This recipe is my take on a beautiful recipe posted by Amy Chaplin on her blog, Coconut & Quinoa. You can use whatever combination of berries you like, and the cream and berry filling can be made ahead of time. This cake is delicious and well worth it!
coconut-vanilla mixed berry torte
makes one big cake!
coconut spelt cake
2 1/4 cups whole spelt flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened dried coconut
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt, fine
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup filtered water, cold
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
2. Blend the coconut and salt in a blender or food processor until fine, but still dry. Add to the flour mixture and combine.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, half of the water, olive oil, vinegar and vanilla extract until emulsified. Incorporate into the dry mix while slowly stirring everything together. The batter should be thin enough to run off the whisk/spatula, but thick enough that it runs very slowly. Keep adding the remainder of the water until you reach this point. If you need more liquid use a bit more olive oil.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil an 8-9 inch spring-form pan and line with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and when the oven is ready, bake for approximately 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean, and the edges will have pulled away from the pan. The cake will take on a deep golden brown colour.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before taking it out of the pan.
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries (I used blueberries, raspberries, pomegranates, blackberries)
1/4 cup sugar-free berry jam of your choice (I used blackberry)
1 tsp arrowroot powder or similar starch
1 tsp filtered water
1. Place everything, except the arrowroot, in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries burst and soften.
2. Sift the arrowroot powder over the berries and stir to combine. Cook a little while longer until dissolved and enough liquid has evaporated that you could spoon the berries as a very thin jam. Remove from heat and let cool. It will continue to thicken.
vanilla bean coconut cream frosting
2 cans coconut milk, full fat
6 tbsp maple syrup (or agave syrup, honey)
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
1/3 cup agar flakes
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or flour)
pinch sea salt
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt. Cut the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds using a knife, and place both pod and seeds into the saucepan. If using the vanilla extract, wait until step 2 to add.
2. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the agar and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and cook, simmering, for 10-15 minutes until completely smooth. Turn off the heat, and keep the pan on the element. Mix in the arrowroot powder and vanilla extract until dissolved and let sit until the mixture stops steaming.
3. Transfer to a mixing bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until set (solid). Mixture will be hard. Once set, transfer to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Return to the mixing bowl and place in the fridge, covered.
order + assembly
Of course, you may prepare the ingredients and parts in the order you wish, so this is just a guideline for what I have found to be most efficient, working in one day.
1. Prepare the frosting as per directions. While the frosting is setting in the fridge the first time, make and bake the cake.
2. Allow the cake to cool completely. Prepare the berry filling.
3. Blend the solid frosting and return to the fridge.
4. Remove the cake from the pan and parchment paper. Cut the cake in half using a serrated knife.
5. Place the bottom half of the cake on your serving dish. Spread the chilled smooth frosting over the half, reaching the edges. Spread all of the berry filling over this, but do not reach the edges.
6. On top of this, place the top half of the cake. Create a ‘crumb layer’ by using a small amount of frosting to completely cover the assembled torte in one thin layer. This will keep crumbs from rendering the final layer of frosting unattractive.
7. Smooth the rest of the frosting, in even amounts, over the entire torte. Decorate with a sprinkle of coconut flakes and a heap of fresh berries at top centre.
8. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving to ensure a thick frosting.