“Mom it tastes like Christmas”, said my 15-year-old taking his first bite of the millet cake. My experiments with millet recipes haven’t always been received with the same enthusiasm. Happily and hopefully, all that is about to change with this cake. I’m inclined more and more to bake with gluten-free flours, always seeking recipes where millet, nut and other healthier flours can replace regular flour. Many a millet recipe has gotten me excited, often ending in mediocre to disastrous results, but this one I can definitely put on my encore list.
In India, millets like foxtail (kanganee), finger millet (ragi or naachni), pearl millet (bajra), barnyard millet (sama ka chawal), sorghum (jowar) and many others were traditionally consumed as porridge, unleavened, rustic rotis, or simply cooked down to a thick polenta-like consistency and eaten with a vegetable-based curry. As hardy plants that could survive vagaries of the weather and water shortage, millets have sustained generations especially in labour-intensive farming communities. That probably explains why they were perceived as being the poor man’s food.
As with all developing societies, with progress, we moved away from these humble staples to a more ‘civilised diet’ of wheat and rice. But we’ve come full circle now. The modern way of life saw an alarming rise in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments. So now, we are looking for healthier sources of nutrition. In the process we are rediscovering our food heritage and millets are slowly but surely making a comeback with nutritionists and cooks trying new millet recipes.
Finger millet or ragi resembles the mustard seed and is sold in grain and flour form. It is eaten extensively in parts of southern and western India and is even used as a weaning food for babies. My cake-loving teenager was weaned with copious amounts of finger-millet porridge and processed baby food wasn’t missed one bit. It is a low G I food that great for building bone health, has anti-aging properties, is dense in calcium and iron, helps metabolism being fibre-rich and is known to help with depression and insomnia.
So yes, it is very very good for you. You should eat this cake for all this and not in the least because this millet recipe makes a moist, delicious cake. I ate a big slice everyday for a week for breakfast and now that it has gone, I can’t wait to bake the next one. Plus, it just feels so good to eat cake for breakfast a la Marie of the ”Let them eat cake”, fame. Healthy decadence is a delicious oxymoron.
I adapted the recipe from Food52 by making it gluten-free and tweaking the quantities and a few ingredients. This millet recipe is as much about the millet as it is about dates. Fat, soft and sweet, the dates render the texture to that of wet earth. Imagine sinking your fingers into freshly rained-on dark soil, heavy with moisture and heady fragrance. Cinnamon resonates through the cake and shards of walnuts speckle its dense landscape.
It is a gluten-free finger millet cake so it needed a binder, something to hold it all together. Oatmeal and powdered flax seeds are plenty sticky to be the cement that gives structure to the cake. And since we are doing healthy, both ingredients only enhance the nutrition quotient. The dates soaked in hot water, flax and coconut oil in this millet recipe make for a wet batter that need to be baked gently for a little longer than you would a regular cake. Don’t crank up the heat to rush the cake because this will only burn the outside leaving the core looking like undercooked gloop. It should feel like well-watered, moist soil rather than water-logged slush. Be patient, read a book, sip a glass or two of wine and let the cake come along at its own pace. Other than that, this is a straightforward recipe that you can depend on to deliver, every time you’re in the mood for cake at breakfast.
- 300 g dates, seeded and chopped
- 250 ml boiling water
- 100 g oatmeal
- 120 g ragi or finger millet flour
- 150 g brown sugar
- 50 g walnuts, chopped
- 2 tbsps flax seeds, roughly powdered and soaked in 5 tbsps warm water
- 2 tsp soda bicarbonate
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 65 ml milk
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 100 ml coconut oil (melted)
- Preheat the oven to 176℃ and lightly spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
- Soak the chopped dates in the boiling water while you mix the other ingredients.
- Whisk together the flours, salt, cinnamon powder and sugar in a bowl.
- In another bowl vigorously whisk the milk and vinegar till it’s frothy and topped with bubbles.
- Now add the coconut oil and flaxseed mixture and combine.
- Gently fold the wet mixture into the dry ingredients taking care not to overmix.
- Drain the dates and mix into the batter along with the walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake 55-60 minutes till you get a clean toothpick. Cover the top with foil if you feel it is browning too quickly.
- Gently, turn out the cake on a wire rack and cool completely before slicing.