Sadly, this is unlikely to be the kind of cake you’re expecting. Perhaps that should be “fortunately”: although Eoin has had the odd nibble of Welshcake or fruit loaf, he honestly doesn’t get fed sweet cake on a regular basis. We try to have a healthy diet in this house, at least while he’s up and about (it’s only after he goes to bed that the Camembert and Bath Olivers come out), so this is a special, Eoin-friendly type of cake.
We’ve been taking a broadly baby-led approach to weaning, partly because it seems sensible and convenient, but mainly because this is what Eoin has decided he wants to do. As soon as he worked out that the stuff on our plates tasted good, he decided he wasn’t going to miss out on it. The theory with baby-led weaning is that, until the age of one, solid food is really more of a fun thing for the baby: they’re still supposed to be getting most of their nutrients from milk, so it doesn’t really matter if the solid food just gets nibbled and played with rather than eaten in large quantities. Eoin, however, did not get this memo. Food for him is not fun, it’s a serious business, and if he can’t manage to eat it, there’s going to be hell to pay.
He’s doing pretty well, but the problem is that he only has three and a half teeth at the moment: he can bite, but chewing anything tough can be difficult. This, of course, leads to tears and frustration: a lot of the food he wants to eat can be picked up, but is hard to chew, and just gets dropped. I started to get particularly worried that he might be missing out on protein and vegetables, so I’ve been trying a new approach. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been eating a lot of patties, rissoles, bakes and cakes: fishcakes have been a particular favourite, and they make a great vehicle for extra vegetables. We’ve just been enjoying tuna fishcakes, made with a mixture of butternut squash and wilted spinach replacing half of the usual quantity of mashed potato. Baked in the oven, these are easy for Eoin to eat, and a good way of getting extra vegetables into him without them being flung away in frustration.
What I am happiest with, though, is a version of a lentil bake from The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.* I started off by cooking the recipe in the book but, although Eoin enjoyed it, I found it a little bland. It struck me as being a great base for other ingredients, and I have been playing around with combinations of other ingreadients ever since. This version was met with growls of approval:
Lentil, Leek and Red Pepper Cake.
225g red lentils
1 large onion
1 large leek, or 2 small ones
1 red pepper
A couple of cloves of garlic
100g grated cheese (I used a mixture of parmesan and Calon Wen mature cheddar, for extra Welshness-points)
1 egg, beaten
Fresh breadcrumbs, made from 1 slice of bread (about 25g)
Preheat the oven to 190C and grease a baking tin (I use a loose-bottomed flan dish, about 25cm in diameter, which is ideal). Cook the lentils for 10-15 minutes until tender, then drain and tip into a large mixing bowl. While the lentils are cooking, chop the onion and the garlic finely, and fry in a little olive oil. Chop the leeks and the pepper into small pieces, add to the pan, and continue to cook until all the vegetables are soft and starting to colour, then tip them into the mixing bowl with the lentils. Add the cheese, egg and breadcrumbs and mix well. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth over with a spoon. The mixture will be a bit sloppy at this point, but don’t worry: it does firm up. If you are uneasy about using a loose-bottomed tin, though, you might want to put the tin on top of a baking sheet in the oven, just in case of leaks. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is starting to come away from the sides of the tin and the top is browned. Allow to cool in the tin slightly, then cut into wedges. Eoin and I normally manage half of this between us for lunch, with salad on the side for me, and cucumber sticks for him.
This is a nice version of the original recipe, but I think that there are an awful lot of other changes you could make to the same lentil base. I chose leek and pepper as I thought their sweetness would balance out the earthy lentils, but you could really use any combination of vegetables you liked, provided they don’t cook down to a very sloppy texture (I think tomatoes would be a bad idea, as you might end up with soup!). Alternatively, you could play up the earthy flavour of the dish by using the sort of spices you’d find in a dahl, flavouring it with cumin, ground coriander and toasted mustard seeds. If you were making this for adults, I think pancetta, goat’s cheese and thyme would make a lovely addition (I’m trying to avoid anything in the bacon area with Eoin due to the salt content). Do try it, though: lentils are cheap, delicious, and not just for babies!
*I used the Cheese and Lentil Wedges recipe on p.62 as a base, with my own alterations.