Last month I worked at the inaugural Cake & Bake Show in Earl’s Court, assisting in the pop-up kitchen for TREX – a pure vegetable fat still going strong after 80 years and witnessing a revival as a retro, multi-purpose baking ingredient…
‘TREX!’ yells a tiny Scottish man in a white overcoat, punching the air with gusto. Myself and ‘Team Trex’ (a band of three led by my good friend, home economist Sue Ashworth) are furiously weighing out flour and sugar just minutes before the Show doors open. We’re stopped in our tracks by the man in the white coat – Eddie Spence MBE. As cake and icing fans will know, Eddie is one of the most respected cake decorators on the planet (he’s iced many cakes for the Royal family including the Queen’s Golden Wedding Anniversary Cake), his courses continue to sell out in minutes, and what isn’t in his book, The Art of Royal Icing, isn’t worth a piping bag.
It turns out Eddie loves TREX and requests a block of the white cooking fat for his demonstrations on the star speaker stage later that morning. He credits TREX for providing essential lubricated foundations when rolling out Royal icing and creating and moulding shapes. Who knew?! Over the course of the weekend, which witnesses thousands of professional and home bakers soak up celebrity demos, tasty giveaways and must-have bakeware, Eddie isn’t the only one to champion one of the oldest fats on the block.
It seems TREX had become the wallflower of the fats world. It came onto the scene in 1931 as one of the first 100% vegetable cooking fats and has remained in the chilled dairy section of the supermarket ever since. A fact that surprised many visitors when we baked up trays of warm Red Onion and Cheddar Cheese Tartlets and dainty Lemon Curd Butterfly Cakes which, thanks to the aerated texture of the fat, creates a wonderfully light sponge; gently scoop out the middle and fill with curd and buttercream before prettifying wings with a dusting of icing sugar.
‘I didn’t know you could make cakes with TREX!’ was the most common soundbite of the weekend, followed by ‘My grandma always used to have a block in her fridge!’ and ‘What exactly is TREX?’ Until I helped out at the show I was pretty clueless myself, but after icing and dishing out 400-500 fairy cakes, I can testify to the tastiness. Not only is it good for veggies, but it’s also dairy-free which is perfect for lactose-intolerant recipients of baked goods. It can be substituted for butter and margarine in most recipes and because it contains pure fat, you use less of it in your recipes (when substituting for butter/margarine you can reduce the measurements by 20%.)
The only thing lacking is that lovely rich taste you can only get from real butter, but many professional bakers told us that they achieve a balance by using half butter and half TREX in their recipes. The fusion of fats also produces exceptionally good icing, retaining a clearer, whiter shade and a lighter texture with a crystallized bite. In fact, one visitor who set up her own cupcake company, is constantly quizzed about the secret to her moreish icing. The answer? It’s never really left our fridge.
Try these Lemon Curd Butterfly Cakes which went down a storm and are so easy to whip up for last minute parties/pressies.
Makes: 16 cakes
Suitable for vegetarians
Suitable for freezing
- 150g (6oz) self-raising flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 115g (4 ½oz) caster sugar
- 100g (4oz) TREX
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tbsp milk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 75g (3oz) butter, at room temperature
- 150g (6oz) icing sugar, plus a little extra, for sprinkling
- 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3-4 tbsp lemon curd
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas Mark 4. Put 12 paper bun cases into a bun tin.
- Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, TREX, unbeaten eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Use a wooden spoon to beat the mixture together until smooth and creamy – this will only take 1-2 minutes.
- Spoon the mixture into the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until risen and golden. After a few minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the filling by beating together the butter and the icing sugar until light and creamy. Add the lemon zest and juice, beating until smooth.
- When the buns have cooled, slice the tops off and cut these in half. Spoon a little lemon curd into each bun, then share the butter icing between them. Replace the tops to resemble wings and sift a little icing sugar over the top.
Cook’s tip: Use strawberry jam instead of lemon curd to fill the buns, and flavor the butter icing with 2-3 drops of vanilla extract instead of lemon zest.