Is there anything more courageous than a beet? Early spring lettuce competes for the title with its delicate leaves despite the threat of freak frosts, but with its bitterness, I think it's more audacious than heroic. A beet gets to the heart of things; its mellow sweetness never surprises with hidden tastes like the pang of a turnip or rutabaga or the sometimes cloying caramel lumps that squash can become as it roasts. Beets keep feet on the ground, never allowing one to forget the place from which they came. Though the earthiness of them deters some (along with the inescapable ruby stain of the red variety), beets have as much potential as a pot of boiling water. Horseradish cream atop thinly sliced roasted beets is a revelation. Grated raw beets with ginger, sesame oil and rice vinegar are a cheerful yet soothing reminder that all is not lost. And pickled beets with allspice make me feel like I have wings.
Though I sing their praises in such a devoted manner, please believe my sincere surprise when I came across this remarkable chocolate cake recipe that calls for these small but mighty heroes.
Chocolate Beet Cake
by Nigel Slater
I take zero credit for this recipe. Though I've read Slater's column in the The Guardian for years, I was turned onto a special one of his cookbooks by RB and have sat for hours thumbing through the pages, utterly captivated by the attention-turned-devotion to his vegetable patch. This recipe, though requiring both time and care, is not to be overlooked.
A digital scale is helpful but not essential. Re-read the recipe a few times to get comfortable.
8oz red beets (about three to six small beets or one cup worth, once processed) (250g)
7oz 70% dark chocolate, broken into pieces (200g)
3/4 c + 2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or grated (200g)
4 T hot espresso (or strong, strong coffee)
1 c + 2 T all-purpose flour (135g)
1 heaping t baking powder
3 T cocoa powder
6 eggs, separated
1 c sugar (190g)
Roast the beets with a bit of water in a covered dish until tender, about an hour. Let cool until touchable (or run under cold water) and then peel. Place what you approximate to yield one cup worth and process in a food processor to a coarse puree. Save any remaining beets for later use.
Lightly butter an 8" springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round cut piece of parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350F.
Bring a pot with plenty of water to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Place a large bowl with the broken pieces of chocolate atop the pot (this is the double boiler method). Do not stir.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Separate the eggs. Make the espresso.
When the chocolate looks melted, pour the espresso over it and stir once. Add the butter and let it melt.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold in the sugar.
Mix the egg yolks together.
Remove the chocolate and butter from the double boiler and stir to combine. Let rest a few minutes to cool a bit.
Moving efficiently but gently, add the yolks to the chocolate mixture, and mix firmly. Fold in the beets along with the egg whites with sugar. "A large metal spoon is what you want here; work in a deep, figure-eight movement but take care to not overmix."
Finally, fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and put in the oven. Immediately reduce heat to 325F. Bake for 40 minutes.
The edges of the cake will be set but the inner part should be wobbly and molten-like.
Let cool for 30 minutes before loosening the edges and let cool completely before eating. The center will sink a bit.
Nigel suggests serving it with creme fraiche and poppyseeds. And I promise that this cake gets better with time, so if you're having company, bake it the evening before.
Yields: eight servings
Prep time: an hour +
Bake time: 40 minutes