Putting vegetables in baked treats is not uncommon as they add moisture to the bake. We have shredded carrots in carrot cake and sliced zucchini in muffin – but beetroot in a chocolate cake? As I was watching Nigel Slater (in Simple Suppers) make a beetroot cake, I was going “what the hell was he thinking?”. Beetroot, when eaten raw, has a rich and earthy flavour. For some, this translates into a “mud taste”. It is not that easy to get rid of the “muddy” flavour. You can pickle, poach or roast beetroot but you might still be able to pick up that earthy tone. Hence, the idea of putting beetroot in a cake bewildered me. In his gorgeous cookbook, Tender Vol. I, Nigel Slater has not one but two recipes for beetroot cakes.
I chose the “extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake” as it has the least number of ingredients. And of course, I love chocolate. While I was making the cake, there were a lot of doubts going through my head. I was still questioning if the chocolate would complement the beetroot and whether I may end up producing a mud cake (literally).
After waiting impatiently for the cake to cool, I finally had a slice. It was the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. The cake was super moist (I might actually label it as juicy) and rich – I was in chocolate heaven. To my surprise, I could not taste the beetroot at all. The roasting of the beetroot brought out its sweetness, and toned down the earthy flavour, which then blended beautifully with the rich, dark chocolate.
The first time I made this cake, I under-baked it and it was the best mistake I ever made. The cake had a molten centre, and when sliced, the chocolate started to ooze out. You get a bit of the grated beetroot which adds texture to the cake. And it actually tasted even better the second day. This is the cake to make if you are looking for something rich yet with a touch of healthy goodness in it.
An extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake with crème fraîche and poppy seeds
(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume I)
I really do like to have the cake with a bit of crème fraîche* as the sour cream helps to cut through the richness, and the poppy seeds add a bit of crunch and nuttiness. In Singapore, poppy seeds are banned so you can substitute it with crushed toasted pecans or walnuts. Do experiment with the baking time – if you want a molten centre, you can choose to under-bake the cake (but don’t over-bake it).
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 60 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
Serve: 8 people
250g beetroot, washed
200g fine dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids; I used Valrhona)
4 tablespoons hot espresso
200g unsalted butter, softened, cut into small cubes
135g all-purpose flour
1 (heaped) teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
5 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
160g – 190g golden caster sugar**
Crème fraîche and poppy seeds (or crushed toasted nuts) to serve
– Preheat the oven at 200oC. Wrap the washed beetroot (there is no need to remove the skin) in aluminum foil and put it in the oven to roast for 35-45 minutes (depending on the size of the beetroot).
– Once roasted, using a small paring knife, try to pierce through the beetroot. If you cannot pierce it through easily, put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.
– Let the beetroot cool completely. Once cooled, peel the beetroot thoroughly. If you have a food processor, you can blitz the beetroot into a rough purée. If you are like me, equipment-less, you can use a box grater (use the coarse grating surface) and grate the beetroot (please make sure the beetroot is completely cooled before you grate, if not, you are going to burn your hands (personal experience)).
– Preheat the oven at 180oC. Lightly butter a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment.
– In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. I am not a fan of sifting but this is important as cocoa powder tends to form lumps.
– Separate the eggs. Put in the egg whites in mixing bowl or your stand-mixer bowl (if you are lazy). Whisk the yolks in another bowl. Set them aside.
– Place the chocolate in a small bowl which should fit the top of a pot of simmering water (bain-marie). Ensure the water in the pot is not touching the bottom of the bowl and all sides are sealed. This is to prevent the water vapour from going into the melted chocolate. Leave the chocolate alone to be melted.
– When the chocolate is almost melted, pour in the hot coffee and stir once (with a whisk).
– Put the cubed butter into the chocolate mixture and leave it to soften.
– Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir gently (with a whisk) until the butter has melted and incorporate into the mixture.
– Let the chocolate mixture cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the egg yolks into the mixture. You need to be quick, if not, you will get chocolate scrambled eggs.
– Switch to a spatula, fold in the grated/puréed beetroot.
– Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gently fold in the sugar. If you are lazy, use your stand-mixer or hand-mixer (whisk attachment).
– Using either a spatula or a large metal spoon, fold in the egg white and sugar mixture into the chocolate. What I like to do is to scoop a third of the egg white/ sugar mixture into the chocolate and whip it really quickly to loosen the batter. Once the batter is more “workable”, I will pour in the rest of the egg white/sugar mixture and work in a deep, figure-of-eight movement. The egg white/sugar mixture should be thoroughly incorporated, but be careful not to over-mix.
– Fold in the flour and cocoa gently and try not to deflate the chocolate/egg white mixture.
– Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and put in the oven. Turn the oven heat down immediately to 160oC. Bake for 40 minutes***. The rim of the cake will feel spongy, the centre of the cake should still wobble a little when gently shaken.
– Leave the cake to cool. The centre of the cake might sink a bit. Loosen the edges with a palette knife after half an hour or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its tin until it is completely cold. Serve in thick slices, with crème fraîche and poppy seeds (or crushed toasted nuts).
*If you cannot find crème fraîche, you can substitute it with sour cream. Or even a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
**The original recipe calls for 190g. Depending on the sweetness of your beetroot, you can reduce the amount of sugar you used. If you cannot find golden caster sugar, you can use brown sugar.
***If you intend to under-bake the cake, bake it for around 25-30 minutes.