Recipe: Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake
Beet greens have been eaten since 200 BC in northern Africa and along the Mediterranean, but it wasn’t until the ancient Romans that the beet was cultivated for its roots. Highly popularized as a source of sugar in the 19th century by Napoleon—when the British restricted France’s access to sugar cane he decreed that beets should be grown as a source of sucrose—they are still widely cultivated in Eastern Europe for producing table sugar today.
Current studies into the health benefits of beets have revealed they are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains, which have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support. Although some people claim to have a genetic distaste for beets, including the First Lady, Michele Obama, they can be prepared in a wide variety of ways—and maybe even hidden from such discerning palates—including this delicious beet cake.
During an austere period of American history, domestic bakers began using beet juice, boiled and mashed beets and even in some recipes, beet baby food as a way to replace expensive dyes and sugar and increase moisture in versions of the popular Red Velvet Cake. This recipe is not overly sweet, and can be made with any kind of beet, though the red beets give it its distinct red color, golden beets also provide wonderful contrast and flavor.
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater
- 2 beets, boiled until tender, peeled and chopped
- 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (70% cacao solids), chopped
- 1/4 cup hot espresso (or water)
- 7 ounces butter, at room temperature, cubed
- 1 cup flour
- 3 Tbsps unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 egg whites, at room temperature
- 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup superfine sugar*
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8- or 8 1/2-inch spring-form pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grind beets in a food processor with espresso until you get a coarse, puree.
- In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate, stirring as little as possible. Once nearly all melted, turn off heat and add butter, pressing into pieces with the chocolate and allow them to soften without stirring.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter is melted. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, then stir the egg yolks together and briskly stir them into the melted chocolate mixture. Fold in the beets.
- In a stand mixer, or by hand, whip the egg whites until stiff. Gradually fold the sugar into the whipped egg whites with a spatula, then fold them into the melted chocolate mixture, being careful not to over-mix.
- Fold in the flour and cocoa powder. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and reduce the heat of the oven to 325ºF, and bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until the sides are just set but the center is still is just a bit wobbly. Do not over-bake. Let cake cool completely, then remove it from the pan.
- *If you don’t have superfine sugar you can chop regular sugar in a food processor for about ten seconds until it’s at a fine consistency.