Last weekend I finally broke in my copy of Nigel Slater’s Tender. I’ve had this book for a while now and it’s been entertaining enough to read through the recipes and look at the pictures -they’re wonderful. Over the course of a couple of days, I made three dishes from the book, including a version of baked brussels sprouts that might become a new standby recipe. I also went out on a limb and made a chocolate cake that called for red beets.
I know. Beets don’t sound like an appetizing addition to a cake, but before you close this page, let me try to convince you that this cake really is delicious and worth the effort.
First, the beets are barely noticeable unless you’re looking for them. They serve mostly to add a hint of texture – think of the occasional bit of carrot in a carrot cake. This one, however, is far more moist than any carrot cake I’ve tried. As long as you mince finely and mix thoroughly, you don’t run the risk of getting a mouth-full of beets.
The use of dark chocolate and hot espresso also mean that the batter has a strong earthy flavor already, in a good way. The addition of the beet simply compliments these two ingredients, endowing the cake with an unexpected warmth and even a subtle bit of spice that sometimes come with root vegetables.
I’d go so far to say that this is a grown-up dessert. It’s not too sweet and its flavor is more complex than the usual chocolate cake. This cake was made to be eaten with coffee or tea, on a cold sunday afternoon, and I think you will like it.
Notes: The original recipe suggests crème fraîche and poppy seeds as a garnish. I thought the cake stood fine on its own and didn’t bother with that part. The only other modification I made was to use a 1/2 cup of coffee instead of the 1/4 cup of espresso the recipe called for, because I didn’t have any espresso at hand. This worked fine, but if you have the espresso I’d stick with that.
Chocolate Cake with Red Beet (adapted from “An Extremely Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake with Crème-Fraîche and Poppy Seeds” in Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater)
8 oz (250 g) red beets
7 oz (200 g) dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
1/4 cup hot espresso or 1/2 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (200 g) butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup + 2 tbsp (135 g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa
5 eggs, yolks separated from whites
1 cup (190 g) sugar
Break up chocolate and place in a small, heat-proof bowl over a put of simmering water. Do not stir, but when the chocolate looks almost melted, stir in the hot coffee with one firm stir and then add the butter, pushing it into the hot mixture. Next, turn off the heat, and carefully remove the bowl for the water (I used a wide, shallow ladle to fish it out), and stir the mixture until the butter is completely melted. Finally, blend the yolks into the mixture. By this point, you should have the four main components of the batter (minced beet, melted chocolate mixture, dry ingredients and egg-whites) ready to go:
Now, combine the chocolate mixture and minced beets and mix thoroughly. Then very gently fold in the egg white mixture so that it doesn’t lose volume. The original recipe suggested folding the egg whites using a “figure eight” motion.
Once the egg whites are incorporated, mix I the combined flour, cocoa and baking powder, still stirring carefully so that the batter stays fluffy but is evenly blended. At this point, it should be a solid and even dark brown.
Pour the batter into the pan and put in the oven, reducing the heat immediately to 325 and cooking for 40 minutes. Remove the pan and let the cake cool for at least 20 minutes before taking the cake out and serving.
As I said above, this cake is ideal to enjoy with a hot cup of coffee.