This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.
Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture. I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket. The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window. Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.
Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical. A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears. It sounds silly, but it worked. Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work. It has the same effect.
I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings. With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble. I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.
I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake. Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success. Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake. Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet. Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food. It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.
This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks. It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it. It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot. The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny. Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked. The good old purple kind will do just fine.
Chocolate Beetroot Cake
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 180ºc. Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender. Remove and cool under cold running water. Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.
Separate the eggs. Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.
Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated. Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.
Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air. Do not overmix. Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin. There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools. Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.
Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.