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Beetroot and maple buttercream cake

January 4, 2011

So I was going to do a New Year post but then for some reason it did not occur to me that I would be in Akaroa with barely any wireless. After many meals with barely any green or vegetable in sight (except onions and potatoes), I was craving vegetables of any kind in everything. If you feel the same, then I have the cake for you.

Beetroot cakes, if you’ve been following the food blogging “scene,” are nothing new, although generally they are mixed in with chocolate to hide the startlingly bright colour of traditional purple-red beets. The thing is, after making a chocolate beetroot cake, I couldn’t help but conclude two things:

1. The chocolate didn’t “mask” the beetroot, but it did heighten the earthy, almost-bitter quality of the beets in a way which made the presence of the beets obvious.

2. Why bother with the chocolate at all if it’s not going to hide the beet flavour? Why not celebrate beet cake, like carrot cake, and pair it with a flavour that will aim to complement, not distract?

Then I found the answer. Better yet, it was from a source I truly trust when it comes to baking – Fanny over at Foodbeam. Best of all though – no cooking of beets is required, which means I can whip this up quite quickly on a whim. It’s perfect for night time baking and letting cool overnight too, because the cake stays moist from all the beetroot. Fanny paired it with cinnamon and a cream cheese icing, which is a brilliant flavour combination, however I wasn’t feeling spice-happy as it was just starting to cool down from a 31 degree (that’s 87F) day without air conditioning. Upon consultation with the Flavor Bible, I settled on maple. Originally I was going to pair this with walnut to make this a very nutty cake, but my supermarket-sourced walnuts (FYI: I did not buy them) that were well before the best-before were predictably rancid (I still don’t know how supermarkets get away with selling rancid walnuts…in any case I think I know why so many people hate walnuts in their food).

It turned out all for the best – this cake needed no extra nuttiness, although go ahead and use walnuts if you have freshly cracked ones. Personally I absolutely adore it, as it feeds my obsession with nutty flavours on the cheap (it took several goes to write this sentence to avoid saying I was unusually keen on nuts), but I will warn you that it’s not for everyone. The texture is fantastic – moist and slightly dense without being heavy, but the flavour of the beets does shine through, so I’d avoid serving this to any beetroot haters. Sometimes I fall into the latter category but now I’m a strong believer that beets can be redeemed with the right flavour pairing, and the maple buttercream really does work fantastically with the earthiness of the beets without smothering the life out of it. If you love beets you could probably skip it to keep this snack a virtuous one (EDIT: also tastes fantabulous with lemony thick greek yogurt…or I’d imagine anything fruity), but the buttercream really turned this snack into a treat. Other flavours I’d like to try in future include orange, lemon, hazelnut, candied walnut, honey, pistachio…

If you’re wondering about the alarming yellow colour, I used yellow beets instead of purple/red ones, but either would work fine (EDIT: Red beets make the cake look a little strangely multi-coloured though). The main benefit was that my hands weren’t stained purple after the grating. The only downside is that in New Zealand, they can be hard to find – I found mine at the Lyttelton Farmers Market, but you can always grow them (beets aren’t difficult, plus you can use the leaves like spinach or silverbeet/chard). They are deceptively golden on the outside (much like this cake) and aggressively yellow within, and their leaves don’t have that purple streak up the middle. Now is a good time to use beets as they’re in season and especially cheap, but beets are generally pretty cheap all year around.

Beetroot cake, adapted from Foodbeam

makes one 8″ cake

  • 3 eggs
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • approximately 250g beetroot, peeled and grated on finest setting possible (I just peeled the stringgy bits off)*
  • 175g flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 120g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (or omit salt if using salted butter)

*With the yellow beets I think the skins that made it in went sort of grey in colour in the final product. If you want to avoid this just peel everything off. For red/purple beets I think the colour would be dark enough to hide this so only the stringgy bits needs to be peeled off. EDIT: There is some dicolouration with red beets but it’s hidden slightly better. Colour wise it’s a bit weird though – it’s very much a multi-coloured affair!

Preheat the oven to 170C with a rack centered and generously grease a round 8″ springform tin.

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed until fluffy and doubled in size. Fold the beets into the egg. Sift over the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold through using a spatula until just incorporated. Transfer a couple of spoonfuls of the batter into the butter and mix vigourously until smooth, then fold back into the remaining batter until just incorporated. Pour into the greased tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean (or with a few dry crumbs attached). Cool on a wire rack before icing.

Maple buttercream

makes more than enough for this cake, so refrigerate the rest for another use or halve recipe.

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature and that your kitchen is not chilly when making this. If icing the sides then the following quantity is recommended and maybe go with less sugar.

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened (to do this quickly, chop up and place bowl in a 50C oven for a few minutes)
  • 2-4 Tbs real maple syrup (if the ingredients have any “flavour” added, do not use)
  • 2 Tbs light brown sugar (do NOT use the cheap stuff here)
  • 1-3 Tbs warm water (start with 1, do NOT exceed 3 or your icing will start to curdle and separate)
  • 1-3 c icing sugar (start with 1)

Since most icing depends on your personal preference, I’ve made this buttercream really flexible. Start by beating the butter, maple syrup and brown sugar until incorporated. Beat in 1 Tbs water until smooth and creamy, then beat in 1c icing sugar until fully incorporated. Now taste and see if you want it to be more sweet or maple flavoured. If so, beat sugar/maple syrup in before adding more water. Finally, if you’d like the texture to be more smooth and creamy beat in an extra tablespoon of water.

Spread or pipe onto your totally cooled cake.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2011 11:27 pm

    Hi!!! Thanks for your visit!!!
    I was truly asking myself why your cake was yellow and made with beetroot…nice idea to use the yellow one…but I will make it with the red ones to have a really nice pink cake…I like the fact that you skipped on the chocolate, in this way the recipe is so much more interesting…I never thought about a beetroot cake as a simple carrot cake without carrots, clever…maybe I will make a vanilla lemon orange honey version, as you suggest… ^_^

  2. January 26, 2011 1:17 pm

    I’m so glad I found your website and this recipe! I would have never thought to use raw beets in a cake, but that sounds so much easier and better.

    Your maple/walnut pairing sounds really good and goes great with the yellow beets. I don’t have any maple syrup/flavoring in the house at all though. Wonder how it would be with honey instead?

    Anyway, thanks so much for talking about how the cake tastes. I’m someone who’s just beginning to experiment with beets because I never liked them as a kid.

    I kind of like them now…at least the few ways I’ve prepared them. I don’t care for the earthy, woodsy smell/taste though, but somehow I think I might like it in a cake. Sounds interesting! :) Pretty pictures too! :)

    • January 27, 2011 2:50 pm

      I’m so glad I found that recipe too, before making beet cakes with cooked beets was a rather arduous process!

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