One year ago I started a blog about food. I’d been trying to make it happen since the spring of 2012. It was late on Easter Sunday and we were all picking at leftovers of our 22-pound brined fresh ham.
“I’m thinking of starting a food blog,” I blurted out to Ben and our guests.
The second I opened my mouth I felt nervous and vulnerable—I’d been keeping this dream pretty well hidden until that moment. I was working in architecture and I didn’t expect many people to understand that I’d rather be cooking and writing.
But my friends seemed excited, so I continued. I told them that I wanted a blog with recipes and tutorials. I’d noticed a lot of recipes with missing “how’s” and I wanted to change that.
The more I shared the more we brainstormed. We proposed the name Recipedia. Charlotte would design it, Ben would build it, and we’d all get it going as soon as I’d get the courage to write for an audience.
I created a document in Microsoft Word. You know, the way Creed does in The Office? And I just started writing. I wrote about pesto, beets, Waffle Crisp cereal, sweet potato hash and how parchment paper chars when you crank your oven too high. Ben and I started a garden and I wrote about that. I even made lists of meals we’d eaten at restaurants.
But then I made Joy the Baker’s beet cake, and I entered an entirely new realm of inspiration.
I was in a beet phase, so when I learned that this sweet dirty vegetable could co-star with chocolate and cream cheese in a delightful Barbie-pink cake, I began pumping out more cakes than Ben and I could eat.
Joy’s recipe led to an entire summer of beet cake experiments. I tried coconut oil cakes, loaf cakes, layer cakes, spice cakes, and cakes with so many beets, they would practically fall apart. I would cook beets in advance and store them in the fridge just so I could be ready to bake more beet cakes.
I think what I liked most was the velvety texture and earthy flavor that came through in these cakes. Beets make an obscenely tender and rich cake (which explains why my extra-beety cakes had almost no structure). Their subtle sweetness pairs beautifully with chocolate and even more beautifully with tangy cream cheese and warm, fruity cinnamon.
And then there’s that color. The color I dreamt in as a 4-year-old child actually exists in nature! And though I don’t love my untidy baking habits, they lead to a beautiful Barbie-pink mess whenever I make this cake.
See what I mean?
The Barbie-pink beets yield a thick, deep-red batter.
Because I’d made so many beet cakes, I had to unload them on friends, coworkers and family. Some people were excited while others were cautiously optimistic. They’d look at me and say, “Beet chocolate cake?” with a perplexed look that suggested, You’ve lost it. But they were too intrigued to pass it up. They’d take a bite, light up and say, “You know, I’ve never been a huge fan of beets, but this cake…” as they’d go in for another bite.
Every time I got this reaction I grew a little more confident in what I might say on the blog of my dreams. Food has a lot of power in creating memories and experiences—and this beautiful, quirky beet cake was a reminder of that. Poorly prepared beets were something you were forced to eat as a kid. But beets in cake form were sweet and grown up—even tasty!
So it’s no accident that I’m sharing this beet cake recipe on the first anniversary of What’s in Season with Des. This cake has brought me a lot of happiness since that summer of 2012, and I couldn’t imagine a more special occasion to introduce it to you. And if it weren’t for Charlotte and Ben who did design, build and troubleshoot this site, I might otherwise be singing this cake’s praises in the depths of Microsoft Word.
Thanks for a fantastic year!
This beet chocolate cake is rich and earthy with a uniquely soft and velvety crumb. Paired with a tangy cream cheese frosting loaded with beets, this cake is a subtly sweet dessert that’s as tasty as it is beautiful. Place the cake in the refrigerator 30 minutes before slicing for cleaner cuts and a pleasant chill on the frosting. Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker.
2 medium-large beets (6-7 oz each)
Beet Chocolate Cake
1 cup finely grated boiled beets (recipe follows)
12 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for the cake pans
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the cake pans
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp Kosher salt
scant 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 cup finely grated boiled beets (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of Kosher salt
2 9-inch cake pans
electric stand mixer
Scrub the beets under cool running water. Place the beets in a saucepan and cover them by an inch or two with cool water. Bring the beets to a boil and cook them for 35-40 minutes, or until tender.
Drain the beets, put them back in the saucepan and cover them with cool running water. When the beets are cool enough to handle, use your fingers to push and peel away the skin.
Using the finest plane on a box grater, grate the beets and set aside. It’s a good idea to keep a sponge or paper towels handy for this step!
Beet Chocolate Cake
Arrange oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°.
Prepare the cake pans with butter, parchment paper and a light dusting of flour.
In a large bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Whisk until incorporated and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until pale and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, and continue to beat until they are each incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and 1 cup grated beets. Combine the mixture over medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Add half of the dry mixture into the mixer and beat on low speed until just combined. Slowly pour in the buttermilk with the mixer set to low speed. Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the other half of the dry mixture, and fold the ingredients together using a rubber spatula. The batter will be very thick.
Scoop the batter into the prepared cake pans. Using the back of a spoon or an small offset spatula, smooth out the batter as evenly as possible.
Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, switching the position of the upper and lower pans after about 15 minutes. The cakes are ready when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cakes from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. After 30 minutes, carefully run a sharp knife around the perimeter of the cakes to loosen them from the baking pans. The cakes will be very soft, so allow them to cool completely in their pans.
Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
Using a fork, coarsely mash 1/2 cup grated beets.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth (1-2 minutes). Add the confectioners sugar and beat on low speed for the first 30 seconds to keep the sugar from flying out of the bowl. Crank up the speed to medium and beat for another 2-3 minutes until soft and fluffy.
Add the vanilla, salt and mashed beets to the bowl. Beat over medium speed until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Invert the fully-cooled cakes over the wire racks to remove them from their pans. The cakes should come out fairly easily, but give the pans a gentle tap if necessary. Carefully remove the parchment.
Transfer the first cake layer to a stand or platter. Spread an even layer of frosting about 3/8″ thick.
Place the second cake layer on top of the first, and carefully spread a thin layer of frosting all around. This is the crumb coat. Its purpose is similar to a primer coat of paint—so it’s okay if the outer crumbs wiggle around a bit.
Place the lightly frosted cake in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. This will firm up the crumb coat, providing a smooth and solid surface for the final layer of frosting.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the remaining frosting all over the cake. Depending on your sweet tooth, you may end up with a little extra frosting for spreading over brownies, oreos, or whatever else you can think of.
The cake is incredibly soft, so for cleaner cuts, place the cake in the refrigerator 30 minutes before slicing.