It pains me to admit it but I am not a natural cake baker. I tend to get through more salt than sugar and my cupboard is not often stocked with baking powder, icing sugar or vanilla essence. In fact, I bought my first ever loose bottomed cake tin this weekend – an historic moment. The recipe that caught my eye and compelled me to embrace baking and all its clumsy paraphernalia was, surprise surprise, courtesy of Nigel Slater’s Tender. This is a fantastically moist and vibrant chocolate beetroot cake that retains all the colour and earthiness of the modest root we love and use so much of, with a little piquancy in the icing to freshen it up. It looks beautiful however little experience you may have in the kitchen. I’ve lessened Nigel’s sugar quantities a little as he seems to have a superhuman metabolism that most of us can’t keep up with. I’ve also added a little more beetroot just to emphasise its lovely presence.
300g fresh beetroot
200g dark chocolate
1 cup hot espresso
135g plain flour
tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
175g golden caster sugar
crème fraîche and poppy seeds to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C and add the whole, unpeeled beetroots to a pan of boiling water. Don’t cut the stems off or the colour will bleed into the water. Meanwhile, grease a loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base with baking paper. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa and separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites into stiff peeks, fold in the sugar and set aside. Mix the yolks together. Because of my lack of snazzy equipment, I had to painstakingly hand whisk the egg whites which meant that the beetroot was nearly ready by now! Use an electric whisk, for goodness sake. Check their tenderness with a sharp knife (they should take about 40 minutes). Drain and run under cold water as you rub away the skin with your hands (the pink stains will wash off but may prevent you from going to any smart parties in the next day or two. In case of imminent invites, wear gloves.) Cut out the stem and pulp to a puree with a hand blender. Leave in a bowl to cool.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate on a low heat bain marie without stirring. When it is almost melted pour in the espresso and stir once. Push the butter into the chocolate in small chunks and let it soften. Remove from the heat and stir until the butter has melted. Leave for a few minutes and then stir in the egg yolks quickly and firmly. Then fold in the beetroot puree. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon, then fold in the flour and cocoa. Transfer the mix to the cake tin and put straight in the oven, turning the heat down to 160C immediately. Bake for 40 minutes. The middle of the cake will still wobble a bit. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Serve with crème fraîche and poppy seeds for a classy teatime treat.