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Chocolate Beetroot Cake

The idea of finding vegetables in one's cake may be slightly perturbing, but give them a chance. I'm sure carrot cake was met with horror and disdain once upon a time, after all. Well, okay. Maybe cauliflower wouldn't do so well in a cake. Or aubergines. 

Beetroots, however. Little mauve globes of joy, perfect when chopped into a salad with some goat's cheese and walnuts. Gorgeous when roasted alongside a chicken and eaten alongside caramelised potatoes on a warm summer's evening. You might not have thought of putting them in a cake. But believe me, beetroot, when introduced into chocolate cake, makes for the fudgiest, moistest bake I've made this summer. 

I've actually been pretty obsessed by chocolate beetroot cake for a while. Last autumn I cycled to Stickybeaks, a wonderful café tucked away on a back street in central Cambridge, for a little bit of headspace. (Please, please visit if you're ever making a trip to Cambridge - hands down best cake in the city.) I wandered to the counter, ordered a slice of their chocolate beetroot cake and sat down to pore over books for an essay. The waitress brought it to the table with a steaming cup of tea and a smile. I put a forkful in my mouth and swooned inwardly. The combo of chocolate with beetroot works beautifully because the beets, naturally sweet, impart both moistness and an extra layer of flavour depth to the cake. And for those who are wondering, no, the cake doesn't taste like a garden salad - the chocolate almost completely masks the beetroot taste. The beetroots give the cake a gorgeous reddish tinge which is only really discernible in the day time and through photos. It's sort of like a natural red velvet in this sense - you get the lovely chocolatey taste with the scarlet colour, but with no added food colouring!

I mentioned in my post about our homegrown veg and fruit that we've been growing a ton of beetroots this summer. We've been roasting them, slicing them into salad, trying them in pasta... I decided I absolutely had to try my hand at baking with them last weekend. I haven't quite mastered the art of beautiful bakes yet (à la The Great British Bake-Off, which I watch religiously every year), but my family and A absolutely loved the result. The cake was demolished within mere days, and now I'm being begged to make another! Give it a go and see what you think!

Chocolate beetroot cake (adapted from Nigel Slater)

300g beetroot, washed thoroughly
200g good dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
200g butter
135g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
3 tsp good quality cocoa powder
4 tbsp hot espresso
5 eggs
190g golden caster sugar
Crème fraîche to serve

• Cook your beetroot whole and unpeeled in boiling unsalted water. They should be tender in roughly half an hour, though if you're using young ones, keep checking them after about twenty minutes. Drain them, cool them under cold running water, then peel them (this bit's messy - you might want to use gloves!) slice off their stem and root, pop in a Magimix or food processor and blitz to a rough purée.

•While your beetroots are cooking, lightly butter a loose-bottomed cake tin, lining the base with a disc of baking parchment. Set the oven at 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. 

•Snap your chocolate into small pieces and melt them in a bowl resting over simmering water, making sure that the water doesn't touch the bowl. Don't stir. When the chocolate looks like it's nearly molten, pour your hot espresso over it and stir once.

•Cut your butter into small pieces and add to the melted chocolate, using a spoon to dip the butter pieces under the surface of the chocolate. Leave to soften over a low heat.

•Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and set aside.

•Separate your eggs, placing the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together. Remove the chocolate from the heat and gently stir the butter until it has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes, then quickly stir in the egg yolks, mixing firmly and evenly so that the eggs blend with the mixture. When you've done this, fold in your blitzed beetroot.

•Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gently fold in the sugar to avoid losing the air. Firmly but tenderly (Nigel's words, not mine!) fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture using a large metal spoon, using a deep figure of 8 movement. Be careful not to over-mix.

•Fold in the flour, baking powder and cocoa, making sure it's well combined. Transfer quickly to the prepared cake tin and put in the oven, immediately turning your heat down to 160ºC/Gas Mark 3. Bake for 45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

•Leave to cool (don't worry if it sinks a bit!) then loosen the cake with a palette knife around the edges after about half an hour. Try very hard not to remove the cake from its tin until completely cold (I failed at this because of hungry parents...) Serve in thick slices with a dollop of crème fraîche. 


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