We're doing the "Rootie Patootie" this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, preparing any Nigel Slater dish using root vegetables.
I know most of you out there would probably find it hard to go past the potato if asked to name your favourite root vegetable. For me, however, much as I love the humble spud, it has to be beetroot.
Finding a suitable dish to make was as simple as hauling Nigel's book "Tender, Vol I, A cook and his vegetable patch" off the shelf, and heading straight to the beetroot chapter. As with every other chapter in this book, each sentence is so beautifully crafted I find myself longing to read late into the night, and at the same time shuddering with my own ineptitude as a food writer. Here you will find Nigel not only offers recipes for using beetroot, but also offers advice on growing them, the various varieties of beets, simple advice on preparing them for the pot or oven, and some "quick fix" uses and great pairings.
I was sorely tempted to try the lamb, cracked wheat and beetroot meatballs paired with a yoghurt, cucumber, mint and caper dressing. The chickpea patties with beetroot tzatziki sounded equally tantalising. And, although I've had an absolute horror of beetroot soup ever since a rather wretched experience in my early 20s, I flirted briefly with the idea of trying the chilled soup of goat's cheese and beetroot. But once I got to the recipe for "An extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake with creme fraiche and poppy seeds" I was completely seduced.
In his introduction to this recipe, Nigel says: "Keeping a cake's heart on the verge of oozing is down partly to timing and partly to the ingredients - ground almonds and very good-quality chocolate will help enormously. But there are other ways to moisten a cake, such as introducing grated carrots or, in this case, crushed beetroot. The beetroot is subtle here, but it is a lot cheaper than ground almonds" (at $4.50/kg compared to $29/kg, he's not wrong there) "and blends perfectly with dark chocolate." He goes on to say, "This is a seductive cake, deeply moist and tempting." And I can tell you that he is absolutely right about that too.
I made a couple of small changes to the recipe. Firstly the recipe called for 200g of dark chocolate, but chocolate here comes in 250g blocks, and it would have been churlish to hold back just a few squares. I also replaced golden caster sugar with coconut sugar, which happens to be my favourite sugar right now. Lastly, there were a couple of steps in the method which seemed either unnecessarily complicated or at odds with how I would ordinarily have done things, so I made changes to the method accordingly.
The end result: When Nigel calls this an "extremely moist ... cake", he's not kidding. Around the edges this is like a dense, fudgy brownie, and at the centre almost like a rich chocolate mousse. This is hands down the best chocolate cake I've ever made - admittedly I've not made a lot of chocolate cakes, but this is still the best. You will definitely want to eat this with a spoon, and it would make a great dessert. That said, given that it contains a vegetable (beetroot), I wouldn't be opposed to eating it for breakfast. I have also heard that eating chocolate with vegetables cancels out the calories - ok, we know that's not true, but I'm not above kidding myself.
Nigel serves this with a side order of creme fraiche mixed with poppy seeds. I got so excited by the cake I completely forgot about the side, but I'm pretty sure they would be great together if you can exercise enough restraint to mix it up before being overtaken by cake lust.
Chocolate Beetroot Cake Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Tender Vol. I
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
250g (9 oz) beetroot (approx. 2x medium sized beetroot)
200g (7 oz) butter
250g (9 oz) dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana), broken into small pieces
4 tablespoons espresso
135g (5 oz) plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa
5x free-range eggs
190g (7 oz) coconut sugar
Cook whole beetroot in boiling, unsalted water until tender to the point of a knife - approximately 45 minutes depending on the size of your beetroot.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Lightly grease a 20cm (8 inch) springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, and line the base with baking paper. Set aside.
Drain beetroot and cool under cold running water until you can handle them. Peel the beetroot (skins will slip off easily with your fingers), remove stems and roots, roughly chop, and blitz in the food processor until you have a coarse puree.
Cut butter into chunks and add to a large bowl set over simmering water until melted. Remove from heat, add chocolate and espresso, and stir until chocolate is melted and everything is smooth and glossy.
Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a large bowl and set aside.
Lightly whisk the egg yolks, and add them to the chocolate mixture, along with the coconut sugar and pureed beetroot. Stir to combine.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the chocolate mixture.
Lastly, sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and gently fold into the wet ingredients until fully combined.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and put into the preheated oven. Immediately turn heat down to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F). Bake for 40 minutes, by which time the edge of the cake will be feeling quite spongy but the centre will still have a wobble when gently shaken.
Remove from the oven. Set the tin on a rack and leave to cool. Loosen around the edges with a palette knife after 30 minutes, but allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.
If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...
... or check out Tender, Vol. 1 and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.
I will also be submitting this post to Sweet New Zealand. Inspired by Alessandra Zecchini, and hosted this month right here on Couscous & Consciousness, Sweet New Zealand is an event for all Kiwi bloggers (whether living at home or abroad), or all foreign bloggers living in New Zealand, to link up their sweet treats.
I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum, and at Cook Your Books hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours, and at Hearth & Soul hosted by the gorgeous April at 21st Century Housewife.