Everything in Moderation

I'm really proud of today's recipe... It was a hard time a comin' in the midst of a crazy week at work, but I really needed a birthday cake for today. So I worked double time (at home), and have had to eat a lot of failures, but it was worth it.

Isn't she a beauty?
No, this isn't your run of the mill Red Velvet Cake. It's a Red Beet Cake. There's a Red Velvet revival going on, but do you know that the classic recipe calls for TWO bottles of red food dye?!?! That not only sounds excessive, it can't be good for you. 

This beet cake, on the other hand, is not only a sexy shade of magenta, it's healthy(-ier...) And it tastes divine.

There are a lot of beet cake recipes out there. Maida Heatter, the American Queen of Cakes, has a lovely one in her book of Cakes. However, most recipes contain chocolate, and while these result in a rich and moist chocolaty cake they do not have the telltale colour of beets (see left).

The beets make for an extremely moist cake -I've left the trimmings out on the kitchen table overnight, and they were still sticky-moist when I got home from work the next day! While the vegetable's flavour comes through, it isn't overpowering. I've iced the birthday cake, but it's perfect without, just sweet enough to be called a dessert, but not so much that you would feel guilty eating a wedge for breakfast.

I do love beets. I could probably eat beets every day, in a different manner for 365 days. But I have to admit that, come February, my love begins to wane, and my passion for root vegetables starts to flag... Much as I enjoy winter, and despite my anticipation for the March snowstorms, part of me is yearning for an early spring; for green shoots to poke out of the mud; new asparagus spears to show themselves on the market stalls. Yet my rational mind insists that I buy beets: so my fridge is full of beets that slowly get wrinkly, because my other mind refuses to eat another root.

There I was last Sunday, rifling through my fridge for something to eat, when I saw the tired beets. I need a cake! thought I. So I made a cake, but it wasn't right. I went and bought more beets; tweaked the recipe; baked another cake, and it still wasn't right... Scrapped the recipe, started anew, baked and ate until I couldn't eat anymore. Yet the batter's stupendous colour goaded me on.

This recipe calls for puréed beets. You can make your own from boiled or roasted beets. The roots easily give in to the blades of a stick blender or those of a food processor. You can also make the purée in a jar blender, but you will probably have to scrape down the jug a couple of times before you get a smooth purée. You can always use store-bought baby food, but I would not go there. If you really do not want to bother making a purée, you can try grating  it cooked (or raw -like for a carrot cake, I'm sure it'll work!) -although it might be a little messier this way.

If you really aren't sure about beets in a cake, you can always add 85g (3oz) of melted semi-sweet chocolate, in which case you could leave the lemon juice out of the recipe.

 Red Red Beet Cake
enough to fill a 20cm (8") square pan

250g / ½lb (1c) beet purée (about 3 medium beets)
160g/ ¾ c sugar
30g/ 2Tbs fresh lemon juice
50g/ ¼c vegetable oil  - I used hazelnut oil to intensify the roasted beets' nuttiness, but any neutral oil is fine
2 large eggs
130g/ 1c flour
16g/ 2tsp baking powder
butter and flour for the pan

Butter and flour your pan. Shake out any excess flour. Set aside.
Mix the beets, lemon juice, sugar, oil and eggs. You can use a mixer to get the batter nice and fluffy, but it isn't necessary.
If you are using chocolate, mix in with the beets.
Sift the flour and baking powder, making sure there are no lumps of baking powder left behind.
Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients into the batter.
Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake at 170'C/ 350'F for ±35 minutes. This batter is extremely moist, so the cake might not be done after 35 minutes. Check with a wooden skewer before taking out of the oven.

You can ice this cake with a cream cheese icing, but it really isn't necessary (a word of warning: the beets' ferocious pigments can -and will- bleed through the pristine white icing). If you find plain cakes too plain, you can always serve it with some sour cream (sweetened or not) or Greek yoghurt. By the way, if you live in Canada, the best cream cheese is made by Liberté or Western Dairy (same company): it is made with live cultures, so it has a nice tart edge. If your regular cream cheese lacks piquancy, you can add 1 Tbs lemon juice or a splash of buttermilk to your icing.

Bon app'!

P.S. While the title to today's post obliquely refers to the fact that I've eaten way too much cake this week, it is actually a nod to my friend's 'adventure' with beets. She, like me, loves beets, but unlike me, she really overdid it: when she lived in Irvine, California, she would patronise a cool little juice bar set in a healthfood store. One day, she decided to have the usual beet juice, but without the apples, and she wanted a whole 16oz!!! Talk about supersizing!
Halfway through her juice, her friends noticed the colour drain from her face. Next thing they knew, she was passed out on the floor. She was rushed to the hospital, where she had to have her stomach pumped.
Turns out that my friend got iron poisoning from the exaggerated portion of beets. She literally od'ed on beets!!!
So the moral of the story is: everything in moderation. Even if it's healthy. And beets are a good source of iron!


  1. I tasted the final version aaaand this cake is sooooo good in my mouth! Ho Yeah! I love it!
    - Katy

  2. This looks wonderful! And I love that it has only a few ingredients... I'll be trying it soon. I've toyed with the idea of making a beet cake before but haven't yet.

    I can't believe your friend passed out from beet juice! Poor thing. My sweetheart and I went on a raw beet craze awhile ago, and both got itchy/sore throats while eating one night... maybe the iron caused that, too?

  3. I don't know that iron causes itchy throats... Itchy throat is usually a sympton of food allergy or intolerance, so maybe your body was teling you to ease up on the beets.


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