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Nigel Slater's Extremely Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake

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Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Step aside, red velvet.

chocolate beet cake

I am not an advocate of shoving vegetables into things for the sake of sneaking around and not telling your kids (or coworkers or roommates or spouses) that they're eating their vegetables. 

Don't do that, or at least don't tell me you did. I have deeply overthought convictions about this, thanks to research on picky eating I did in grad school. This makes me think I am an expert and that I will be blessed with children who eat like Amanda's do. If you want me to rant some more about it, I will.

But if you want to openly incorporate vegetables into baked goods based on their own merits -- their flavor, texture, moisture, or even their nourishing qualities -- I won't rant at all. I might even call you a genius.

tender  nigel slater

Like carrot cakes and zucchini breads that came before, Nigel Slater's chocolate beet cake fulfills all of these holy purposes. Slater is very good at thinking about vegetables and fruit, and where they'll do good work. His encyclopedic odes to produce, first Tender and then Ripe, have proven this.

As he shows us in Tender, it just so happens that the deep pink earthiness of a beet is surprisingly well suited for bittersweet chocolate cake. It's such a revelation, Food52ers fiveandspice and fil_mishmish both wrote to me about it when I asked/begged for tips on your go-to genius recipes back in June.


No matter how you feel about beets in salads or soups, this cake will not be an acquired taste. Crushed beets are a cheap way to make a cake achingly moist, nearly molten. They do make themselves known, but only barely, "elusively", as Slater says. Rather than just a desperate vehicle for vitamins, these roots pull their weight.

They also sort of solve the red velvet problem: to get a festive red-tinted cake, you don't need a whole bottle of food coloring after all.

pureed beets

Slater even frosts with the beets in mind, using crème fraîche and poppyseeds, which he says are not merely a suggestion, but an important part of the cake. Fil_mishmish points out that this hearkens back to a dollop of sour cream pooling in your borscht -- maybe with some poppyseed bread on the side. (For the birthday party set, you can go pink on the frosting instead.)

You might worry that half a pound of beets will sink your cake, rendering it pasty and dense. Slater combats this by whipping in egg whites and using a gentle touch all along the way. He also calls for a curious "heaping teaspoon" of baking powder -- chalk it up to a U.K.-to-U.S. edition lapse. Luckily David Lebovitz translated this to 1 1/4 teaspoons, and all is well.

Ready to slide some beets into your dessert yet? You should know this before you embark: this is not a dump-it style, single bowl recipe. You are doing the opposite of dumping it.

mise en place

You are sifting dry ingredients. You are gingerly melting chocolate per Slater's instructions, and looking at it, but not stirring. You are separating eggs and beating their whites, and folding, folding, folding, as weightlessly as you can.

If you have a reasonably large, well-appointed kitchen, you should have no trouble. You will just feel proud of putting it into service and grateful for your dishwasher. If you have a mini kitchen, or less than 5 bowls to your name, this will be a bit more trying and messy, but you'll get through it, and believe you me, it will be worth it. 

And you will be telling everyone -- your beet-weary friends, your wide-eyed, open-mouthed kids -- just what's in it, and makes it so good.

Nigel Slater's Extremely Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake With Crème Fraîche and Poppy Seeds

From Tender by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

Serves 8

8 ounces fresh beets
7 ounces fine dark chocolate (70%)
4 tablespoons hot espresso
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
5 eggs
Scant 1 cup superfine sugar
Crème frâiche and poppy seeds, to serve

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


Tags: genius, Nigel Slater, beets, chocolate, cake

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Comments (50)


4 months ago Analisa Larkin

Absolutely love it. Made it three times in the last two weeks with my freshly harvested beets. People have asked me MORE PLEASE! I also baked it about 10 minutes longer. Really beautiful cake! Thankyou!


almost 2 years ago Fiona

Would it work in layers to make a celebration cake? If so any frosting recommendations welcome. Thanks


almost 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, I do think it would, although it is very moist, so you'd need to be sure it's baked through and to handle it delicately! A sour cream- or cream cheese-based frosting would be lovely. This one is delicious: http://food52.com/recipes...


almost 2 years ago Eileen

Is that 8 ounces of beets before (raw) or after cooking and peeling? I assume it is before. Great recipe.


almost 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, before cooking -- here's the full recipe for more details: http://food52.com/recipes...


almost 2 years ago Demington

I cooked mine 5 more minutes than directed, and it still fell apart in the middle. Put it in a hot oven for 30 more minutes, covered it with whipped cream and called it brownies. Very moist indeed.


over 2 years ago Philip Smith 1

Nice information on Beetroot Chocolate-Beet Cake. thanks for sharing this valuable cake recipe.


over 2 years ago Elaine Falapatorius

Made it tonight for the fam. The instructions are indeed a little involved for a working parent, so I kept thinking, "This thing better be worth it". It was. :) Some things I did differently that didn't affect its awesomeness: 1. The parchment and butter were enough to get them out of a non-spring form. 2. I added 1/2 a cup of liquid in order to puree the beets because I don't have a processor (used a blender). 3. Splenda instead of sugar. 4. Probably stirred a bit much here, over-folded a bit there. From the looks of the pic mine may have been a little more dense in the end but that was aaaall right with me! 5. Black cherry preserves in the middle, cream cheese icing on top = insanely good (cake itself is not as sweet as what most people are probably accustomed to).


almost 3 years ago mameybeatriz

Made this last December for my son's 5th birthday, and I did not tell the kids what the secret ingredient was, but I did tell the grandmothers in attendance. It was in my opinion a wonderfully deep and rich cake, and it was not appreciated by the 1 and 2 year olds. Still, a bit of vanilla ice cream on the side softened them up.


almost 3 years ago slateram

this is an excellent recipe, however not a new idea. The beets are the original ingredient in red velvet cake before food coloring to reduce the amount of butter needed in leaner times. I found a very old cookbook from the South that used beets in Red Velvet cake that was over 100 years old. But this is a good cake and relatively easy to make.


almost 3 years ago dickensthedog

Just how important is it to use a spring form pan? I do not have one in that size.


almost 3 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

If you happen to have a slightly smaller springform, you can just bake the excess batter in another small pan (or bake a slightly larger pan for less time).

But if you'd like to use a regular 8-inch cake pan, just butter it well, make sure it's baked through (test with a cake tester or toothpick), and let it cool completely. You should be able to turn it out of the pan, easy.


almost 3 years ago dickensthedog

Thanks so much for answering my question. With your assurance I think that I will opt for using a regular 8" cake pan since my spring form pans are both 10". I made muffins this past weekend using Kate's Zuckerman's recipe for Spiced Apple and Sour Cream Cake which called for a spring form pan. The recipe actually suggested using the batter to make muffins. I had some difficulty getting them out of the muffin tins, hence my hesitation. They were delicious however!


almost 3 years ago maam

My daughter, Ellise, was coming home late Friday for the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, I knew she wouldn't be in time for supper, so I wanted something nice to have with a glass of Chianti, her favourite. Saw this recipe, ( love my Food52 e-mail ) picked all the beets left in my garden. It was so delicious, a chocolate lovers dream. The leftovers travelled well when we closed our summer place, later the same weekend...warmed the slices and they were a great hit again, no one could believe there were beets in a chocolate cake. The good thing is I pureed and froze the rest of the beets in portions to make 5 more cakes!


almost 3 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Such a great idea -- you might as well boil a whole lot of beets at once, if you've got them. Glad you liked the cake!


almost 3 years ago CentralCoastContessa

I made this cake yesterday. Flavor: absolutely delicious. Texture: too gooey in the middle. I followed the recipe exactly and baked it an extra 10 minutes. Any ideas where I went wrong?


almost 3 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

That's too bad -- I hope you can still snack on the un-gooey parts, or put them in a trifle. Did you test the cake with a cake tester or toothpick before taking it out? The gooey center happened for me once too, but only when I went by time and "wobbliness" and forgot to test the center.


almost 3 years ago Foodiewithalife

Truly genius.



almost 3 years ago Judy at My Well Seasoned Life

Just made this. It is outstanding and delicious.


almost 3 years ago RLStewart

In September in a Scottish tea room I spotted what I took to be Carrot Cake. Not so. It was Beetroot Cake, and it was delicious. I'd like to try substituting beets for carrots, and think that I should cook the beets first. But not being a very accomplished baker, I wonder if anyone can advise me which would be preferable.


almost 3 years ago jbban

Nigel actually has such a cake in the same book! He doesn't cook the beets, but I did when I made it because I didn't want to risk having crunchy pieces of beet.


almost 3 years ago krusher

I love Nigel Slater's cooking and use his cook books on a weekly basis. Like David Tanis, his cooking has a certain "something else" that sets it apart. I have cooked few cakes in my life because I do not have a sweet tooth in my body but I have cooked this one a number of times for gatherings when a dessert-like offering is expected - always to great acclaim.


almost 3 years ago Mis4

Regarding picky eaters: I once knew a little girl who would not eat salad. Every night when the salad was put on the table there would be a small pile of carrot sticks on her plate for her "salad". Now, I believe, she will eat anything--even before grad school. She probably had more vitamins and less fat and sugar than the rest of us who ate the oily, often sweetened dressings--and she didn't end up hating carrot sticks. At least as far as I know. . ..


almost 3 years ago mjlandry

This sounds delicious and amazing! I make a beet salad that is dressed with creme fraiche & poppy seeds so I love this combo. Never would've thought to make chocolate cake with beets though but now that I've read this it seems like a great combo! Thanks for posting.


almost 3 years ago Sigita

Just had a version of this for dessert at Domku , a cool eastern European restaurant in Washington. I loved the subtle beet flavor. I am anxious to try this one.


almost 3 years ago FutureChef

I made this recipe a couple of months ago! It is so delicious! Wonderfully moist and just so flavor forward with the perfect balance between notes of beet and chocolate! I loved the mixing method on this too--almost like a souffle doing the egg whites separately. That's what made this so enjoyable texturally. Penned by Nigel Slater (famed British food writer who started out apprenticing with Guy Savoy), this recipe was sourced from the incredible cookbook, Tender! The chapters are sorted by vegetables and then broken down into varietals of each vegetable (for those that enjoy gardening), optimal flavor pairings, and then the recipes themselves. All the recipes are rustic and absolutely scrumptous! He also just came out with Ripe which operates the same but is all about fruits rather than vegetables. Slater's autobiographical book (and now film) are called toast--who doesn't love toast?! When I was sick the other day, all I wanted was toast! Preferably my mother's fresh from the oven blueberry-walnut bread, but in a bind, a beautiful bakery-bought organic brioche freshly toasted with butter and cinnamon-sugar does the trick too!

To answer someone's question from below, yes people have been using beets to make red velvet lately, especially in the last couple of years since red velvet has made some weird retro comeback. There is even a food truck in NYC that makes red velvet cupcakes from beets. Also my second favorite pastry chef in the world, Chris Ford (check out his blog, Butter, Love, & Hard Work) made an amazing beet-chocolate red velvet at Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore.

As far as the origins of red velvet, it originated when cocoa powder was processed with less alkaline allowing it to react with the acidity of batters to produce a red color (no food dye required).
Nowadays, you can buy raw cacao powder which has three times the nutritional value of traditional cocoa powder, but I haven't personally tried to see if it will naturally produce the red color.


almost 3 years ago ashleychasesdinner

I love beets and chocolate! Wow, what a combo! Can't wait to try.