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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."