Nigel Slater's Extremely Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake

October  3, 2012

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

Shop the Story

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


Listen & Subscribe

From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

Listen & Subscribe

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • judy
  • Eileen Miller
    Eileen Miller
  • Mary Catherine
    Mary Catherine
  • Analisa Pena
    Analisa Pena
  • Fiona
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. 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."


judy February 7, 2019
Well, I have some wonderful beets that I picked up yesterday and have wanted to try a beet cake recipe. So I went looking. I was wondering if one simply made an applesauce cake with the substitution of beets instead if that would work? Add some vinegar for the acid needed. Joy of Cooking over editions always separate yolks and whites so that whites are folded in after there rest of the ingredients are combined. I have a really nice base recipe for microwave cake that I have learned to add in all kinds of ingredients. I guess beets are the next wonder for this quick dessert. I always melt chocolate slowly in a double boiler with the butter rather than using the microwave. Much nicer consistency. Let the butter-chocolate mixture cool to room temp before using and the cake will not be dry. So I will give this version adapted to my microwave cake recipe a try. Thank you.
Eileen M. September 30, 2017
No one has commented on this in a long time so I'm not sure anyone will see this. I wonder two things about the beets. First, what if you roasted the beets? You have less water volume and maybe a little less moisture which may lessen the chance of the cake being kind of raw in the middle. Secondly, I wondered if you could use baby food beets? That way you'd get a definite amount - no guess work as with raw beets. I've never been a fan of red velvet cake. It just doesn't taste like much to me. Give me a good chocolate cake any day. But this looks awesome!
Mary C. October 25, 2015
Any suggestions for substituting the butter? And do you think coconut flour would work? I've got lots of diet restrictions, but this cake looks and sounds wonderful.
Analisa P. April 29, 2015
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!
Fiona November 20, 2013
Would it work in layers to make a celebration cake? If so any frosting recommendations welcome. Thanks
Kristen M. November 21, 2013
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:
Eileen November 15, 2013
Is that 8 ounces of beets before (raw) or after cooking and peeling? I assume it is before. Great recipe.
Kristen M. November 21, 2013
Yes, before cooking -- here's the full recipe for more details:
Demington November 3, 2013
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.
Philip S. January 30, 2013
Nice information on Beetroot Chocolate-Beet Cake. thanks for sharing this valuable cake recipe.
Elaine F. January 22, 2013
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).
mameybeatriz October 17, 2012
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.
slateram October 17, 2012
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.
dickensthedog October 15, 2012
Just how important is it to use a spring form pan? I do not have one in that size.
Kristen M. October 15, 2012
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.
dickensthedog October 15, 2012
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!
maam October 9, 2012
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!
Kristen M. October 15, 2012
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!
CentralCoastContessa October 8, 2012
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?
Kristen M. October 9, 2012
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.
Foodiewithalife October 8, 2012
Truly genius.

Judy A. October 8, 2012
Just made this. It is outstanding and delicious.
RLStewart October 7, 2012
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.
jbban October 8, 2012
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.
krusher October 7, 2012
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.
Mis4 October 7, 2012
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. . ..
mjlandry October 7, 2012
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.