Dark Chocolate Beet Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Candied Beets

Image

Photos courtesy of Carolyn Helt

There are a surprising number of beet cake recipes out there. From Martha Stewart to David Lebovitz to many home cooks and food bloggers, the recipes are really quite intriguing–and vary greatly. Some call for cake flour. Some specify separating the eggs as with a sponge cake. Some use all cocoa powder, some just dark chocolate, and others a combination of the two. All, of course, rely on fresh beet puree. To obtain this, simply steam, boil, or roast peeled, chopped or sliced beets. Once they are tender, they will puree nicely in a food processor. I wasn’t able to achieve a smooth puree; mine was a bit coarse. But that’s okay. it worked just fine.

If you didn’t know this cake was prepared with beets, you probably wouldn’t notice. The combination of Dutch-process cocoa and semisweet chocolate lends to it’s intensely dark color, and the addition of vegetable oil and beet puree result in its moist texture and satisfying sweetness.

Serve it gussied up with Chocolate Ganache and Candied Beets or simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar.  

Image

Makes one 9-inch cake

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 large eggs

½ cup hot brewed strong coffee or espresso

¼ cup hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups pureed beets

Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows) for coating

Candied Beets (recipe follows) for deorating

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray or brush a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with vegetable spray or oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the vegetable oil and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Heat gently at about 20-second intervals in the microwave until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool a bit.

When the chocolate has cooled, whisk in the eggs, coffee, hot water, and vanilla extract. Add the beet puree and stir until combined.

Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the beet mixture, about ¼ at a time. Mix until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is well risen, fragrant, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before carefully removing it from the pan and setting on the rack to cool completely.

To finish the cake, cut off the top of the cake (about ¼ inch thick) to even the top. Remove the round of parchment from the bottom of the cake and set it on the cut top. Invert the cake onto a wire rack set on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. The top now should be nice and flat.

Pour the warm Chocolate Ganache onto the center of the cake and, using a small offset spatula or butter knife, gradually spread the ganache evenly over the top of the cake, allowing it to run down the sides. If you are game, gently “bang” the rack on the baking sheet to encourage the ganache to evenly distribute on and around the cake. Set aside at room temperature to cool and become firmer. (The ganache won’t harden completely.)

Carefully transfer the cake to a serving plate and decorate with Candied Beets and a drizzle of beet syrup (reserved in the Candied Beets recipe below), if desired.

Ganache

½ cup heavy cream

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

Heat the cream in the microwave or in a small saucepan just below the boil.

Combine the chocolate, vanilla, and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for about 2 minutes, allowing the chocolate to begin to melt. Gently stir the ganache until it is smooth and glossy. If some of the chocolate still hasn’t melted, heat the ganache in the microwave at 10-seond intervals, stirring each time, until the mixture is completely smooth.

Set aside to cool slightly before using (it should be warm but not hot). Alternatively, cool the ganache completely, cover, store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and re-warm before using.

Candied Beets

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

1 medium beet, peeled and cut into 1/16-inch-thick slices

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low, add the beet slices, and simmer gently until tender and nearly translucent, 25 to 35 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Drain the beets, reserving the syrup, and arrange at least ½-inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until dry and crisp, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Set aside to cool on the pans. Use them immediately or store in an airtight container.

 

 

 

Snow Day Honey-Roasted Peanuts (and Peanut Butter)

Image

Early yesterday morning, the mid-Atlantic unwittingly received remnants of the blizzard much of the mid-West had been battling for most of last week. Thank you for sharing! The snow fell so hard and fast, my family didn’t make it to church, let alone the supermarket. And after spending much of the day trying to keep the children from tearing the house apart and bouncing off the walls, by the afternoon I was in need of a snack. I was craving peanut butter. Not just any peanut butter–honey-roasted peanut butter. I admit I have developed a slight addiction to the freshly-ground nut butters available at Whole Foods. I guess the fact that I had just finished a ¼-pint of the honey-roasted variety is testament to my newest food craving. So, as anyone in need of a very particular sort of sustenance would do, I decided to create my own.

Image

I perused several recipes online and then settled myself in the kitchen to concoct my own version. As luck would have it, the only honey I had in the pantry was a ¾-full jar of Manuka honey I had purchased at Whole Foods last week. I have been eating this very special New Zealand honey for its healthy and healing attributes (possibly more on that later in another blog), but at $32 a jar, I decided to look further in the cupboard for an alternative. I decided to make use of the agave nectar we use as a daily sweetener. Unlike honey, this syrupy condiment doesn’t require heating to thin it, which saved me a recipe step. In addition, for those interested in a lower glycemic alternative to honey, the nectar might be just the ticket.

Tossed with the honey, a bit of sugar, and a sprinkling of salt, these sweet-salty peanuts required very little time in the kitchen, and the payoff was great, indeed. They really hit the spot on a snowy afternoon. To fully satisfy my craving, I decided to complete the entire task and whizzed some of the nuts in a mini food processor to make peanut butter. It was a success. After a few nibbles, I cared much less about the living room looking like a bomb of miscellaneous puzzles and train parts had hit it. I’m even thinking that in the future, I might not be making as many trips to the machines at Whole Foods as I used to—even when the weather isn’t so challenging.

Image

Snow Day Honey-Roasted Peanuts (and Peanut Butter)

Makes about 2 cups roasted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss together 8 ounces of peanuts (they can be raw or, even better, already roasted), about 2 tablespoons room temperature agave nectar or honey (warmed first for about 10 seconds in the microwave until smooth and syrupy), about 2 teaspoons of raw or regular granulated sugar, and a light sprinkle of sea salt on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes until fragrant. Remove from the oven and toss, somewhat separating the nuts. Bake until caramelized, another 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a large wire rack to cool on the baking sheet. When cool, break the nuts apart as desired. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

To make honey-roasted peanut butter, put as many peanuts as desired in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until the nuts transform into butter, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl, as necessary. If the peanut butter doesn’t emulsify and become as smooth as you wish, drizzle in a bit of neutral oil, such as canola, until it is the consistency you desire. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Decorative Sugar Ornaments

Image

 

Use these Christmas ornaments to decorate cupcakes, cakes, tartlets, or even cookies. Roll fondant to about 1/8 inch thick on a surface lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into desired shapes (these are 1-inch crinkle-edged rounds), brush lightly with a bit of water, and apply store-bought or handcrafted, piped royal icing decorations. Set them aside to dry at room temperature for at least 1 hour before applying them to your confection. They will keep nicely and can be used as needed for your Christmas desserts, stored at room temperature in airtight containers. Try to store them in a single layer, but if necessary, stack them in only as high as 2 layers with a piece of parchment in between. 

Individual Celebration Cakes

Image

 

IMG_5731

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pretty little cakes, about three inches in diameter, would be perfect for just about any special occasion. The cakes here make use of the red velvet recipe posted below, but you can use just about any type of cake you wish. Covered with about one-eighth-inch of blue rolled fondant and decorated with molded white fondant and royal icing details, these treats are easy to prepare and sure to make your guests happy.

Kate’s Red Velvet Cakes

Image

I bake a lot. But when my daughter, Kate, asked me to make her a red velvet cake for her birthday last year, I self-assuredly replied, Okay, and then scurried to my books to find a recipe. The truth is, I had never eaten, let alone baked, a red velvet cake; the only one I could recall was the shockingly ugly one shaped like an armadillo from the movie Steel Magnolias.

Image

 

In any event, Kate’s favorite little pig Olivia prepared a red cake in one of her stories, so that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I researched a number of recipes, all fairly similar, and came up with this one. Many recipes call for a whole lot of red food coloring. Perhaps this is necessary when using the bottles from the grocery store, but I prefer the red paste available in craft stores, such as A.C. Moore and Michael’s. It’s very potent, and I found I only needed about half the amount when I used it instead of the supermarket varieties. In addition, although the amount of cocoa called for in this cake is relatively little in relation to the flour, do use natural cocoa instead of Dutch process. The latter will become too dark in the oven, lessening the intensity of the cake’s desired redness.

This is, indeed, a very red cake. The color can be a bit confusing to the palate, but you will be happy upon tasting this cake. It is incredibly moist and delicately (but distinctly) flavored with chocolate. Whether you make large cakes or cupcakes, a coating of vanilla, or white chocolate buttercream or cream-cheese frosting would finish them nicely.

Image

 

Makes 24 to 30 cupcakes (or two 9-inch cakes)

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup natural cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 (1-ounce bottles) red food paste (available in craft stores)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons vinegar

Frosting or buttercream (such as cream cheese frosting or vanilla buttercream) to serve Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line about standard 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder in a large bowl.

Combine the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until combined. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating completely before adding the next. Stop the mixer and add the red food paste and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed until incorporated.

Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer, stir together the baking soda and vinegar, and fold into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups and bake until fragrant, well risen, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Set the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing directly to the rack to cool completely.

To serve, spread with your favorite frosting or buttercream.

Rich Tart Dough

Image

I admit it. I’m sometimes scared of making pastry. Yes, it’s true. I would like to say my confidence is as high and secure as that of the most successful pastry chef, or even my late grandmother. But let’s face it. Usually when we have to make pastry it’s for a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas or a celebratory summer gathering. So the pressure is on.

Here, though, is a recipe I have developed and used repeatedly for a variety of desserts and savory items. It is just right for folding over fruit to form a rustic tart; shaping a pretty unbaked shell for quiche; or, as the method below reveals, forming a perfectly golden prebaked base for a savory or sweet large tart or mini tartlets.

Image

 

Unlike traditional pie dough, this is a rich, almost cookie-like pastry. Slightly yellow in color from the egg yolk and just a bit sweet from a small amount of sugar, it bakes into a beautifully formed golden vessel.

As with all pastry, keep your ingredients cold and work quickly. As soon as the dough just starts to come together in the food processor (it will appear a bit crumbly and shouldn’t form a ball), turn it out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and set it aside to rest in the refrigerator. If the dough becomes too hard from chilling, let it set out for a few minutes until it is workable. If you need to prepare the dough ahead of time, this recipe will keep well in the freezer for about two months.

Makes enough for one 8-inch tart pan or 16 to 18 tartlet pans

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons water

1 large egg yolk

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse several times until the ingredients are incorporated. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. The pieces of butter should be no larger than peas or lentils.

Whisk together the water and egg yolk in a small bowl and, while pulsing the processor, gradually incorporate the liquid mixture. The dough might look dry, but should just begin to clump. If it does indeed appear too crumbly, drizzle in a bit more water. You don’t want the dough to gather into a ball, however. Drier is better here. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it into a flat disc, and wrap tightly. Set in the refrigerator to chill and rest for at least 20 minutes.

Butter sixteen to eighteen 2 1/2-by-3/4-inch tartlet pans and set aside on a large baking sheet. (Of course, you can use any size you prefer.)

Using about 1/2 of the dough at a time, roll it out on a generously-floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into discs using a 2 3/4-inch round cutter. If you find the discs are becoming too soft, arrange them on a baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill a bit. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner, re-rolling the scraps, as necessary. Fit the rounds of dough into the prepared tartlet pans, pressing down the sides to create stability and removing any excess from the edges by scraping it off neatly with your fingers. Arrange the prepared tart shells once again on the baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill until fairly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the bottoms of the formed tart shells, using the tines of a fork. (This will help prevent the dough from puffing in the oven.) Bake until the tart shells are golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at least to warm before carefully turning the shells out of the pans to cool completely. If not using immediately, store the prepared shells in an airtight container in a cool dry area for up to 5 days.

Roasted Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

Image

Image

If you find yourself with a lot of grape tomatoes on hand at summer’s end, this is the dish to try. One-color red tomatoes will do nicely, but, of course, a multi-colored variety will make this recipe even more special. (The tomatoes don’t have to be heirloom, but they are particularly lovely.) Quickly tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and slices of red onion concentrate as they roast and caramelize.

This combination of flavors makes for the perfect warm or room-temperature side dish for virtually any type of meat. It would also be delightful tossed into a salad.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds heirloom grape tomatoes (varied colors are nice here)

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into about 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, divided

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss together the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the oregano on the prepared baking sheet. Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and roast until the vegetables are softened, caramelized, and fragrant, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven, season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomato Jam

Image

ImageTomato Jam

This sweet-tart jam is a great way to utilize a basket-full of late-summer tomatoes. It does take some time to prepare, but it’s worth it in the end. Keep it on hand to dollop on top of slices of manchego or Comté cheese and whole-grain crackers, drizzle over warm baked Brie, or even add to a vinaigrette. For a special hors d’oeuvre, spoon a bit over a tartlet shell filled with herbed cream cheese, goat cheese, or Boursin. Packaged in a pretty jar with a decorative tag, this addictive condiment would also certainly come as a welcome hostess or holiday gift.

The following canning method relies simply on sterilized jars for vacuum packing, but if you are experienced in sealing your preserves in a boiling water bath, try it. Your jam will last even longer and won’t require refrigeration.

Makes about 6 cups

6 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as desired (optional)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine the tomatoes, sugars, salt, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar in a large (at least 8-quart) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the jam is thickened and reduced to about half, about 2 1/4 hours.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the vanilla extract. Fill sterilized jars, seal with lids, and set aside to cool and create a vacuum seal at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

Strawberry Butter Cakes

IMG_4412

Almost no other food says spring like strawberries, and these petite butter cakes celebrate them in two ways. First, a traditional butter cake is perfumed and flavored with the fresh fruit, and then an exceedingly rich Swiss buttercream transforms into a red-speckled elegantly pale pink confection with the addition of strawberry jam. Making them the perfect sweet ending to a brunch, both the cakes and the buttercream can be prepared ahead. Wrapped well in plastic wrap, the cakes will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days and in the freezer for at least one month. The buttercream, too, stores well refrigerated or in the freezer (see the recipe for details). For an extra special detail, decorate the cakes with sugar decorations or flowers.

IMG_4410

Strawberry Butter Cakes

Makes 10 cakes little cakes or about 20 cupcakes

Strawberry Buttercream

4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups strawberry jam

Strawberry Cakes

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

To make the strawberry buttercream, set a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and maintain at slow simmer. Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl in the saucepan over the simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water) and, using the whisk, gently stir the mixture until the sugar begins to dissolve and it is warm to the touch (about 1 or 2 minutes). Immediately place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at high speed until the meringue is fluffy and cool, 5 to 7 minutes or so. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low and gradually incorporate the butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until the buttercream is smooth and glossy and stopping once or twice to scrape the sides of the bowl. Incorporate the vanilla and strawberry jam, reduce the mixing speed to low, and continue to beat for another 2 to 5 minutes to dissipate any air bubbles. Transfer the buttercream to airtight containers or cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the cakes are ready.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10 six-ounce ramekins and arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet, or line about 20 standard muffin cups with paper liners.

To make the strawberry cakes, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated. Stir together the milk and the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low. Alternately incorporate the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour and stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thick and smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the strawberries.

Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins and bake until the tops are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool the cakes on wire racks in the ramekins until only slightly warm, at least 15 minutes.

Carefully run a paring knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and turn out onto another baking sheet or serving plate, or transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool. Briefly whip the buttercream again on the machine or whisk by hand and pipe or spread onto the cakes, as desired. (Store the remaining buttercream in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.)

Shortbread Hearts

Image

When prepared properly, shortbread is the perfect comforting old-fashioned treat. The best shortbread is tender and just firm enough so that it doesn’t fall apart when you take a bite. It should have a delightful buttery flavor, enhanced by a bit of salt, and just sweet enough to satisfy a sugary craving. This is a simple confection, but because it contains so few ingredients, they all must be of high quality and combined properly. Like many baked goods, the environment will effect how dry or moist the dough becomes in the mixer. Traditional shortbread calls for no other moisture than that found in the butter. If, however, the dough seems too crumbly, add a bit of milk or water to it until it begins to come together in the bowl.

Even though shortbread’s ingredients are simple and few, sometimes it is worthwhile to adjust them a bit in an attempt to produce an even finer product. Part of the flour, for instance, can be replaced by another starch, such as rice or cornstarch (corn flour), both of which give shortbread a finer, more tender quality. The type of sugar used can vary, too. As in this recipe, typical granulated sugar is replaced with confectioners’ sugar, which makes for a finer, more delicate cookie, as well.

Bake the cookies plain, or brush them with a little egg white and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Either way, they will be a delicious addition to your cookie repertoire.

Makes about twenty-four 2 1/2-inch cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

About 1 large egg white (optional)

Coarse colored sugar for decorating (optional)

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. Reduce the mixing speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture to the butter, mixing just until the dough begins to form crumbly clumps. If the dough appears too dry, add some water or milk, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough is just moist enough to hold together. Transfer the dough to sheet of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, and set in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

If the dough is too firm to roll, allow it to sit out at room temperature for a few minutes until it’s pliable enough to work. Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Arrange on the baking sheets and set in the freezer or refrigerator to chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Image

If desired, brush the edges of the chilled cookies with egg white and dip in colored sugar. Arrange again on the baking sheets and bake until very light golden brown and firm, about 15 minutes. Set on wire racks to cool on the pans for about 3 minutes before transferring to the racks to cool completely.