I’ve made Red Velvet Cupcakes only on one occasion, about two years ago. I dutifully followed a Nigella Lawson recipe, where the lady said to put in all of one of those little tubs of red food colouring gel. I thought nothing much of it at the time – mixing it smoothly into the batter, pouring the vividly-coloured batter into the paper cups, and then icing the freshly-baked, still-brightly-coloured cupcakes. As I always do, without bothering to fetch a plate, I picked up a cupcake and promptly began to eat it over the kitchen sink. It was quite a delicious red velvet cupcake. It was only when I was cleaning up the sink of my crumbs afterwards that I noticed a few of my crumbs had fallen into little droplets of water in the sink – and that the droplets were now bright red, the food dye from the cooked crumb seeping into the water. I was mortified and that has been the one and only time I ever dared to make that recipe.
I’ve recently been seeing red velvet cakes with beetroot being an au naturale replacement for the garish food colouring. It has only been in the last year that I have gotten over my aversion to its staining qualities and started eating beetroot – Soul Origin in the city’s Hunter Connection arcade does a very delicious beetroot and feta salad with rocket and walnuts, but the idea of using beetroot in a sweet baking context made me wrinkle my nose. But in seeing this Poh Ling Yeow recipe for Totally Unicorn Beetroot Cake in her new book Same Same But Different, I was compelled to give it a go because it simply looked too delicious not to. And with a name like this – how could you not?
I will say, with no hesitation whatsoever – that this is the best chocolate cake I have ever made. The intensity of the flavour is not unlike a very decadent chocolate mud cake, however with the addition of the beetroot puree and bicarbonate of soda to the batter, it’s incredibly light and simply melts on the tongue. And you also don’t feel as guilty wolfing down a massive slice of it – it has beetroot in it, so it must be somewhat healthy for you, yes? 😉
In icing the cake, you need to split the baked cake in two. Some people tell you to use a serrated knife for this, but I’ve recently learned a very awesome technique that will mean your cake layers come out perfectly even; I’ll share that with you later 🙂 I also found that I needed more ganache then was listed in Poh’s original recipe as I simply didn’t have enough to cover the sides in, and so I made another batch and have doubled the ingredients below accordingly.
You will need:
- 300g (about five medium-sized) beetroots, leaves and root tips trimmed off;
- Disposable rubber gloves, for peeling above-mentioned beetroot (unless you want pink hands);
- 3 large eggs, whisked;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste;
- 125g butter;
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped;
- 200g caster sugar;
- 220g plain flour, sifted;
- 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda);
- 100g dark drinking chocolate powder, sifted;
- Wooden toothpicks, waxed dental floss (for dividing the cake – you’ll see).
For the cream cheese icing:
- 125g cream cheese, softened;
- 1/2 cup (60g) icing sugar, sifted;
- 50g butter, softened;
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
For the dark chocolate ganache:
- 200ml cream;
- 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. To make the beetroot puree, wrap each beetroot in foil with one teaspoon of water in each parcel. Place in a heatproof dish or on an oven tray and roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the beetroot. It’s ready when you can pierce it easily with a skewer, like a potato.
Remove the foil wrapping from the beets and cool for five minutes. Don your gloves and rub the skins off. Weigh out 250g of the beets, then chop roughly and puree in a blender. Cool for about five minutes then whisk in the eggs and vanilla until combined.
Turn the oven down to 170 degrees Celcius. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. When melted, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir or whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, then add to the beetroot mixture and whisk until combined.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients briefly, then add the chocolate beetroot mixture and stir with a whisk until just combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes, OR until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool for five minutes in the tin before turning the cake out onto a cake rack, then cool completely before icing.
To make the icing, simply place all the ingredients except the lemon juice into a medium bowl and beat with an electric beater until very pale and fluffy. Add the lemon juice last and beat until just combined.
This is a good stage at which to divide your cake. Measure the height of the cake, then at the halfway point, insert a toothpick halfway in. Go around the cake and at evenly-spaced intervals, insert more toothpicks at the same height. I like to do about seven around the circumference of the cake.
Then pull out a long length of dental floss, but don’t cut it yet. Alternate it over and under the toothpicks, then overlap the ends. Cut the dental floss at a space that gives you enough room to hold the two ends of the dental floss. Then carefully, hold the two ends of the overlapped dental floss, and pull. You’re essentially pulling through the cake, similar to a cheese wire; the dental floss will straighten, and your toothpicks will fall out.
Voila! Now sandwich the two layers with the cream cheese icing. I flipped the top over as my cake sunk a little in the middle and I wanted a flat surface for the top.
To make the chocolate ganache, heat the cream until bubbles begin to appear then immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate until the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to overboil the cream or it will separate and give you a lumpy ganache. Allow it to rest for 1-2 minutes (probably no longer than this or the ganache will thicken quickly in this cooler weather and make your life a lot harder for you).
Place your sandwiched cake on a plate. Tuck small lengths of baking paper (about 10x20cm) partially under the cake to catch any falling ganache (this will save you a lot of mess to clean up later). Pour the ganache slowly over the cake, and using a spatula or butter knife, guide the ganache over the sides. Keep scooping the cascading ganache from the bottom of the cake and spreading it upwards until it stops running (a cold room/breeze helps greatly), then leave it alone or it will lose its gloss from overworking.
Remove the baking paper carefully, and the cake is ready to serve.
Unicorn topper optional.
While the cake in essence isn’t overly-sweet (other than the ganache), there’s a certain richness to it that keeps you digging back for more. I found that it was perfectly balanced with a cup of my new favourite gourmet black tea, Blueberry Blossoms by Kettle Town – a tasty and fruity combination with calendula and cornflowers.
Kettle Town teas are made with local and imported ingredients, and they also have a variety of other fruity black teas, chai, and white tea. You can check out their website here and even purchase a few samplers for only $2.
But back to the cake…it was really too funny when I went around to my gym and among my friends to deliver to them a massive slab of cake – hearing or seeing their reactions when they tasted the cake and proclaimed how amazingly delicious it was – and then watching their expressions turn from one of wonder to sheer disbelief when I told them it had five beetroot pureed into it!
This is definitely a recipe I’ll be keeping to make over and over again.