Eat Your Beets (in a cake!)

When Patti Digh mentioned the beet cake, my eyebrows went up , but my heart skipped a beat. Earthy beets, dark chocolate–yes, it could work. And having just finished Patti’s book Life is a Verb (I read What I Wish For You first)–either one make great gifts, but read them both–I would have tried boiled socks if she recommended it.

We both love beets, so I asked Cooking Man if he’d give it a try. It wasn’t a hard sell. The recipe calls for a lot of beets, so a big pot went on the stove, and the smell of cooking beets leaked through the air-conditioned house. It was odd, smelling beets in summer. But we all suffer gladly for art and cooking experiments.

The batter was as red as could be expected from five-beet puree.

Once the thick batter was in the pan, Cooking Man dropped the pan sharply on the counter to get the air bubbles to rise to the top.

And now it was ready for the oven. The beets add the majority of the bulk in the cake, which reduces the sugar and flour.

The kitchen smelled great while we waited for the cake to finish cooking. This time the smell was chocolate–and that’s a good smell any time of year. We knew it wouldn’t rise much. Those are beets in there.

Once out of the oven, it looked dense, smelled great, and the chocolate won the color battle. The fabulous beet stencil from the original recipe was beyond my pay grade, so I settled for a celebratory candle and my trademark wavy line.

Homemade paper stencil is on the cake, complete with my signature wavy line.

Powder sugar covered the entire stencil to make a clear image.

I removed the stencil pieces with tweezers to keep from spilling any sugar in the negative space. There were a few tiny crumbs of sugar. I picked them off with a damp watercolor brush.

Nothing left to do but whip the cream. We like it flavored with a bit of vanilla, but unsweetened. The cake is flavorful, not overly sweet, rich in earthy-chocolate flavor. Cooking Man said he could get a hint of beet, but I couldn’t taste the beets. The texture is smooth, with a great mouth feel. Cooking Man thought that next time, it might be fun to split the cake and add a center layer of banana cream. I suggested a topping of creme anglaise, a vanilla-rich sauce. We can dream, can’t we?

Early in the beet-puree process, Cooking Man asked if I’d like to lick the blender–a treat for me with almost anything except beet puree. But wait! There is always room for art, so I took the leftovers and soaked different substrates in beet mash.

Top to bottom is a cotton/poly blend of fabric–it took on a bit of color, but almost all of it rinsed out. Next is a piece of canvas that took the color well. Below that is a strip of Arches Text Wove (now called Velin). The fabric and paper were dried, and then the beet mash rinsed off. Before all the color came off, I heat set the pieces by ironing them. Beet color is fugitive, and without a mordant to hold the color, it won’t last. Over time, it will fade, but I find the reddish brown an acceptable color.  The bottom strip is a very fragile paper that dissolved when I rinsed out the beets. To preserve this piece, I put the paper on a piece of parchment (still visible underneath all the papers) and sprayed it with a squirt bottle. It rinsed off some of the beet paste.

The next step will be to cover the paper in clear tar gel to preserve the color and paper.

Satisfying all the way around. Nothing is better than a cake and some new art papers, all in one afternoon.

-Quinn McDonald loves to cook, but leaves complicated recipes (or those that require upper body strength) to Cooking Man. She’s writing a book about the Inner Critic (and the Inner Hero.)

10 thoughts on “Eat Your Beets (in a cake!)

  1. We always ate fresh beets in the summer, pulled from the garden, when I was a kid – yummm. I remember as a kid dropping a piece of fabric into the cooking water to try and dye it. I was so disappointed when the color didn’t last. The trick, I think, is to spill beet juice on your good blouse – then try to get it out. 😉

    the cake sounds absolutely delicious.

  2. What mordants do you recommend. Is this what you used the clear tar gel as? Also – I purchased Arches Velin Museum Rag – which says it is Inkjet Fine Art & Photographic paper. Is this what you use for your monsoon papers? Thanks for your time and answers.

    • Clear tar gel isn’t a mordant, it’s a coating. If you can’t get the dye to hang on to the fiber, seal it in. It’s not a good idea if you are a fabric person, because it seals up the paper and gives it a different feel, but as a paper person, I got to keep the color. I can’t recommend mordants–but maybe others here can.

  3. I have been dying to try this recipe. Glad to hear it is a hit. I love beets and it looks soo pretty. I tried dying fabric as well, but as you said, the color doesn’t hold without help, but it came out a beautiful color!

    • Natural colors have to have a mordant to hold the colors. I didn’t have soda ash available, but I did have matte varnish to hold the color! And as most of the paper went into journal pages, it wasn’t important as it will take time to fade, and I appreciate that as well.

  4. Istumbled across Patti Digh’s book, Life is a Verb, about two weeks ago in Joann Fabrics….was blown out of the water by it….wonderful writer! I am NOT fond of beest, however, this recipe does sound interesting..wish I could have sampled a piece of yours…

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