Monday, November 29, 2010

Ain't Mis-beet-havin'

A perusal of The Messy Apron archives will indicate that it’s been a long time since I’ve complained about beets. I miss that.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of beets from the end of the summer/fall CSA share lurking in the refrigerator, all nutritious and long-lasting…and unpalatable. Or that there won’t be more coming in the winter share boxes. Oh no, there are plenty of beets. There will always be plenty of beets.

I’m getting braver with my beets, trying to find new dishes in which to hide them, and with my latest experiment I had some fear that I might be taking things a bit too far. I worried that I was creating a conflict between good and evil on the scale of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.” I was going to introduce the unholy beet to possibly the most pure and beautiful food in all the world. Yes, I took the ultimate risk. I put beets in a cake.

I started with this recipe from Cooking Light magazine. The recipe writers promised me that this would be like a carrot cake, which made good sense, since even I know that carrots and beets are a pretty good match. I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance, however, and added more flavor to the cake wherever I could. I swapped out vegetable oil in favor of butter and exchanged milk for orange juice. I also added some vanilla, extra cinnamon and orange zest. The frosting, which contained no beets, was very promising on its own, but I fiddled anyway. It called for orange zest, but, since I only had one orange and its zest sacrificed itself to the cake batter to fight the taste of the beets, I put in some Grand Marnier instead. The liqueur matched the orange in the cake, but also gave the frosting an extra air of sophistication. You could replace it with milk and put the orange zest back in if you wish.

The original recipe was for a double layer cake, but I thought that was too much pressure. If the taste was too beety to be enjoyed, that would have been too much work and too much waste, so I made half the recipe. (Besides, only two people would be eating it.) The result is one 9-inch round cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting (I halved that recipe, too).

The cake batter is quite shockingly purple-red, but bakes up golden brown. I shredded my beets using the food processor, so they were more coarsely shredded (ie, in larger pieces) than they would be if you use a box grater. The authors of the recipe suggested, “You may want to wear an apron while grating the beets because they tend to splatter.” Way ahead of you…but even armored with an apron, being up to my elbows in beet juice is pretty unappealing to me. If you use a box grater, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

I have to say I really like this cake. I can taste the beets, but only a little. The holiness of cake prevailed over the beets, perhaps even converted them to the side of light. The flavor of the orange pulls the beets out of the abyss and, surprisingly, keeps it from being cloyingly sweet. The frosting, which is quite sweet, but which I could nonetheless eat with a spoon, is a smooth and rich accompaniment that probably does more than its fair share of the work in making this a delicious dessert. You can hide a lot of sins and misbehavior with cream cheese frosting.

And so, I found one more reason to stop complaining about the healthy and bountiful beet. I will bake and eat this cake again. Perhaps it can even bring me to renounce my beet-hating. Well, let’s not get too excited just yet.

Beet and Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

½ pound beets
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon finely shredded orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

4 ounces cream cheese (I used reduced fat)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (optional)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar (aka confectioner’s sugar)

1. Prepare the baking pan: Trace the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan onto parchment paper. Cut out the circle. Spray the sides and bottom of the inside of the pan with nonstick cooking spray (or use a generous amount of oil or butter). Place the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan and spray it with cooking spray.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Trim the ends of the beets and peel off the skin. Shred the beets in a food processor or with a box grater. (You should have about 2 loosely-packed cups of shredded beets.)

3. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fit with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, brown sugar, melted butter and egg. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the orange zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and shredded beets. Mix until well combined.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir with a whisk or sift to combine. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until well combined. Add ½ of the orange juice and beat to combine. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour mixture and the rest of the orange juice. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat to combine. Stir the batter with a spoon or rubber spatula to ensure no dry spots remain.

5. Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. If you wish to test to ensure that the cake is done, insert a wooden pick into the center of the cake. It should come out without any raw batter attached.

6. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully invert the pan to remove the cake and peel off the parchment circle. Cool completely on the wire rack.

7. To make the frosting, in a medium bowl beat together the cream cheese, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and orange liqueur if using with an electric mixer. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat slowly until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

8. Spread the frosting over the top of the completely cooled cake, all the way to the edge. Some of the frosting may dribble over the side.

Makes 8-10 servings. Store leftovers, covered, at room temperature for a few days.

Another beet and orange recipe: Black Beans with Beets and Oranges

1 comment:

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