A cake, an apology, and a promise

I made you a cake! Well, technically I made it for my mother’s birthday dinner, but I had your interests at heart, too. My mom and I celebrate our birthdays only five days apart — mine is on the 15th and her’s is on the 20th — so I also kiiiind of made it for myself. Either way, I think we all win.

I hope you don’t mind that this cake has a vegetable in it. With the obvious exceptions (like carrot cake and pumpkin or zucchini bread), I admittedly become a little hesitant when I see unusual ingredients, such as beets, in a dessert recipe. But, as I’ve said before, if Nigel does it, I’ll gladly reconsider.

Before we go any further though, I need to tell you something that relates to cake. (Loooooong siiiigh.) I feel silly about it, but here it goes: I wrote a blog post once called something along the lines of “How to slay the sugar dragon”…

HAAAAAA ha ha haaa, ahhhhh, HA ha haaa, oooooohhhhhh god.

As you can imagine, this is a fact that makes me both laugh hysterically at myself, and viscerally cringe for contributing to such noise around sugar and food and eating. I feel like, in writing such words, I made of villain of things like cake. And cookies! And muffins!! And pumpkin bread!!! Which in some way feels like I’ve villain-ized my grandmother, and maybe yours, too, if she likes to lovingly bake you cookies and cakes and muffins and breads. Not that baking is reserved solely for grandmothers (or women, for that matter). I might have made of villain of your grandfather, too! Oh noooooooo. This was a huge mistake. I did not mean to make baked goods or your grandparents, or anyone else who bakes for you, out to be bad guys. From the bottom of my heart and the deepest cake pan I can find, I’m so, so sorry. Please accept this cake as a token of my apology, and a promise to never write such potentially harmful words EVER again. From here on out, let’s create a world, or at least a space, where any baked good is viewed as a symbol of love, kindness, and sweet grandmothers/grandfathers, instead fear and other not-fun feelings. Deal?

Phew. Now on to the cake. I made it three Tuesdays ago, the night of my mom’s birthday dinner. It required more athletic baking skills than I was prepared for that day, but it came together nicely; and, despite the fact that my mom was just a weeeee bit curious as to whether or not our guests would embrace a cake with beets in it (gasp!) (I love you, Mom), it received praise all around. When we had all finished wiping up and licking clean the last bits of crumbs and crème fraîche with our fingers, my Uncle John confessed that, before tasting the cake, he’d secretly wished for a cup of coffee to go with it. But upon first bite, he deemed the coffee irrelevant. The cake stands alone.

I had plans to take a nice photo of the finished cake. But, currently I’m not much good at keeping plans that aren’t absolutely required of me. But a couple of mornings ago, I started to feel a pressing need to get this cake out of my head (and refrigerator) and on to this blog. So I took a lazy photo, then ate the last piece of it for breakfast while leaning over the kitchen counter — at that point feeling a pressing need to get to our Food Bar to meet the day’s duties.

Chocolate Beet Cake
This, however, is not the kind of cake you want to eat, or make for that matter, in a hurry. This is the kind of cake you want to spend some time with. From the marble-y swirls that happen when the butter melts into the chocolate, to it’s complex and just-sweet-enough taste, this cake subtly seduces the senses. It makes you want to sway in your seat a little bit — and, if you’re me, you just might do it. And maybe, just maybe, your eyes will roll around and lose focus for a second, your other senses deeming what’s happening in the Taste Realm far more interesting and important to function properly. The cake doesn’t knock you over with it’s sweetness, and doesn’t make you feel like you’re eating vegetables for dessert either. When all was said and done and eaten, I decided that this cake is exactly the kind I’d like to have in my repertoire — for birthdays, apologies, holidays, and the like. I think you’ll agree.

Nigel Slater’s An extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake with crème fraîche and poppy seeds
From Tender, Volume I: A cook and his vegetable patch

A quick note about the measurements in this recipe: When baking, I typically pull out my scale and measure by weight rather than volume. Unfortunately, all of my brain power went to pulling together my mom’s birthday dinner, and I didn’t think to convert the main measurements from grams to cups for you. I’ll be sure to think of that next time.

About the chocolate: I had some dark-chocolate chips on hand from the Food Bar and used those. They worked fine and eliminated the need to chop more things.

One last thing: the original recipe calls for golden caster sugar which is a fine granulated sugar popular in and unique to the UK. I had some cane sugar on hand so that’s what I used and, as far as I know, it worked just fine. Per David’s suggestion, I did give the sugar a quick zizz in the blender, which produced a fine, powdery consistency; but I don’t know that it was that important of a step. If you have granulated sugar on hand, this should work nicely, too.

  • 250 grams beets, rinsed and scrubbed to remove dirt
  • 200 grams semisweet or dark chocolate (60-70% cacao solids), chopped if not using choclate chips
  • 4 Tbsp. hot coffee (or water, if you don’t feel like making coffee)
  • 200 grams room-temperature butter, cut into small pieces (the smaller the better)
  • 135 grams flour (I used an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix)
  • 1 heaped tsp. baking powder
  • 3 Tbsp. cacao powder/unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 5 eggs, separated at room temperature
  • 190 grams (roughly one cup) sugar
  • crème fraîche and poppy seeds to serve

Start by cooking the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling water until they’re very tender. You want them to be “knifepoint tender” which will take 30-45 minutes. Younger beets might take less time. While the beets are cooking, weigh out/gather the other ingredients.

When the beets are done, drain them, then let them cool under cold running water. Cut off the stem and root, peel them, then “blitz to a rough purée” in a food processor. (I love you, Nigel.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter an 8- or 8 1/2 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate, which should be chopped into small pieces if you’re not using chocolate chips, in a small bowl that’s resting over a pot of simmering water. Stir as little as possible.

When the chocolate is nearly melted, pour the hot coffee or water over it and give it a quick stir. Only one or two stirs will do. Turn the heat to low, then add the cubed butter to the melted chocolate, pressing the butter into the chocolate with a spoon to soften. Don’t stir.

Sift together the flour, cacao powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Separate the eggs, and be sure to put the egg whites in a larger mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.

Remove the bowl of chocolate from heat, and stir until the butter has completely melted into the chocolate. Let this (beautiful) mixture sit for a few minutes to cool, then stir in the egg yolks. Work quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend into the mixture. Next, fold in the beets.

Using a hand-mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the sugar into the whipped egg whites with a spatula. Then, using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites/sugar into the melted chocolate mixture — careful not to overtax. Finally, fold in the flour and cacao powder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin and put it in the oven, turning the heat down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until the rim of the cake is set/spongy and the center still a little wobbly when shaken.

Let the cake cool completely, loosening it around the edges with a dinner knife after 30 minutes or so. Don’t remove the cake from it’s pan until it’s completely cool. Serve in thick slices, with a smear of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of poppy seeds.

I stored the leftover cake in the refrigerator for a whole week, but the cake tasted best on the second and third days.

(Okay, as an aside, can we please talk about how wonderful Nigel’s title for this recipe is?)

Plain and cold, straight from the refrigerator

It’s Saturday, mid morning. Saturday morning might be my favorite morning of all. I imagine that’s the case for a lot of people. Sundays are fine, but responsibilities waft in and out of the room, more so than on a Saturday. Our Food Bar is open on Saturdays and, as it currently stands, Jamie and I are the only people running it. If that weren’t the case, I’ve decided that Saturday would be our official Special Breakfast Day. I first typed brunch, but, truth be told, I’ve never gotten behind the whole idea of brunch. I want breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and I don’t typically want breakfast food for lunch, which is sort of what brunch feels like. I can take it or leave it.

Holidays and get-togethers are good excuses for making special things, and there have been two such occasions in May that led to us putting effort toward breakfast. We don’t make special breakfasts enough. Come to think of it, we don’t make special anythings much these days since opening the Food Bar, and I find myself itching to change that. Growing up, my family had a standing weekend breakfast date that was most always made at home.

I can’t remember if Saturday or Sunday was our big-breakfast day. Either way, Dad always ran the show. He served up typical diner fare, consisting of eggs, bacon, biscuits from a can (that was so satisfying to split open, aside from peeling the paper back) with gravy, and pancakes. Dad and I liked our eggs the same way: sunny-side up with a runny yolk. He never expressed it, but I think he was glad about this. He was also glad that I liked to dip my bacon in the egg yolk.

Our pancakes came from a box of Betty Crocker’s Bisquick mix, and later from the upgraded yellow plastic containers with a blue lid that required that you only add water (he used milk), shake, and pour. Fluffy buttermilk pancakes without the mess. Despite their origin and the fact that he did nothing special to them, my Dad’s pancakes were always my favorite. They were not too big, not too small, always a perfect circle, and perfectly cooked, too; never burned, never too light or mushy on the inside. They were indeed fluffy, with little air pockets that let out a sigh under the force of a fork. We always had leftovers and I would eat the pancakes plain, straight out of the refrigerator. The trick, he would tell me every time, to perfect pancakes was in the pour and the bubbles.

As an adult now in charge of my own kitchen, I try my best to make things from scratch, so my pancakes have not come from those shake ’n pour containers. But, I still try to utilize the tips he taught me, and every time I produce what I would consider the perfect pancake, I get the feeling that he would think it was, too. I can’t be sure how he would feel about my mixes of buckwheat or coconut flour, but, I suppose we’ll always have our shared affinity for runny yolks.

Despite all this talk of pancakes, I haven’t come here to share a pancake recipe with you. No, instead, I want to talk about waffles. Alice Medrich’s basic waffle recipe, in particular. And despite my nonchalance toward it, I served these waffles twice this month for brunch. Baking without gluten is still something I’m exploring, and Alice’s recipes make it very easy for me — so long as I follow her wisdom and don’t try to make it my own, as I’ve learned the hard way with several pans of what should have been brownies. So when my mom suggested we make waffles for Mother’s Day for my Mimi (her mother), I consulted my current Baking Bible which is Alice’s book Flavor Flours.

As Alice explains, when it comes to gluten-free baking, pancakes, waffles, and crepes are much more straightforward than, say, a buttermilk cake might be. They are thin and therefore don’t require much in the way of added ingredients for structure, aside from eggs, as a lot of gluten-free baking does; and they include plenty of liquid to hydrate the flour.

I can’t say I have much of a history with waffles to pull from, so I can’t solidly tell you how these compare to anything other than an Eggo-style toaster waffle. But, I can tell you that these were the most memorable waffles I’ve eaten so far in my life. Buttery and golden with a fluffy center, they were slightly sweet, but also slightly salty which I really liked. I ate them with my fingers, dunking each bite in maple syrup (100%, not the regular, pancake kind) and nothing more. I strayed from the recipe only a teeny tiny bit by using almond milk instead of regular whole milk, but only because I didn’t have any of the latter on hand. I bet using it would make these waffles even better. I used a gluten-free flour blend by Bob’s Red Mill that my mom brought over, but Alice says the recipe is flexible enough that you can experiment with different flours. I know I will be. The recipe will look differently if you decide to use coconut flour or nut flour such as almond. I have not included the instructions for that here, so recommend that you try this one with only the flours listed.

The recipe doesn’t necessarily come together quickly, so you might want to allow yourself an hour to get them together before serving. Both times I’ve made the recipe, I’ve used the eggs straight from the refrigerator, as opposed to room temperature, and, as far as I can tell, it made no difference to the recipe. It is important, however, to make sure your butter and milk are only warm, as you risk cooking the eggs.

EggsWhitesWhipped

There were five of us eating, and the recipe yielded three or four waffles; forgive me, I can’t remember. But, I made the same recipe a week later for friends, only I doubled it and it worked nicely. For the second go, we had some batter left over, which, I’m very disappointed to say, did not get used. Because just like my dad’s pancakes, these, too, are very worthy of eating plain and cold, straight from the refrigerator.

AliceWaffles

Alice Medrich’s Basic Waffles
(Barely) Adapted from Flavor Flours

1 1/4 cups of any flour: white or brown rice flour, oat flour, corn, buckwheat
2 teaspoons baking powder
Slightly rounded 1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm, plus more for brushing the waffle iron (Alice says to use more butter for a more crispy, rich waffle, which I will most certainly be trying next time)
1 cup milk, almond or whole, warm
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar

Whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg yolks, butter, and milk and whisk until smooth and well blended.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. (Using a hand mixer, this process took about five minutes.) Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until stiff, but not dry. Next, fold the whipped egg whites into the batter.

Heat the waffle iron, brush it with butter, and cook the waffles according the the manufacture’s instructions. Serve them hot, or keep them stored in a low oven (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit), loosely covered with foil, for up to 20 minutes. You can also let them cool completely, then reheat them in a toaster or toaster oven.