EOWTTA* : B is for Beetroot

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

(eating our way through the alphabet)

beetroot in basket
Mention beetroot and opinions are divided. I’m firmly in the “love ‘em” camp. Admittedly, the primary reason I love beetroot is for it’s deeply seductive colouring. If you’re a beetroot hater, at least stick around till the end of this post – there’s cake involved!

Apparently, the beetroot has been cultivated since the second millennia (BC). This root vegetable belongs in the Amaranth family. Other beet species include Swiss Chard or Silverbeet and the delightfully named Mangel-wurzel.

According to a recent University of Exeter study, beetroot juice may be able to boost stamina and help people to exercise up to 16% longer (the study group only involved 8 men though). Other studies indicate that beetroot juice may reduce blood pressure. And it appears that the Romans believed beetroot to be an aphrodisiac. . What is it with these vegetables – remember the avocado last week?

While beetroot is mostly sought after for its, er..root, the leaves of the plant can also be eaten. However, the leaves have a high oxalic acid content and should be avoided by people who suffer from kidney disorders.

Beetroot is not generally sold by variety, but if you’re lucky you may be able to find a yellow/golden variety and even a candy-striped vegetable.

beetroot in bowl
Beetroot is very versatile in the kitchen, we’ve had it steamed, roasted, grated raw in salads, in soup, in chip form and of course as any true-blue aussie knows - it’s the slice of canned beetroot that completes a good burger.

Beetroot chipsBeetroot Chips

And why exactly is the beetroot so gloriously coloured? It contains a pigment known as Betalain. I discover through firsthand experience that this pigment can be a bit temperamental when used in baking.

I’d been very tempted by all the red-velvet cakes popping up around blogland. Perfect timing then, to attempt a natural red-velvet cake using beetroot puree as the main colorant. After rejigging a recipe, things looked like they were going well. The cake batter was extremely pink in the pan, and I’d been left with a slew of kitchen implements covered in red goo.

But when the cake came out of the oven, it had turned brown! How disappointing! And it tasted quite strongly of beetroot – which was a tiny bit much even for a beetroot lover. That cake is now in the freezer for desperate “cake-emergency” days.

beetroot cake attempt 1Cake attempt number one: Looking promising so far

failed cake attemptCake attempt number one: Fail! It's brown!

What went wrong? After a bit of googling and reading, I discover that beetroot pigment can be
by the pH of the other ingredients and heat. A strong base (alkali) can cause the beetroot juice to turn yellow brown or tan.

So I conduct a few experiments and discover the culprit is baking soda – an alkali.

beetroot juice in shotglassesShotglasses are the perfect experimentation tool no?

more beetroot experimentsThe juice on the left has baking soda added, while the juice on the right has cream of tartar

beetroot results 1Results: While wet

beetroot results 2Results: After 48 hours dry time. Note the baking soda colour. Also the vinegar seems to have had a reaction too.

The task at hand was pretty clear, I had to keep the batter as acidic as possible. Jumping off from this recipe, I consult my favourite baking science site and devise my own formula. I start out by making a beetroot juice reduction mixed with some lemon juice to hopefully “set” the colour.

I also omit the cocoa powder because it’s probably Dutched cocoa which is alkaline. I’m not 100% sure because I cannot find any labels on my packet of cocoa powder indicating otherwise but I’m erring on the side of caution.

The end result? Not quite red but at least not brown!

Thanks for sticking around, please enjoy the Pink Velvet Cake

pink velvet cakePink Velvet Cake

I make no claims to this tasting like an original red-velvet cake as I’ve never had one before. This Pink-Velvet cake tastes slightly tangy, almost like a sour-cream pound cake. The texture is dense and moist, yet not too chewy. And surprisingly, no hint of beet flavour. Mini-critic senior liked this cake even though she’d refused to eat the other one.

Overall I’m very pleased with the experiment. Come back next week for the letter C!

Pink Velvet Cake and White Chocolate Cream
(First make a beetroot juice reduction)

1 medium beetroot (mine weighed about 230g)
water (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Peel and roughly chop the beetroot (wear gloves if you don’t want stained hands - I find that the colour fades quite quickly anyway). Whizz the beetroot pieces and enough water (about ½ cup) in a food processor until the beetroot is quite liquid.
Strain through a sieve and catch the resulting juices.
Put juice in a saucepan, add the lemon juice and mix well. Cook gently over low heat (don’t let it boil hard), stirring from time to time until reduced. I ended up with about 5 tablespoonfuls of liquid.

As for the solids left after straining, don’t waste them. Either steam or microwave until cooked and add to mashed potato for a bit of fun colour. I’m thinking of adding mine to chicken meatballs.

Cake batter
(I was working in small measures just in case the experiment failed spectacularly. This quantity makes a very shallow loaf cake. I split the cake in half and ended up with a double layered small cake about 10cm square. This quantity would probably work better to make cupcakes. If you do attempt to double the measurements, I’d love it if you could drop me a line to let me know how it goes. Thanks!)

125g flour
190g sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg (mine had a min mass of 67g)
125 ml buttermilk
65g butter (softened, room temperature)
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon vinegar
5 tablespoons beetroot juice reduction

Preheat oven to about 175˚C. Grease, flour and line base of loaf pan or prepare cupcake cases.

Sift the flour, cinnamon and sugar into a mixing bowl. Beat on low speed just to mix. (I use hand beaters, so all my timing estimates are based on them). In a jug, mix the buttermilk, egg and beetroot reduction until thoroughly blended.

Add softened butter and about half of the buttermilk mix to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Beat on low until the flour is incorporated, then switch to high speed and beat until the mixture lightens and looks “fluffy” (about a minute or so). Add the rest of the buttermilk mixture, scrape down sides if necessary and mix again until well combined (about half a minute).

Place the baking soda and cream of tartar in a bowl large enough to prevent it from foaming over. Add the vinegar and mix – it will fizz a bit. Immediately fold it thoroughly through the cake batter, the pour into prepared pan/cases and place straight into the oven. This batter cannot sit around before being baked otherwise the “rise” may be affected (check out the baking science website for more info if interested). Bake until golden on top and cake springs back lightly when touched or test with skewer ☺.

Leave to cool and ice with white icing of choice. I think a type of mock cream is traditional, but I prefer the following version.

White chocolate cream
(inspired by Quick and Easy Small Cakes by Kazuko Kawachi)

white chocolate cream

40g white chocolate
½ cup whipping cream

Melt the white chocolate over a bain-marie or do as I do and use the microwave. If using microwave, use a bowl large enough to whip in the cream.

Once chocolate has melted properly (runs easily), whisk in the cream in a thin stream. It’s almost like making a reverse ganache. Keep whisking, not too fast, and don’t worry if the mixture starts to look curdled or separates (I freaked out at this point). Keep lightly stirring with the whisk and it will come together again.

Makes enough to ice the small 10cm square cake above.

Because of the cream content, store iced cake in the refrigerator but bring back to room temp before eating or else the texture will be too dense.


lisamichele said...

What a gorgeous cake (especially for a baby shower if it's a girl), and I love how your VERY informative explanation scientifica explanation of alkaline/acidity to get the coloring right! Also, you had me at 'white chocolate cream' :)

Anh said...

Hat off to you! Thanks so much for this informative post!!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love beetroot! That cake look so pretty and delicious!



shez said...

Love the colour experimentation you've done. Very smart of you! And what a lovely shade of pink the cake is, especially for something that doesn't have any artificial colouring in it :)

shaz said...

Thanks lisamichele : I am very taken by the white chocolate cream, it's not too sweet, just a hint of chocolate - am definitely going to use it more often.

Thanks Anh! : I figured I'd better put my science degree to good use somewhow (considering I never used it anywhere else!:)

Thanks Rosa!

Thanks Shez - I'm not against food colouring, I'm just stubborn - was determined to find out why the first cake went brown :)

TasteHongKong said...

I have enjoyed reading the entire post though baking is not my biggest interest. Thank you.

I like using beetroot to make a light and refreshing soup that is added with apples, different beans, and sometimes even with cashew.

shaz said...

Thanks for stopping by TasteHongKong - wow that's a very interesting combo using beetroot and apples and beans - can't say I've ever tried it with fruit, now I'm very curious.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Wow this is so detailed, bravo! I for one like beetroot in burgers but sometimes I find the earthy flavour too much.

Hungry Dog said...

Fabulous post--you really go the distance when it comes to baking! I like beets and agree that they are very versatile. And I've always wanted to use them in a cake...

shaz said...

Thanks Lorraine and Hungry Dog! I love experimenting - sometimes with very unspectacular results :)