There are two camps when it comes to beets and each is fiercely committed to their opinions. One side loves the sweet, jewel-toned, earthiness of the root vegetable and orders them at every opportunity. That’s the camp I’m in. I LOVE beets. Then there are the folks who don’t.
This Chocolate Beet Cake with Ganache by Susan Spungen from her gorgeous new book, Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings, will bring the two camps together in perfect agreement. It is so delicious and despite my selfish desire to have the beet flavor shine through, it is so subtle, it just leaves a super-rich and moist cake that everyone, no matter their feelings about beets, will love. Plus, it is so gorgeous, how could you refuse to try it? Once you do, you’ll go in for seconds.
The art of tempering chocolate (this is when melted chocolate sets at room temperature and stays shiny) seems like a next-level task, but Susan brings it into the home kitchen with great ease. Like anything you are trying for the first time, it takes a bit of getting used to it. I will walk you through it in my Instagram video and Susan’s directions are terrific, so give it a try and see how satisfying and beautiful the curls are. You’ll end up using this technique for so many desserts. The finishing touch on the Chocolate Beet Cake with Ganache is a dusting of beet powder. When I was flipping through Susan’s book this cake jumped off the page because of the velvety red finish of beet powder. It is actually quite easy to find too (see link and recommendations below).
For those of you who are not familiar with Susan Spungen by name, you are certainly familiar with her work. She was the editor of Martha Stewart Living, she is the go-to food stylist for Hollywood, having created all the incredible food in Julie & Julia, Eat Pray Love and many others. Open Table is a beautiful book about casually entertaining, but with incredible style. I’m such a fan of her and her lovely book. Susan generously gave me permission to share the recipe with you, which you’ll find below. I also made the cake in a video which you’ll find on my Instagram account.
This is directly from Susan’s book and the only change I made was to use my marble surface, but the sheet tray will also work beautifully! – Zoë
You might not believe me, but it actually is easier to temper the chocolate than not for these beautiful chocolate curls. Tempered curls will be easier to handle without melting or breaking them, and because they are hard and dry at room temperature, you will avoid the potential for condensation forming on the curls when you remove them from the freezer, which could then melt the beet powder. If it doesn’t work out, you can go to plan B and put the baking sheet in the freezer, but the tempering happens naturally as you spread and scrape the melted chocolate back and forth on the baking sheet (or marble as seen in my @zoebakes IG video), incidentally cooling it as you go. If it is tempered, you will notice it drying to a hard sheen at room temperature (which should be cool-ish). The key thing is to start forming the curls when it hasn’t quite hardened, so they actually will curl. If you wait a little too long, it will break into little shards, which are beautiful too! I aim for a mix of shapes, giving the cake a very organic look. If all of this sounds like too much for you, you can just shave a block of chocolate using a vegetable peeler for a still-pretty if less dramatic look. (Try warming the chocolate with your hand before shaving for larger curls.)
To make the curls: Chop 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate and transfer all but a few pieces to a bone-dry microwave-able bowl. (You also can melt the chocolate over a double boiler.) Microwave on high for 1 minute, stir, and microwave in additional 10-second bursts, stirring after each, until it is almost melted. Add the reserved pieces of chocolate and stir constantly with a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. Transfer the chocolate to a clean, flat, uncoated baking sheet and use a bench scraper or offset spatula to smooth the chocolate out. Scrape it up again and smooth it out a few times until the chocolate is cool. At this point, it should start to harden and dry before your eyes. When it looks almost dry and firm, push the baking sheet against the wall for leverage and scrape the chocolate away from you in small sections to form curls and shards, holding the bench scraper at a slight angle. Use a small offset spatula to transfer the curls to a plate. If the chocolate doesn’t harden and still looks wet, pop it in the freezer until almost hardened. Remove it and proceed as described above. If it is too hard, run your hand on the bottom of the sheet to warm it slightly and try again. The chocolate does have to be at the perfect temperature to work well, so there is a bit of trial and error involved. But funky shapes look great, so don’t worry too much about it. You can always melt it and try again.
- Up to 2 days ahead: Cook the beets and make the puree.
- Up to 1 day ahead: Bake the cake; make the chocolate curls and store in the freezer.
- About 2 hours before serving: Make the ganache, frost the cake, and decorate with the curls.
- Just before serving: Dust with the beet powder.
- 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened plus more for the pan
- 3 large (baseball-size) red beets about 1½ pounds trimmed, to make 2 cups (480ml) puree
- 1/4 tsp salt plus more for cooking the beets
- 2 1/4 cups (450g) sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (80g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2 1/2 cups (315g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
- 6 oz (170g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- Chocolate curls see tips in blog post above
- Beet Root Powder (optional) I found it at my local co-op in the bulk section
- In a large saucepan, cover the beets with water, lightly salt it, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook until a paring knife easily slips into a beet, 30 to 50 minutes (or longer if necessary), depending on size and freshness of beets. Let rest in the hot water for 10 minutes, drain, and cover with cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip the skins off the beets under the water (which will lessen any hand staining) and cut into chunks. Place in a food processor and process until very smooth. Measure out 2 cups of the puree and set aside until cooled.
- In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the sour cream. Add the beet puree and vanilla and mix well. It will look curdled and very pink at this point. Don’t worry!
- In a large bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients in the mixer in two additions and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold a few times to make sure it is thoroughly mixed.
- Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Peel off the paper and invert onto a serving platter.
- Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming and bubbling around the edges. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Add the butter and corn syrup. Wait 5 minutes, then stir until smooth and glossy. Stir occasionally until it has cooled to a good spreading consistency, then spread over the top of the cake, not quite to the edges.
- Immediately top with chocolate curls and use a small sieve to lightly dust with beet powder (if using).
Thank you to Susan and her publisher Avery for sending me Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings and allowing me to share the recipe here on my website so you can try it.