This year we have two different varieties of beetroot seeded alongside the rainbow carrots, chard and parsnips in the vegetable patch. The classic looking Rhonda, which we grow every year for its well-flavoured, deep magenta bulbs; and the Italian Barabietola di Chioggia, which produces beautiful rose red roots with fabulous pink and white striped flesh. Their vibrant pink and violet-red stems look stunning in their uniform lines.
As the taproots are slowly developing underneath the soil, the plants produce an abundance of purple-veined foliage, which we like to harvest in small quantities as cut and come again greens. The baby leaves are delicious in salads and the older ones can treated similarly to chard (we usually cook the leaves and stems separately and add them to soups and pasta dishes). Finally, once the roots have each reached the size of a Christmas tree bauble, we pull up the whole plant. We do a mixture of pickling, boiling, roasting, juicing, and eating them raw. Their earthy sugariness lends them to both savoury and sweet dishes.
This purple-tinged cake makes use of one of our Rhonda beetroots. It combines beetroot purée with rich cocoa; the nutty tang of rye flour; treacly, dark sugar; and a twinkling of flaky sea salt. The result is a moist and fudgey cake; lighter than a brownie, but much denser than your average sponge. It’s great eaten with a strong cup of frothy coffee on the side. As an alternative to the sea salt topping, we sometimes sift a small pinch of salt with the flour and ice the cake with a cream cheese frosting instead (the result is very similar to a red velvet cake, but without the need for a copious amount of red food colouring).
Beetroot, Cocoa and Sea Salt Cake
- 1 large beetroot (approx. 150g)
- 100 g plain yoghurt
- 150 g unsalted butter, softened
- 150 g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 medium chicken egg
- 150 g white rye flour
- 30 g cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- A large pinch of flaky sea salt
Bring a pan of water to the boil. Remove the leaves from the top of the beetroot and wash off any mud. Add the beetroot to the pan and cook for around 45 minutes with the lid on, until cooked through, then drain. Gently peel the skin off the beetroot (it should rub off quite easily under your thumb) and chop off the little tail from its base. Cut the flesh into rough cubes and leave for a few minutes to cool. You should end up with around 130g of beetroot (if you have much more than this, set aside the excess otherwise the cake might be a little too moist; if you have less, add a little more yoghurt in the next step). Then put the beetroot cubes in a blender with the yoghurt, pulse until you have a smooth, bright purple purée, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a 20cm square cake tin.
In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Lightly whisk the egg and then fold it into the mixture.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the cocoa powder and the bicarbonate of soda.
Fold a third of the flour mix into the bowl of wet ingredients; then fold in a third of the beetroot and yoghurt purée. Repeat until all of the flour and beetroot mixes have been incorporated.
Gently spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until the cake is slightly risen with a cracked surface that springs back to the touch. Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out.
Generously crumble over a pinch of sea salt and cut into squares to serve.
The cake will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for 3-4 days.