Ssh! Don’t Tell Them That There Are Beets in the Cake

This issue of Cake Central contains a recipe for Red Velvet Beet Cake.

My friend has some wild and crazy ideas and usually I’m bright enough to cut them off at the pass, but not so much on the day that she announced that for her son’s 1st birthday cake she wanted a red velvet cake and could it be healthy and made without sugar? I just looked at her and told her that I don’t do that sort of cake and that if she wanted something like that, she could make it herself. So I’m a bit brutally honest, okay? It’s the Bulmer side of the family in me (inside joke). Of course then I felt badly and had to backpedal a bit, which led to me stupidly blurting out that I had seen a recipe for red velvet cake made with beets, so maybe I could test it.

What I didn’t remember then was that beets are freaking hard to cook. I boiled those suckers for 3 plus hours and that is after picking out the smallest beets the produce section had to offer. I kept poking the beets to see if they were done yet (Are we almost there yet, Papa Smurf?), which just led to the lovely beet colour leaking out, leaving little colour left over for my supposedly red cake batter.

Once that lovely chore was over, I had to purée them, which seemed to work best if I used the food processor then the blender, after some highly scientific testing and lots of cursing. And by the way, my fictional boyfriend, a tall, blonde, Viking vampire, does not do dishes, and so, using every appliance in the kitchen does not make me happy, contrary to what men seem to think. But, I digress.

I find it remarkable that after charging me an exorbitant amount of money for their magazine, Cake Central does not guarantee the recipes that they publish. This should have been a clue to me, however, I forged ahead, although it made me pause that the title is for Red Velvet Beet Cake, but the photo and smaller text are all about Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes. It’s small peanuts, but errors like that get to me. Ever hopeful , the cupcake featured next to the recipe had a large, mounded dome, which made me expect great results.

Full disclosure #1: At this point I will fully admit that I did not follow the recipe to the letter, as the method seemed incomprehensible to me. I had made the Red Velvet Cupcakes from MS Cupcakes many times, very successfully, and when looking at the Cake Central recipe, not only did the order of the ingredient additions worry me, but the fact that the baking soda was not added to vinegar before adding to the mixed batter was a bit of a flag. This step is a common element in many red velvet cake recipes, causing an important chemical reaction. This reaction was missing in my one Red Velvet Titanic Fail last year and it leads to a rubbery, inedible cupcake. Instead of following my gut, improvising a little baking soda and vinegar action, I just added the ingredients, as written, but in the more logical manner that I am accustomed to. With trepidation, I filled two 10” cake pans and filled cupcake pans with the remaining batter.

Full disclosure #2: I doubled the recipe, since it was unhelpfully silent about how much batter I could expect it to make. As Rose Levy-Beranbaum can tell you, doubling a recipe sometimes comes with unexpected results. Due to the chemistry of leavening agents, it is often a mistake to double the baking powder or baking soda amounts when doubling the recipe. This can cause over-inflation, which then leads to a massive downfall of your precious goodies, and despite knowing this, I doubled the baking soda.

As cupcakes, my attempt of the Red Velvet Beet recipe was an Epic Fail, but as a cake, I think it was very passable. The texture was extremely moist, but thankfully the gummy texture present in the cupcakes was missing in the cake, and when paired with a Cream Cheese – Swiss Meringue Buttercream, the effect was quite yummy, if maybe a wee bit vegetable-y. There was a lot of cocoa in this recipe, so the red colour from the beets never had a chance, but overall the recipe was healthier due to the lack of food colour, a lower fat content and the addition of a hidden vegetable.

There is a lot of antioxidant-y, beet-y goodness inside this innocuous-looking first birthday cake. Any resemblance, real or imagined, to a 'bed with things on it' is purely coincidental.

Unfortunately my admission at the birthday party that the cake contained beets caused some party goers to abstain from the beet-y goodness. My advice is that if you embark on the healthy path of cake baking, just shut up about the virtues of what your guests are about to ingest. Not everyone can sell it like Jessica Seinfeld.