Interlude: Chocolate cake – one of your five a day?

Wandering down the vegetable isle in the supermarket last week I saw a fresh beetroot. In Country Living last month was a recipe for beetroot-cured salmon, and so into my basket went a fresh beetroot. But instead of home-cured salmon, I made cake. Chocolate cake. Chocolate and beetroot cake.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve attempted this, but it was definitely the most successful. At university I lived with a lovely girl with a wheat intolerance, who on her birthday was on a diet (why?!) sooo for her birthday cake (and it isn’t a birthday without cake) I tried to make a low-wheat low-sugar chocolate cake, with almonds for flour and beetroot for sweetness. It was completely the wrong time of year, and so I used cooked (not pickled) beetroot instead of the fresh in the recipe, and the added liquid in the cooked beetroot resulted in a sort of unplanned, dense, wet truffle cake. It tasted okay, but  the minute we told the boys in the flat of the healthy vegetable smuggled into their digestive systems amid layers of chocolate ganache and clouds of cocoa, they promptly declared themselves too full to eat another bite. Overall, sogginess aside, it wasn’t a complete disaster, and looked quite pretty – fresh flowers make a wonderful calorie-free alternative to sugar flowers, particularly if you don’t eat them.

Last week’s attempt proved much more successful. Using a recipe for chocolate and beetroot cake found on as my starting point, and almost following the recipe, I casually whipped up a batch of 24 chocolate-beetroot cupcakes – assuming at this point that ‘casually’ means with much trepidation and very stained pink fingers.

Officially The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe I’ve ever baked, it may well take the place of all ordinary chocolate sponge for the rest of my life. It’s moist, yummy, deeply rich and chocolatey without being at all bitter, and goes very very well with a cream cheese icing – and the vegetable-phobe at work ate and enjoyed it, and even looked for another after learning it contained beetroot. I also decided to make sugar roses for the first time – though this swiftly became a solitary sugar rose, as while it was (I personally think) successful for a first attempt, it took quite a while as I have a slightly injured hand at the moment. The rest of the cakes had a light dusting of edible gold stars so they didn’t feel too left out, and they were quickly inhaled by the girls I shot with at BUCS last weekend and colleagues from work.


Continuing the cupcake-theme I’m going to backtrack to my last cupcake creation: salted caramel cupcakes. The livestock-and-peas farmer mentioned recently told me in passing of his love of caramel muffins. I’m not yet an experienced muffin-maker, but it did make me want to try caramel cupcakes. The unfortunate and unwitting contestants of The Great British Bake Off has taught me never to stir caramel, or else the sugar will crystallise. Admittedly I didn’t entirely follow this, but restricted my spoon-intervention to the odd poke just to assuage my worries that the sugar was sticking to the bottom of my non-stick pan. Of course it wasn’t. I must have more faith in my poor saucepan. Anyway, one brown-sugar victoria sponge later I was making two lots of caramel – a thick filling to fill the cakes, and a runnier sauce to mix into butter cream for the frosting.

In Richmond-upon-Thames there is a wonderful, Johnny Depp-worthy chocolaterie called William Curley (you can see some of his creations here: When I was at school, a friend introduced me to William Curley by bringing into school a little cellophane bag for me, sealed with a pretty sticker. Inside was a solitary sea-salted caramel chocolate, and it was melt-in-the-mouth amazing. And so out on a limb and inspired by William Curley, I decided to add salt to my caramel mixtures. My advice for others would be to spoon a little of the mixture out and add a little salt to that, see if you like it before you contaminate the whole mixture. But apparently I don’t practise what I preach, and so sprinkle by teaspoon and teaspoon by sprinkle I added sea salt flakes to my filling and icing, and made my first ever salted caramel cupcakes. Not to blow my own trumpet, but it worked! I will definitely be making these again (at some point).

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