So with our abundant crop of beetroot I’ve been reading about different ways to use beetroot. And as fate would have it when I went to a cafe recently there was a lovely looking beetroot and chocolate cake. Now it seems to be very on trend to include vegetables in your cakes. Carrot cake has obviously been popular for a number of years but I’ve also seen lots of recipes recently for courgette cake, parsnip cake, sweet potato cake and even spinach cake. Why is this so popular? Is it that because people see vegetables in cakes they feel less guilty about eating them? Are they (or do they seem) healthier? Is everyone suffering from a glut of homegrown veggies that they need to use up? Or are desperate parents trying to find novel ways to help their toddlers get their five a day (or is it supposed to be seven a day now, I lose track). Whatever everyone else’s reason, I’m trying beetroot cake as I’ve got lots of beetroot. Now I’ve never been a fan of carrot cake (and have never tried any other vegetable cake) as the idea of vegetables in cakes really puts me off. But I’ve been assured that you can’t really taste the beetroot in a beetroot and chocolate cake so I’m going to test it out when I have friends come round this week.
There are loads of recipes out there for chocolate and beetroot cake so I’ve gone with one which has been recommended by a Facebook gardening group. It also has the beetroot raw and grated which appealed to me more than including it cooked. I have to say I was slightly (very) nervous about how it was going to turn out whilst mixing as it looked pretty disgusting.
However, when it came out it looked like, well, a normal chocolate cake.
I was very worried about the taste still and wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to let my friends try it without sampling it first, as I pride myself on my ability to produce an alright tasting sponge. So J and I cut ourselves a piece each and quickly covered it in chocolate spread (I’ll do a proper icing for the rest tomorrow but will have to wait for it to be stone cold first).
And the verdict? Totally amazing. Really moist. I coudn’t taste the beetroot, although J said that he could. It was light (surprising when it was cooking for nearly an hour) and had a lovely rich chocolate taste without being too sickly. It’s definitely one to try again and has helped, a bit, to use up some of our beetroot.
So whilst I enjoy beetroot, I wouldn’t exactly descibe myself as a beetroot lover. We had planted two rows of beetroot (boltardy variety) using seed tape and I was initially very critical of it. The theory behind the seed tape is that you don’t need to thin, the beetroot is perfectly spaced and the tape should ensure that every seed sprouts. This has not proven to be the case for us as we’ve had a good portion where no seeds have sprouted and they seem to have come up very unevenly. Not what I was hoping for. That said now they’ve had time to really grow they do seem to have flourished. When harvesting beetroot it is a good idea to try to pick out alternate roots to give the remaining ones time and room to grow. Our first harvest J’s dad took and cooked in the pressure cooker for us. Our second harvest I roasted in olive oil with just some salt and pepper. This weekend I took out our third harvest to make chutney. As I was making chutney I actually weighed the beetroot, a whopping 2.8kg! And we still have plenty more to pick. I tend to play about a lot with my chutney recipes and I thought I would include my version of beetroot chutney below. The recipe could be easily scaled up or down depending on your quantity of beetroot. I got about 6 and a half jars from this, jars all about 454g size, ish.
Beetroot Chutney recipe:
- 2.8kg raw beetroot (if directly from the garden then cut the stalks off close to the base, rinse off any soil and cut the long winding root close back to the main bulb)
- 2 pints vinegar (approximately one pint per 1.5kg). I used cider vinegar but white wine vinegar would also be good, avoid anything with too much colour.
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar (for cooking the beetroot, exclude if you like quite a tart chutney)
- 4 large onions, peeled and diced.
- 900g granulated sugar (again you can adapt to preferences and use soft brown if you like a more caramelised taste)
- Spices: I prefer not to just use a traditional pickling spice muslin bag and instead add spices to leave in. I used 4 bay leaves (which I removed when putting into jars), a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of nigella seeds, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and a good grind or two of black pepper. These can be ground if preferred or just kept whole.
- Put the beetroot whole into a large saucepan or preserving pan and cover with boiling water. Bring back up to the boil and simmer until the beetroot is cooked through (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your beetroot, check it with a knife the same way as you would check potatoes).
- Whilst this is cooking then prepare your jars, I just put mine into the dishwasher to sterilise, but you can also use the oven.
- Drain and leave until cool enough to handle (cold water can speed up this step).
- Peel the beetroot (washing up gloves can prevent any colour run) and dice.
- In your washed out preserving pan add the onions and vinegar and soften on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
- Add the beetroot, sugar and spices and stir well.
- Keep the mixture on a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved then bring it up to the boil.
- The chutney then needs to stay at a rolling boil for the liquid to reduce and the chutney to thicken (this took about and hour and a half for me as I turned the temperature down a couple of times to pop out to the garden and do chores and I didn’t want it to burn).
- Once it has reached the desired consistency then fill and seal your jars (remember to put hot chutney into hot jars to avoid a disaster and aim to push it down with a spoon to avoid as many air bubbles as possible). You should hear the lids pop down as it cools and seals. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves as you find them now, if used.
- It will taste best if left for at least one month before using and once opened should be stored in the fridge. Unopened it should be good for a couple of years or longer.