It’s the weekend. Fittingly, this is a weekend cake. Not that it’s especially difficult. But it is time consuming. There are many steps requiring many tools and many bowls and many stages of beating and baking and frosting and chilling and many, many dishes. And if that weren’t bad enough, there are many calories. Maaaaaany. Do you know how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar you are about to consume? MANY.
But it’s worth it. Particularly if you have someone to impress: a birthday, a neighbor, a mother-in-law, a coworker. It’s gorgeous. It’s indulgent. It’s the perfectly not-too-sweet yet incredibly moist chocolate cake paired with the way-sweet people-will-go-bonkers-for-this icing. (Particularly if they’re fond of grocery store icing the likes of Publix or Giant.)(Looking at you, Ms. Freshy and Mr. Landlord.) It’s definitely a weekend cake. It requires an idle afternoon and a whole lot of caloric justification.
As for the beets? You can’t taste them. Promise. The cake is a standard chocolate cake (fairly mellow, not terribly rich or dark) that is fabulously fluffy and moist. The beets and buttermilk (or in my case, yogurt) are to thank for said moisture and lightness. The icing is rich and buttery and sweet (and hot pink!). An unsuspecting recipient would be none the wiser. If only I hadn’t told the landlord there were beets — we’d be plum out of cake.
Chocolate Beet Cake with Buttercream Icing
Adapted from Joy the Baker
For the Beets:
2 medium beets, stems cut and peels intact
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
For the Cake:
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk, as I did)
For the Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar (1 box), sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
To make the Beets:
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.
Thoroughly wash beets and trim stems. Place on a large piece of foil and drizzle with a conservative splash of vegetable oil. Seal foil pouch and place on baking sheet; roast until beets are tender, about 45-50 minutes. (Alternatively, next time you find yourself making beets for dinner, plan ahead. Roast extra beets and refrigerate or freeze until needed. I did exactly this and saved myself a solid hour and an extra step of prep.)
Once cooked through, remove beets from oven and open foil to cool completely. Once cooled, peel beets with a paring knife (or hands; although your palms will be stained hot pink, beet skins slide right off). Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.* Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting. Set aside.
(*Note: My beets were cut into 1/2-inch pieces, as they were left over from a previous dish. Rather than try my temper and bloody my hands with ity bity pieces against a box grater, I popped those badboys into the food processor. Voilá. Done in a blink.)
To make the Cake:
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Use butter to grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans. Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan. Cut it out and place inside the cake pan. Butter the parchment paper. (As I said, lots of steps. The double greasing of the pans and the parchment paper is well worth the insurance. The cakes will slide right out. Better still, save the edges of the parchment to wrap around the base of your finished cake to protect your cake stand from icing splatters. Brilliant.) Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go along. Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beating on low speed, slowly add buttermilk. Once incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients. Beat on low speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated. Take care not to overmix; manually folding ingredients with a spatula works well too. Batter will be thick and an ugly brownish-mauve color (don’t fret, it will bake into a standard chocolate brown).
Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan). A tester inserted will come out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.
To make the Icing:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth. Add butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined. Scrape down bowl as necessary. Beat in beets. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt. Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky. Refrigerate icing for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.
To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand or cake plate. Top with a generous amount of pink icing and spread evenly. Place the other layer on top and frost. Work icing onto the sides of the cake. (There will be plenty of frosting and you’ll likely have quite a bit left over.) Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice)(and oddly enough, this cake tastes great chilled). Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.