A few years ago I lived off Southgate Road in North East London, it was the first flat me and two friends from law school paid for with our first hard-earned money. We used to call Southgate Road “noman’s land” because it is so far away from the next tube station with the only three bus routes going down Southgate Road taking you into the City but not anywhere else (great for work but otherwise pretty inconvenient).
The benefits of living off Southgate Road were the proximity to an incredible gastropub, the Northgate, and the proximity to a number of North and East London parks as well as the Regent’s Canal. Within a few minutes I could be running laps in Clissold Park while watching the deer in their enclosure, running up to Highbury Fields (great for strolling home post-run with an iced coffee in hand, some fresh bagels for breakfast from Emporium Bakery and some goodies from the Italian deli just off Upper Street) or running down the Regent’s Canal, all the way to Lime End in the later stages of half marathon training.
One day as I was running down Southgate Road I noticed that something that looked like a mix between an art gallery and an interior design store had newly opened. Through the window I also spied a coffee maker and a little sign about cafe opening times.
A few days later (and in much more appropriate attire than sweaty running clothes) my friend Millen and I decided to explore this little gallery/coffee store, not sure what to expect. My first impression was right, this space was both a gallery as well as an intererior design store, at the same time they had started hiring out their back room for events and had just added a tiny cafe to the front of the gallery, selling coffee, tea and a few cakes baked by the owner’s wife.
As always happens with Millen (who is the most natural networker I have ever come across) before long we got talking to the owner who urged us to try the beetroot cake his wife had made, telling us it was one of the best cakes he had on offer. Well, it was cake, it was chocolatey, and it had an unusual ingredient – without hesitation Millen and I ordered a slice to share. And what can I say, while very different from a classical chocolate cake, this was divine, yes, earthy from the beet root, but somehow a perfect pairing to the dark chocolate, while incredibly moist from the beetroot, similar to a carrot cake.
It’s been 3 or 4 years that I ate this cake, I no longer live close to Southgate Road (heck I don’t even know whether this gallery/shop/entertainment space/cafe still exists), but this slice of cake I shared with my friend keeps on coming back to me and is why I keep on thinking about baking a beetroot cake.
While I keep a list of things I would like to bake and possible blog posts both in a little moleskine notebook and on my phone, this list is pretty vague and reads along the lines of “truffles lemon pepper?” or, in this case, “beetroot cake like carrot cake?” … I often jot down single ingredients or techniques like “infusion” when an idea comes to me, without yet knowing what the final result will be. As with this beetroot cake, I kept on going back and forth between adapting a carrot cake recipe but using molasses and a mix of spices to emphasise the earthiness of the beetroot or making a chocolate and beetroot cake. In the end, I wanted a cake that would really allow the beetroot to shine (and, admittedly, I did not want to bake a chocolate beetroot cake only to be told by Alessandro that he prefers plain chocolate cake!).
Recipe adapted from Le Cordon Bleu’s ‘Muffins’, makes 6 medium muffins
180g wholemeal flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp gingerbread spice mix or a mix of ground ginger, clove and piment
40g muscovado sugar
250g cooked beetroot, grated
60ml olive oil
1 tbsp oats
1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees celsius.
2. Whisk together the flour with the baking powder, salt, spices and sugar. Add the grated beetroot to the same bowl.
3. In a separate bowl whisk together the milk, oil, egg and molasse.
4. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and quickly stir everything together with a fork. Don’t worry if there are still some lumps, these will all even out in the oven.
5. Distribute the batter between the 6 muffin tins, scatter the oats on top of the batter and place the tins in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the muffins comes out without any crumbs stuck to it. Cool on a wire rack.
While I had some cooked beetroot on hand already I realise it is not practial to cook a small amount of beetroot given it is quite messy to clean and peel them. So I would suggest you cook quite a bit – any beetroot left over after making this recipe are the perfect starting point for making pasta with Beetroot Pesto, one of my favourite quick weekday dinner recipes. Otherwise, another firm favourite is to make beetroot and goat’s cheese quesadillas.