We got these giant, honking red beets in the CSA, and although I have come to really like beets, I admit to huffing a sigh of ennui when I saw that they would be in our share that week. Perhaps it was because of how sliced red beets with goat cheese and toasted walnuts on a bed of salad greens seems to have become a restaurant menu staple. And although I really love it when those elements are on soft, pillowy gnocchi, I can assure you that red beets are not so great for that dish unless you enjoy eating a meal that bears an uncanny resemblance to chunky Pepto Bismol.
So how to make beets all Love Boat (aka exciting and new)? Around that time I’d heard a handful of discussions about using beets in chocolate. At first, I dry heaved at that idea, much like I gag at the idea of these tomato soup cupcakes, but much like those tomato soup cupcakes (gag… sorry– force of habit), the challenge of transforming an ingredient into something surprising and delicious was too difficult to resist.
Thus it was with excitement yet extreme trepidation when I set out to make these cupcakes– the excitement over the chocolate beet challenge was soon surpassed by whether I could actually improvise a baked good. I thought about different cupcake recipes I’d made over the last few years and tried to add ingredients in measurements that I thought would yield the right texture while compensating for the sweetness of the beets. When the batter came together I was so pleased with that beautiful chocolate brown that had a purplish hue from the beets and even more pleased that it actually looked like and had the texture of cake batter.
These cupcakes were so fabulous! When baked, they retained that ever so faint purple tint. Basically, the beets allowed me to make a cupcake that wasn’t overly sweet yet moist and so flavorful. The chocolate was complex– somehow the faint vegetative flavor of the beets actually enhanced the chocolate goodness. Two regrets though: 1) I should have made sure that the beets were thoroughly pureed as I got the ultimate surprise in a couple of cupcakes when I encountered a hearty beet center and 2) although I really enjoyed the lemony cream cheese frosting which I used on these cupcakes, I think I should have used a crème fraîche frosting instead. I imagine that the cupcake would be even better with a contrasting, slightly sour tang from crème fraîche and plus, there’d be the added benefit of naming those babies borscht cupcakes!
4 large red beets
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp Kahlua or dark coffee
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1.5 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- large color sugar for decoration
Scrub the beets and then put them in a medium pot covered with cold water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer for 45 minutes or until the beets can be pierced with a paring knife. Drain and rinse in cold water until cool enough to touch. Cut the beets into smaller pieces and peel off the skins. Place the peeled beets in a food processor and purée until smooth. Make sure there aren’t any chunks left– really purée the hell out of those suckers. This yielded about 2.5 cups of beet purée. I used 1.5 cups of it in the batter so set the rest aside, perhaps freezing for use in another batch of cupcakes.
Using a mixer, cream together a stick of butter with the brown sugar until the butter is light and fluffy. Beat in the Kahlua (or coffee) and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.
In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, mix together the milk and 1.5 cups of the beet purée. With the mixer on medium speed, add the dry and the wet ingredients in batches to your creamed butter and egg mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. The batter should be light, fluffy, and a dark purplish brown.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners. Fill the liners about 3/4 full with the batter. I got 18 cupcakes out of this batch. Bake for 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat together the 1/4 cup butter and cream cheese on medium high speed until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in the powdered sugar. You can either spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes or if you want to get pseudo-fancy, put the frosting into a plastic bag and cut off about a 3/4 inch of a corner (or if you have frosting tips to play with, use a large regular tip in a pastry or plastic bag before loading in the frosting) and swirl the frosting onto the cupcakes. Sprinkle with the colored sugar. Admire the pretty before devouring.
CSA Count: 1