Chocolate beet cake with candied pecans and a whipped cream cheese frosting - all made from scratch - Diversivore.com

Decadent Chocolate Beet Cake with Candied Pecans

In Recipe by Sean26 Comments

Decadent Chocolate Beet Cake

With Cream Cheese Frosting & Candied Pecans

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Hi everybody! I’m particularly excited to share this recipe with you today, because Diversivore just turned 2 years old! WHAT. My blog is a toddler, y’all!

I’ve had an incredible time creating food and sharing ideas with you all over the last couple of years. It’s been a pretty wild time too, and things have grown in ways that I could only have dreamed about. But none of that would matter if it weren’t for those of you out there reading what I right, and cooking what I cook. So to every one of you Diversivores out there, thank you. Whether you’ve been around since day one or you just discovered the site today, thank you. I hope I can keep making food that will intrigue, delight, and educate.

So, here’s my birthday cake to… myself. It’s ridiculously moist, with a dense chocolate crumb. The frosting is a whipped sweetened cream cheese, and I think it’s absolutely perfect against the earthy richness of the cake. I’m not big on overly sugary icing in general, so I think that cream cheese tang adds a fantastic depth and complexity to the recipe. And, because I love a textural surprise, I’ve included some crunchy caramel-y candied pecans in the frosting between the two cake layers. Because I can. It’s an awesome cake for any occasion, though I would suggest Valentine’s day as an ideal date, given the incredible colour, rich chocolate, and ready availability of winter beets.

Yes, beets. Let’s talk about that bit, shall we?

Beets. In a Cake.

Yes folks, it’s true. Beets in a cake. To my beet-y brethren already enamoured with the scarlet globes, the idea might sound interesting – maybe even appealing. Those amongst you who aren’t (yet) on the beet bandwagon, might feel a bit more… well, suspicious. But if you’re labouring under the suspicion that I’ve included beets just so that I can hide vegetables in a cake, let me put your mind at ease. This is still a cake – a rich, delicious, sugary, chocolaty cake. The beets are here because they actually contribute incredible moisture and richness to the batter. There are actually quite a few beet cake recipes out there, but a common complaint is that some of them end up a little too… well, beet-y. I love beets, but I’m not looking for my cake to taste like root vegetables. So I played with this recipe to get the right balance. It’s wonderfully moist, decidedly decadent, and definitely not beet flavoured. If you’re really looking for it, you can taste the beet flavour popping through, but it’s actually quite nice with the chocolate. That’s also why I worked extra chocolate into the mix – after all, it’s chocolate beet cake, not just beet cake. I find that cocoa powder alone doesn’t quite do enough to really drive the chocolate flavour in this batter, so there’s also melted dark chocolate coming along for the ride. Like I said: decadent.

As an added bonus, a very small amount of beet juice is all you need for that spectacular pink icing colour. No artificial colouring necessary – just pure beet goodness. And no, the icing does not taste like beets – a tiny bit goes a long way.

When it comes to the how-to of using beets in a cake, I’ll get into a bit more detail below, but I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s worth a go.

Recipe Notes

I did some pretty serious recipe researching and tweaking before arriving at this final version, but I do owe a rather big debt to two other recipes that helped me lay the foundation. First off, this cake from Joy the Baker got me started and laid the foundation for this recipe. The post is a darned good read too, so do check it out. My recipe makes some departures from the aforementioned one, and that has a lot to do with some time I spent working out how to get more chocolate into the thing. For that, you can thank Mark Bittman, and his excellent encyclopedic tome “How to Bake Everything.” If you’re not already familiar with Bittman’s How to _____ Everything books, you should seek them out.

The recipe itself isn’t very difficult to make. If you’re a confident baker, it’ll be a snap. If you’re new to scratch cake-making, rest assured that it’s not tough stuff. Boxed cake mix is one of those things that makes you believe you’re saving a lot of time when in reality you’re not. Scratch made cakes only involve a few extra measuring steps, and they give you way more control over the flavour, texture, and quality of ingredients.

Beets (by You)

(Whipping out the not-very-good Professor Farnsworth impression) Good news, everyone! The beet aspect of this cake is easy. Simply wrap the beets in foil and put them into an oven at 350°F for about 1 hour. They should be tender enough to allow a knife to slip into them easily when they’re done. Let the cooked beets cool before peeling (the skins slip off easily after baking) and shredding. The end.

Leavening Agents

You’ll notice that this recipe has both baking powder and baking soda. This isn’t a mistake, and both agents contribute to the texture and lightness of the crumb. Baking powder is a pretty common additive in most cakes, as it will leaven any batter. This is because baking powder is a mixture of dry ingredients that combine to produce carbon dioxide when they come into contact with water. It’s a classic acid-base reaction made possible by packaging an acid salt with a dry carbonate base. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), on the other hand, is only a base, and won’t produce the carbon dioxide bubbles necessary for leavening unless added to an acidic solution. Using baking soda in a neutral batter is a recipe for very flat, very dense cakes (some gas is given off as the chemical breaks down from the heat of baking, but not as much). So, not what we want here. Fortunately, this batter is acidic thanks to buttermilk.

(There are also double-acting baking powders on the market that make use of one quick-acting acid/base combo and a second heat-dependent acid/base pair that only becomes active in the oven. I personally don’t use these types of baking powder, preferring to stick with the simple fast-acting ones for flavour and chemistry reasons that I won’t get in to here.)

With that bit of explanation, I hope to address some of the key reasons that cake batters can fail to rise. First, too little of any leavening agent can mean too little carbon dioxide, and therefore too few bubbles. Second, adding leavening agents (especially baking soda) too early can allow much of the gas produced to escape, leaving you with nothing to help the cake rise. Third, using baking soda without an acid will lead to disappointing results. A fourth issue doesn’t affect the batter’s ability to rise, but can hurt the taste: using too much baking powder alone in an acidic batter will leave some of the acid salts un-reacted, contributing to an off flavour.

So why use both baking powder and baking soda? It’s a form of insurance, basically (no chemistry pun intended). It’s easy to go wrong with a single leavening agent, but (assuming you follow the rules), a bit more fool-proof with two. By using both, you some of the baking powder acts right away, while the remaining portion and the baking soda start to react with the acidic batter. The baking soda is further broken down by heat in the oven, yielding more carbon dioxide as it bakes.

Lastly, if you’re unsure about whether or not your baking powder is still good, just add a teaspoon to some water. It should bubble up and fizz. Baking soda shouldn’t really go bad, but if you want to check, simply add a little bit to some vinegar. If it foams up readily, you’re good to go.

Candied Pecans

You could certainly skip this step if you were short on time, or just use plain pecan pieces, but I quite like the candy-like crunch that you get in the middle of the cake by incorporating these. The instructions below give you all the detail you need, but it’s worth pointing out that this is a step you want to pay close attention to. You’re basically making hard caramel (something I’ve done a few times on the site), and the line between caramely and burnt sugar is fairly thin. Make sure all your ingredients are ready to go before you get started. If you do end up overcooking your sugar (it should be golden, not dark brown), scrap it and start again rather than wasting pecans in bitter/sour burnt sugar.


Nutrition Facts
Decadent Chocolate Beet Cake with Candied Pecans
Amount Per Serving
Calories 692 Calories from Fat 369
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 41g 63%
Saturated Fat 24g 120%
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 10g
Cholesterol 165mg 55%
Sodium 567mg 24%
Potassium 227mg 6%
Total Carbohydrates 73g 24%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 51g
Protein 10g 20%
Vitamin A 25%
Vitamin C 2%
Calcium 12%
Iron 15%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

GOOD NEWS:
Well, it’s got veggies in it, right? But let’s not split hairs – it’s cake, and it’s a treat. The serving sizes is actually pretty generous (1 slice = 1/10th of the cake) and you could almost certainly cut smaller slices and still feel like you’re coming out on top.

BAD NEWS:
Hey, it’s cake. Lots of sugar and delicious, delicious fat, especially thanks to the cream cheese.

TRIM IT DOWN:
I’m not going to pretend to make this health-food, but if you’re looking to trim the fat you could use a low-fat cream cheese or even quark (I love quark). Beyond that, I encourage sharing it with the neighbours so you’re not tempted to eat it all.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Vegetarian
  • Inexpensive

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5 from 2 votes
Chocolate beet cake with candied pecans and a whipped cream cheese frosting - all made from scratch - Diversivore.com
Decadent Chocolate Beet Cake with Candied Pecans
Prep Time
45 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Resting Time
2 hrs
Total Time
3 hrs 45 mins
 

That's right. Decadent, rich, chocolaty cake that just happens to be made even better thanks to roasted beets. Sounds crazy, but it makes for amazing cake.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Canadian, North American
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 692 kcal
Ingredients
Cake
  • 2 medium beets
  • 3/4 cup butter (= 1.5 sticks or 170g) at room temperature
  • 1.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 50 g dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa chocolate)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1.5 cups buttermilk
Candied Pecans
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • salt
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 tbsp beet puree (from above)
  • 450 g cream cheese (16 oz)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • salt
Instructions
Cake
  1. (This step can be done one or two days ahead of time). Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Clean the beets and wrap them in aluminum foil. Roast them until their knife-tender (about 1 hour), then allow them to cool.
  2. Using a food processor or the fine side of a box grater, shred enough beet to yield about 1 cup. You want the pieces to be quite small, so don't be afraid to shred the beets quite finely.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).
  4. Line two round 8 or 9 inch cake (see note) tins with parchment paper and gently flour the sides.
  5. Melt chocolate in a bain-marie (double-boiler) or in a bowl over hot water. Keep the chocolate warm, but don't allow it to scorch.
  6. Use a hand or stand mixer to cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until very fluffy.
  7. Beat in one egg at a time, then add vanilla, 3/4 cup (~180 g) shredded beets and melted chocolate.
  8. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder) and sift to aerate.
  9. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the beet mixture, a little bit at a time. Stop as soon as the batter is well-mixed and smooth. Spoon mixture into cake tins. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean (about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on it as ovens can vary quite a bit), then cool
Candied Pecans
  1. Spread the sugar evenly in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and heat on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Once the sugar darkens and begins to melt and bubble at the edges, add the vanilla, water, and salt to the pan. The caramel should sizzle dramatically. Once the mixture settles down a little, stir gently, and reduce the heat to a very low setting.
  2. Stir in the pecan pieces, ensuring that they're completely covered in caramel. Remove the candied pecans from heat and spread them out on a large, flat, heat-proof surface (e.g. a baking tray). Once cooled, break the clumps into small bits with a knife or by hand (but be careful - the sugar can be quite sharp).
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. Either squeeze as much juice as you can from the reserved beet puree, or incorporate the puree itself if it's finely grated enough (but be careful if you plan to pipe the icing, as small pieces will stick in some tips).
  2. Place the beet puree (or juice) in a large bowl along with the other frosting ingredients. Use a stand or hand mixer to whip until the icing is well combined and somewhat airy. Set aside to chill in the refrigerator.
Decorating
  1. If your cakes are a little domed, carefully slice off the rounded portion to make a flatter top.
  2. Mix the candied pecans with about 3/4 cup of the frosting. Spread this over the first layer of cake, then place the second layer on top.
  3. Frost the cake by spreading the frosting with a flat utensil, or if you prefer, by piping with a pastry bag. Serve immediately, or chill to set the frosting a bit more.
Recipe Notes

8 vs. 9 inch cake pans - I made this cake in 8 inch cake pans, and they were quite full, making for a longer cook time and a thicker cake. If you have 9 inch cake pans, you might want to use them and reduce your baking time somewhat. Alternatively, you could use three 8 inch pans to make a triple layer cake, once again keeping an eye on your baking time.

Comments

  1. HAPPY BLOG BIRTHDAY! What a way to celebrate! Not only does a moist and rich chocolate cake topped with cream cheese icing sound amazing, but you managed to make it interesting with the Beets and Candied Pecans. Fantastic! I am horrible and haven’t played around too much with beets other than borscht and cooked for salads, but I love the idea of adding them to something savoury as they definitely will lend a gorgeous colour to your creation.

    Here’s to the next amazing year for Diversivore! Wishing you all the continued success!

    1. Author

      Thank you Amanda!! I’m glad you like the cake (and my own little twist on it). I thought of you when I wrote up the pecans because I know you’ve made my hard caramel before (with whiskey!). Same basic process here. Beets are one of those ingredients that CAN be very versatile, but they take a bit of care and caution because of the powerful flavours and colours. Still, when they work – they work! I hope you’re inspired to try a few new things (not that there’s anything wrong with borscht and salad!).

      Cheers, and here’s to 2018!

  2. What a stunning cake! I have been wanting to use beets in cakes for a while but never got around to it. I did use beet purée in pancakes and they turned out beautiful, pink, and not beet-y at all.

    Happy blog day!!

    1. Author

      Thank you Julia! I hope you’ll give it a whirl. I LOVE the idea of the pink pancakes! Maybe I’ll give that a whirl for Valentine’s day this year. I bet my kids would get a kick out of that!

  3. Happy blogiversary! It will be difficult to eat roasted beets just on salad after seeing them in this gorgeous cake!

    1. Author

      Hah, thank you Melissa! While I can dream about a world in which cake is an acceptable alternative to salad, I’m afraid that might not work out so well for us in the long run. Still, I do appreciate the compliments. Cheers!

  4. Happy Blogthday to you!!!

    And beets in a cake?? Hmm, I had never considered it, but I suppose they used beets in the original version of red velvet cakes, right? You might make me a believer (…I was very close to typing beet-liever)

    1. Author

      This is a pun safe-zone Riz. You can always feel comfortable enough to be(et) yourself. I beet-lieve in you.

      I have read that beets were originally used in red velvet cakes, which is intriguing. Honestly, I’d like to see a return to that technique (I don’t dislike food colouring per se, but I feel like it’s a lazy way to make a recipe ‘special’).

      Thanks for the Blogthday wishes, and cheers to you!

  5. Happy blogiversary, Sean! Grateful to have you in the community and even more so as a friend.

    I love the idea of beets in a cake. I’ve never been huge on cake (more of a pie gal myself), but I do love beets! (I’ll be the one person on this planet that opts to eat cake *because* it has beets in it, ha!)

    Love the color!

    Can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.

    1. Author

      Thank you Dana! That means a lot to me – and it’s an amazing community to be in thanks to people like you.

      I have to admit, the idea of beets in a cake appealed to immediately. I think we might be somewhat similar – I’m not normally super-excited about cake, so I like to put some kind of a twist on it to make it more interesting. I think a lot of it has to do with icing – I just find most icings too sweet and cloying. But that presents a fun challenge in and of itself, and I had a lot of fun with this recipe. Go beets.

      Cheers, and here’s to 2018!

  6. Happy Blogiversary and congrats on your success over the past couple of years! I hope the Terrible two’s aren’t too hard on you 🙂 ! I so love veggies in my baked goods – it just makes me feel that much more healthy and less guilty. The icing is gorgeous and perfect for a Valentine’s Day treat!

    1. Author

      Thanks Terri! I’ve gone through the terrible twos with humans twice now… here’s hoping that blogs are a little easier. Haha.
      I have to say, before this I didn’t do a lot of veggie-based baking, but I’m tempted to try more often now. Dunno if I feel much healthier… but we’ll blame most of that on the icing! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

  7. Happy blogversary! This cake is so pretty! I’m not a cake lover, but do love beets, so this just might tempt me!

    1. Author

      Thanks Colleen! I love a good cake, but if I’m being honest I’ve never really liked MOST cakes – but that’s primarily because I find buttercream icings WAY too sweet. We usually decorate cakes with whipping cream around here – but the tangy/sweet cream cheese icing here worked quite nicely for me. Glad you like the beet element going on – Cheers!

  8. I love how you write your posts. There’s always so much more food science, technique, knowledge of flavor pairings, etc. involved in developing a recipe than people realize. Your passion for food always shines through. Wish your blog a happy birthday for me, and it had better saved me a piece of cake! I’d also settle for a spoonful of frosting.

    1. Author

      Thank you Nicole! Not that I’m digging for compliments or anything, but you’re right – there’s a LOT more work going on than most people realize. But hey, it’s work I love to do, and I adore the research necessary to really dig into the subject matter. Thank you so much for the kind words and wishes for the future. And you just let me know when you’re coming by and I’ll whip up something crazy! Hah!

  9. Ha! Basically. I had a little chortle for your chemistry pun. Happy Birthday to your lovely blog that is so chock full of food science and amazing explanations of things I only know to be true but can’t explain. Here’s to another 2 years! Congratulations!

    1. Author

      Thanks Leslie-Anne. I live for the Dad jokes, bad puns, and science nerdery (that’s a word, right?), so the intersecting section on that Venn diagram is pretty much my sweet-spot. Thank you for the kind birthday wishes!

  10. Sean, this is so, so beautiful! I LOVE the combination of beets and chocolate — offbeat, but the earthiness of the beets really compliments and enhances the richness of the chocolate. Wishing you the happiest 2nd Blogiversary and all the best in 2018. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Diversivore and. Cheers, my friend!

    1. Author

      Thank you Justine! Offbeat (or off-beet? Bah-dum-TCH!) is a great way to put it. It’s bizarrely endearing. I love when food combinations are so surprisingly successful. Thanks for the kind wishes, and all the best to you in 2018 too!

  11. I can’t believe Diversivore is only 2! It has been so fun following your cooking adventures. This cake sounds amazing and I love that the beet juice is used in the icing – it is so pretty.

    1. Author

      Thank you Kortney! I kind of can’t believe it myself. I guess I did work on it for a looong time before launching. I guess that was the gestation period. Hah!
      Glad you like the cake. It was a lot of fun to make, and I’d definitely be eager to try using beet juice to colour desserts again!

  12. Happy blog birthday!!! What an awesome way to celebrate with such a gorgeous cake! I could eat beets in so many ways cause I love them so much. I bet they add such a lovely moistness to the cake. And your icing is perfect!! It’s almost (just almost) too pretty to eat 😉 Cheers to a fabulous year ahead!

    1. Author

      Thank you Dawn! I love beets too (though they weirded me out as a kid – not sure why). I’m glad you like the cake – and the icing! I actually like decorating cakes, but I’m not a big fan of most icings. I find buttercream overwhelmingly rich, and I tend to avoid it. This cream cheese frosting was a great balance – sweet but tangy, yet wonderfully easy to work with. Cheers to you too!

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