March 27, 2013

Beet Mini Cakes (Daring Bakers' Challenge)

Beet Mini Cakes with Sour Cream Frosting and Beet Roses

A couple weeks ago, while out at a restaurant with friends, I tried a chocolate beet cake for dessert.  It was ok - it tasted nice and chocolaty, but it didn't have any beet flavor, which left me a little underwhelmed.  A couple days later, I discovered that the Daring Bakers' challenge for this month was to use vegetables in our baking.  I knew what I must do: create a beet cake that does taste like beets, and see if it is any good.

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers' challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!

Beet Mini Cakes with Sour Cream Frosting and Beet Syrup
Since chocolate can be a very powerful flavor, and I didn't want my cake to taste overwhelmingly of chocolate, I decided to make a straight beet cake.  I started with my walnut carrot cake recipe, but used roasted beets instead of boiled carrots.  I also cut out the spices, since I wanted the beet flavor to be the feature of the cake.

My first test of this recipe started out great - the batter was a beautiful, natural deep pink and the beet flavor was strong and quite nice.  As the cake baked, I noticed the outside was turning yellowish-brown.  I figured that was just a bit of a browning effect on the cake.  Then, when the cake was done, I removed it from the oven, and cut into it... had turned a yellow-green color.  I was very very confused.  I was so confused, I briefly considered the possibility that some weird kind of cake thief had come through my window and swapped my lovely beet cake for another, inferior cake.

On the bright side, this cake (which I was still assuming was left by some insane cake thief) was quite tasty - very moist, super light, and subtly beet-flavored.  Possibly one of my favorite cakes ever.

So, I tried again.  This time, I made some cupcakes.  I added food coloring to most of the cupcakes (to see if that color would stay) but set aside one cupcake without any food coloring.  Going into the oven, they looked virtually the same.  After coming out, the food-colored cupcakes were pink, the naturally-colored one was yellow-green.  At this point, I accepted that there was no cake thief - I only had science to blame.

Turns out, beets turn kind of blue-ish in the presence of a base.  Baking soda (in water) is basic.  It makes sense that the blue-ish beets + the yellow cake = yellow-green.  Not wanting to sacrifice the nice light-ness of the cake imparted by the baking soda, and not wanting to mess with the pH and potentially ruin my new favorite cake, I just dumped a whole bunch of food coloring into these mini cakes to make them red.  I'd like to come back to this recipe and test some different things so that I can get the nice, natural red color in my cake (it just seems silly to dump red food coloring into an already-red batter).  I found a useful post on The Big Bake Theory that looks intriguing.

Candied Beet Rose
So far, I've made decorative roses out of chocolate plastic, fondant, and marzipan.  For these mini cakes, I decided to expand my repertoire to include candied beet roses.  I made these by cutting flower shapes out of raw beets, simmering them in a sugar syrup, shaping them into a rose, and finally, baking them so that they hold their shape.  I've included a tutorial on how to make these at the bottom of this post.  They're super fun and very tasty, but do require quite a bit of work.  And while making them, you will get very sticky - I managed to get beet sugar syrup in my hair somehow.  The leftover beet sugar syrup (the stuff that didn't get in my hair) was also really delicious drizzled over the cake.

Beet Mini Cakes with Sour Cream Frosting and Beet SyrupI decided to frost this cake with a sour cream frosting, which really worked well with this lightly sweet cake.  I really really liked this cake - it's incredibly moist, the beet flavor makes it interesting, and it's not too sweet, even with the frosting.  Everyone who's tasted this, even people who don't typically like beets, have said they also liked it.  This recipe is a winner!

I made these cakes "mini" to add an extra bit of fanciness to them - they're like something you'd have at a restaurant.  

Beet Mini Cakes
Makes two 9" round cakes, which can be cut using any cutter into mini cakes.

Ingredients for the Cake

12 ounces red beets, roasted, peeled, and chopped into squares
9 ounces water
3 cups (342 grams) cake flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
red food coloring (optional)

Ingredients for the Frosting
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon honey
1¼ cups powdered sugar

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. Line two 9" round cake pans with parchment paper.  Coat with a thin layer of oil and flour.In a food processor or blender, combine the roasted beets and the water.  Blend until smooth.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  4. Beat the eggs and sugar together on low speed until combined.  
  5. Add the honey, vegetable oil, melted butter, vanilla extract, and food coloring (optional) and beat until combined.
  6. Add the dry ingredients in three batches and beat on low until well mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl after each batch.
  7. Add the beet puree and beat on low until combined.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  10. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  11. To make the frosting, whip the butter, sour cream, vanilla, and honey until smooth.  Add the sugar, a little at a time and whip until well mixed.
  12. Level the cakes and cut shapes out of them using any cutter you desire.
  13. Frost in between cake layers and on the top, and finish with a candied beet rose if desired (see below for a tutorial on how to make them).

How to Make Candied Beet Roses

1.  Wash a medium-sized beet and cut off the leaves and end.

2. Slice the beet as thin as possible.  You'll need 3-4 slices per rose, so slice as many as you need.  A mandoline is best for getting really thin slices.

3. Using a five-petal flower cutter, cut flower shapes out of each beet slice.  I used the flower cutter that came with Wilton's gum paste and fondant kit, but you could also use something like this cutter.

4. Cut a couple thin strips (about ¼ inch wide) out of the leftover beet slices.  These will be used as the center of your roses.

5. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water to a simmer.  Once all the sugar has dissolved, add the beet flowers and strips.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

6. While your beets are cooking, preheat your oven to 275° F and prepare some aluminum forming cups to help your beet roses keep their shape.  Find something round and small-ish (1-2 inches in diameter) that has nice concave shape.  I had some plastic forming cups in my fondant kit, but you could also use an empty egg carton.

7. Cut out a piece of aluminum foil and press it into that thing you found (whatever it may be) so that the aluminum foil takes on its shape.  Spritz the aluminum foil with a little oil to keep the rose from sticking to it, and poke a small hole into the bottom of the aluminum foil cup.

8. Once your beets are done cooking, remove them from the sugar syrup and place them on a piece of parchment paper.  Try to drain as much of the syrup from them as possible.  If you'd like, keep the sugar syrup to drizzle on your cakes (it's very tasty).

9. Using a knife, cut slits in between each of the "petals".

10. As soon as the beets are cool enough to handle (just a couple minutes), take one of the beet strips and fold it in half twice (so that it is roughly square-ish).  Stick a toothpick through the longer end of it.  You'll want to work quickly here, because the beets will become harder and harder to handle as they cool (my picture quality degrades a bit here because I had to work quickly - sorry!).

11. Remove a flower from the parchment paper.  Poke the free end of the toothpick through the center, and thread the flower down the toothpick until it is next to the center strip.  Press each petal around the center, using the sticky-ness of the syrup to hold it in place.

12. Repeat with 2 or 3 more flowers.  With each flower, press the petals less into the rest of the rose - as if it's "opening" a bit more with each layer.  If the petals get too "squished", you can separate them with another toothpick.

13. Place the rose into an aluminum forming cup, using the hole in the middle to allow the toothpick through.  Carefully remove the toothpick.  You can then put the aluminum forming cup into a cupcake pan.

14. Repeat steps 10-13 with the rest of the petals, until you have the desire number of roses.

15. Place the cupcake pan with the forming cups and roses in the oven.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the roses are pretty firm.  Allow to cool, and then carefully peel the aluminum away.  The bottoms will still be a bit sticky, so place the roses upside-down to dry out for a bit.

16. Decorate your favorite beet dish with the roses!  I made roses not just for these mini cakes, but also for a beet salad I made.  Pretty!


  1. Beautiful cakes! Beet roses are geogreous! Great job on the challenge!

  2. Beet root roses are too good.

  3. These mini cakes are so gorgeous! The beets gave these cakes a fantastic color, and I LOVE the little roses! Awesome job!

  4. WOW!!! they are so perfect! Looks great!

  5. Those look like they turned out great. I am glad they are tasty, I would love to try them. I was excited, green cake! But it's not everyone's favorite color. The roses are beautiful, great tutorial.
    Also, beet salad was delicious!


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