Wednesday, August 08, 2012

beetroot cake with cream cheese frosting

Here's something weird about me only a few people will know; I hate carrots, but I cannot keep my hands off carrot cake, both the Singaporean version (chai tow kway) and the western baked version. I will not touch a carrot in any other form, except maybe for carrot juice.

While many associate carrot cake with America as it was popularised by the Americans in the 1960s, food historians are pretty sure that sweet cakes containing carrots as a sugar substitute have existed in Europe since medieval times.

It was very popular in Britain during sugar shortages in World War Two and the carrot cake as we know it today, may have come from Norway. This though is in dispute (but of course it is, and I wouldn't expect anything less!) or so says Wikipedia

red sugar or "gula tanjung" the neon bright orange sugar eaten with putu mayam or string hoppers

So, why would I be replacing carrots with beetroot, if I like a good carrot cake well enough? Because I 've been on a carrot cake bender lately, since I ate a slice at a local coffee and cake chain about 3 weeks ago.  I don't advertise on my blog, but let's just say that the chain is pretty famous in these parts, for it's heavenly carrot cake. Since then, every time I see a carrot, I imagine an orange flecked cake reeking of cinnamon, crunchy with walnuts, stacked to the rafters with inches of cream cheese frosting.

I digress. I wanted to celebrate Singapore's birthday, but I wanted to do it with carrot cake, because I still haven't had enough but I wanted a red cake, with white frosting, to reflect the colours of our flag. Brilliant brainwave! Make a beetroot cake, packed with grated, lividly red beetroot, so I can ditch the red food colour!

But..... the best laid plans go awry. Should've known better. The gorgeous mulberry red of the batter, disappeared like mist in the sun, once baked. Even the bright orange sugar I used to bolster the colour of the batter didn't make any difference. The cake still tasted divine though. If you want a truly red cake, I think you would need to add at least 3 tsp red food colour, to the batter, maybe more.

how crayola makes crayons

And don't even try to tell yourself that this cake must be healthy with all that grated beetroot in it. You just know this is not doing you any favours by how fabulously good it tastes. The cake smells a little earthy straight out of the oven, because of the piles of beetroot, but once it has cooled completely, it smells absolutely mesmerising! Enough nattering, let's get on with how to make this wonderful, wonderful cake.

Use pecans please, if you can. I would not use any other nut in this; it's a magnificent match to the assertive beetroot. And a word about that sinful, sinful frosting. It's not a sugary one, it's C.H.E.E.E.E.S.Y, in the best possible way. How cheesy is it? Stir in 3 eggs, bake it and you would have cheesecake.

parchment squares tucked beneath the cake before frosting ensure your cake platter stays clean

happy birthday, young lady!
After everything's assembled and prettied up with swirls and twirls or smoothed down as seamless as a billiard ball, chill it at least 6 hours before you even bring it anywhere near a knife, which should only be a very sharp and serrated one. Cut the cake cold for crisply neat slices. Bake this beautiful cake. I love it only slightly less than I love my children. Don't get too close, or  you might want to bequeath all your worldly possessions to it.

Happy 47th Birthday Singapore and Happy National Day to all Singaporeans, wherever in the world you are. Majulah Singapura!!!

Beetroot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep 1 1/2 hr        Cook 1 hr        Yield 8 large slices

4 yolks
200 ml (1 cup) light vegetable oil (soy, canola or salad oil are best)
150 g (1 1/4 cup) brown sugar (I used the local red sugar called gula tanjung)
3 tsp vanilla extract or essence
200 g (2 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
360 g (3 cups) finely grated beetroot (from 1 1/2 medium peeled beetroots)
100 g (1 cup) fresh grated coconut
100 g ((1 cup) pecans (or walnuts) chopped or broken into small pieces
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Cream Cheese Frosting

500 g (2 blocks, 3 1/3 cups or 1 lb) cold firm cream cheese
75 g (1/2 cup) soft butter at room temperature
250 g (2 3/4 cups) icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven at 170 C (340 F) and grease and flour a deep 23 cm (9 in) springform or loose bottom tin.

Combine yolks, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture emulsifies and looks like mayonnaise. Set aside.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir well with a whisk. If baking soda is lumpy, rub it through a sieve into the flour mixture.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg and oil mixture, until well combined. Do not overmix. Fold the beetroot, coconut and pecans into the batter until well combined.

Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until you have stiff peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to loosen. Fold the remaining egg whites very gently into batter until well mixed.

Pour batter into cake tin and bake for about an hour or until a fine skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake.

Remove from oven and wait 5 minutes before overturning on a rack. Leave until cold before slicing cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. While cake cools, make frosting.

Make frosting. Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla in bowl of mixer and mix with paddle on medium low speed until well blended. Do not overmix.

Once mixture is well combined, add the sugar in 3 lots, until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will break down and become runny. Cover frosting and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Fill and frost cake. Place 1 cup frosting on bottom most cake layer and spread evenly to the edges. Top with middle layer of cake and spread with another cup of frosting. Place final layer on top of frosting and cover whole cake with a thin layer of frosting.

Chill cake and frosting for 30 minutes. Spread cake with a final thick layer of frosting and smooth surface or create swirls or waves as desired.

Chill cake at least 6 hours before slicing and serving. Store uneaten cake under a cover in refrigerator as cream cheese should not remain at room temperature for long periods.


  1. Ok I was thinking to use almonds in place of pecans when I started reading the post. But since I trust your suggestions, I would not replace pecans now. Beetroot cale is a brilliant idea, my kids dont like beetroots, but they do like a red cake. So who needs artificial colours when we have natural options like this? Wonderful cake...

  2. what a fabulous rendition of carrot cake... with beets! brilliant. love it.

  3. You don't like carrots? That's such a pity. I always have a bag of organic ones in the fridge and put it in almost everything. Have to remember not to do that when you come over for dinner :)

    Cream cheese frosting is my favorite and for that alone I am tempted to try this cake although I am the only person who eats beetroots around here. Maybe I should really make it and not tell to see if the rest would be enticed to eat it.

    Happy belated National Day to you! That picture with the candles and black background is stunning!

  4. I saw your book in Times, yesterday and found the way to your blog! This is oh so lovely!!! Thoroughly enjoyed this space and am happy to be subscribing to your posts! I do a bit of food blogging too, so please visit when you get time:) And this beetroot cake is definitely in my list of 'to do' stuff.

  5. This looks incredible! I was wondering just the other day what you could do with beetroot, since I've only tried them cold and with potatoes (Nordic-style). I've never seen bright orange sugar before,but your cake has this amazing warm vibrance to it - I'd say your attempts to keep the colour in worked pretty nicely, if not the way you planned. :)

    1. Thanks:) I liked the colour too, in the end. The sugar is probably dyed, though I've never researched it, but really, how often do you see such a colour in nature ? LOL

  6. Oh sweetheart, I love that you tried to bake me a red cake! I mean you and I both know all that rot about Singapore's birthday was just a cover but that can be our secret. So anyway, my 6 year-old, sitting next to me, saw your cake, fell promptly in love with it and demanded I make one. And I'm not a beetroot fan, so I need to know how much of the flavour comes through, or would I be better off baking a carrot cake and colouring it red? I'm not above cheating, you know.

    1. Wow! Did I really miss your day? :( Well, colour me sheepish! Hope it was fabulous babes :) Anyway, the beetroot earthiness honestly does not come through, after the cake has mellowed overnight. When it comes out of the oven, it still smells a little beetrooty, and I was a bit worried, but the next day, I ate two whole wedges on my own, then ate about a third of hubby's extra big wedge, a minute later (for shame *wince*) Trust me, you won't know you're eating beetroot cake, if you don't know you're eating beetroot cake ;) My mum HATES carrot cake, but she happily ate a modest wedge of this. Of course, I did not tell her what she was eating. She thought it was some kind of kinky red velvet ROFL

    2. Oh no, don't worry, my birthday is long gone. I just knew if you were baking a RUBY RED cake, it would obviously be with me in mind, you know, because you love me 'n all. But sure, we can pretend it was about patriotism if you like. ;-)

  7. What a stunning and delicious looking cake! I'm going to try the recipe but cannot find a raw beetroot anywhere here in Spain! I was wondering, do you think I can use an already boiled beetroot instead? :)

    1. Hi Sabina, thank you for your lovely comment.

      Yes I think you could use precooked beetroot though the texture of the cake will probably be denser and the cake height will be slightly reduced. If it is still quite firm, you can grate it coarsely. If it is cooked until very tender, almost mushy, then mash it finely before adding to the batter. You should drain it thoroughly first or your batter may be too damp and the cake will not rise as much. You may want to add an additional 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp baking soda, to help the cake rise better.

      Hope this helps :)

  8. Your blog is a new favorite ~ this cake looks outstanding!


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