This weekend, I went to the farmer's market and spent wayyyy more than I should have on various fruits, vegetables and flowers. I know I'm supposed to be saving my money for the upcoming kitchen renovation, but I couldn't help it! After a winter of baking with chocolate and other winter flavors, it was like I was drawn to all the bright and shiny colors. I walked away with purple dinosaur kale, first-of-the-season Oregon strawberries, and these pretty beets:
But can I be honest here? I've never been the world's biggest fan of beets. Their earthy flavor reminds me too much of the times that I've accidentally gotten dirt in my mouth. According to Erlend the boyf, this flavor comes from geosmin, an organic compound produced by microbes in the soil. Fun fact — geosmin is also responsible for that distinct earthy smell after it rains after a dry spell. I used to think that was just in my head, but apparently it's totally a thing. Huh.
In any case, although I still pick out all the raw beets from my salad, I've been interested in using beets as a natural food dye in some of my desserts. I know that there's all kinds of crazy food coloring and gels available now, but nothing really beats the 100% natural magenta color of beets (HA! Did anybody catch that pun there?). I roasted the fresh beets I'd bought earlier that day from the farmer's market to draw out the vegetable's natural sweetness; I then pureed the roasted beets and mixed it in with lemon juice and confectioner's sugar to make the hot pink glaze for these miniature lemon pound cakes:
At the farmer's market, Erlend and I had also bought two HUGE hanging baskets full of trailing fuchsia flowers for our front porch. I swear that each basket weighed around 30 pounds! Transporting the planters back home was a little tricky — we lost many flowers and petals along the way, most of which ended up strewn across the back of Erlend's car. Erlend salvaged the buds and stuck them in a bowl of water, hoping that they'd still open and flower. Later that evening, I peered into the bowl and decided that they'd look better on my pound cakes:
Some baker's notes:
- The last time I made mini cakes, I baked a rectangular cake and used a cake ring to stamp out the cakes. This time around, I shelled out for a mini cake pan! The cake pan produced six 5-inch cakes. If you don't want to buy a mini cake pan, you can also use a jumbo muffin pan or a regular muffin pan — a regular muffin pan will produce twice as many cakes.
- If you're feeling a little iffy about using beets in desserts, you can substitute out the beet puree with the same amount of pomegranate or cranberry juice in the glaze recipe. Using fruit juice will give you the same vivid color, but keep in mind that the cakes will have a slightly different flavor depending on what you use.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- zest from 2 lemons
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) sour cream
(makes around 1 cup)
- 1 medium beet
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare your mini cake pan by spraying each cavity with baking spray; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, gently whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoons baking powder until well combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and the zest from 2 lemons. Paddle the two ingredients together on the mixer's lowest speed for a minute or so — this will release the oils from the lemon zest and infuse into the sugar. After a minute, add 1 cup unsalted butter and increase the mixer to medium speed. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- While butter and sugar is creaming, combine 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 cup sour cream in a large liquid measuring cup. Gently whisk together until combined.
- With the mixer on medium speed, alternately add the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step) in three batches and the wet ingredients (from the 4th step) in two batches, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat until the batter is just combined, before scraping down the sides of the bowl and folding in the rest of the unmixed ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula.
- Use a cookie dough scoop to to scoop approximately 1/2 cup of batter into each prepared muffin cavity. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops of the cake appear matte and the shiny center has disappeared — do not bake until the cakes are golden, or they'll be too dense and dry. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes before turning them out onto the wire rack to cool completely. Allow the cakes to cool completely before glazing.
- Preheat the oven to 450 (F).
- Peel the skin from 1 medium beet and cut into quarters. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until tender. Once tender, allow the beet to cool in the pan on a wire rack until cooled completely.
- Once the beet is completely cooled, combine the beet quarters with 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice in the bowl of a blender or a food processor. Blend on high until the beets form a smooth puree. Strain the puree into a small bowl — you should have 1 - 2 tablespoons of bright pink beet-lemon juice.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the juice to a bowl containing 1 cup confectioner's sugar. Whisk to combine until completely smooth. If your mixture is still lumpy, you can add more juice one teaspoon at a time, but be careful not to add too much at once or your glaze will be too liquidy. Use immediately — if you wait too long, the glaze will set and be difficult to work with.