Andreae Prozesky’s heart beats chocolate beet cake with blood as red as the envy of every other woman.
Like most people, I have never held a human heart in my hand.
What? You have? Okay, so maybe you’re a cardiologist or a vampire slayer or something. But me, I’m a writer. My contact with the human heart happens entirely on the metaphorical level.
And still, while peeling a still-warm cooked beet last night, I couldn’t help but think, “good God, this is what a human heart feels like.”
It was just an impulse, mind you, and I might need a cardiologist or a vampire-slayer to provide a little verification. I am not suggesting that any of you try to get your hands on any human hearts just for the sake of comparison.
I had boiled some beets for the sake of making a ridiculous chocolate-beet cake. I had the idea years ago when I saw a recipe for parsnip spice cake in a magazine. I was in the throes of a beet fixation at the time, and figured that beets and chocolate should be friends. I’m not sure what my rationale was: perhaps it was that beets go well with oranges, and oranges go well with chocolate, so it only made sense that chocolate-beet cake would be the best thing ever.
I never got around to completing the experiment. My beet fixation subsided for a few years (I think I got heavy into the Swiss chard), and then came back in full force a week ago. Drifting through the grocery store produce section, bored with mealy nectarines and dead tired of the teardrop tomatoes that were so novel in July, I found myself among the root vegetables — the harbingers of fall. There, in burgundy-veined bundles, the beets were saying, “Summer is over, dude. Go home. Put on your knee socks. Bake a cake.”
And there you go. That’s how I found myself slipping the skins off of a plate of cooked beets last night. Usually I roast beets, and eat the peels and all, and sometimes I grate them up raw, but I had never peeled them before. Even though the cookbook I consulted said that the peels would “slip off easily” after the beets had been fully cooked and cooled, I couldn’t have anticipated just how easily, and what an odd sensation it would be. The skins practically rubbed right off, and underneath they were incredibly smooth to the touch. That they were still warm made the whole thing seem… cannibalistic. I mean, beets are the darkest shade of red, and they’re the size of a fist, and they’re heavy and solid, the way I imagine a heart would be.
And isn’t it true that the heart is something that most of us just imagine? What we know comes from medical dramas and pop songs. Aside from some blind trust in charts of the circulatory system, I have no real proof that mine is there. And yet a vegetable – red, earthy, warm – can be for all the world “like a human heart.”
I went ahead and made my cake, and it was indeed delicious. If you find the idea of blood-red cake batter off-putting, then skip it (or maybe substitute parsnips). It’s a moist cake which would stand up to a cream cheese frosting, or you could just go the easy route and top it with some ice cream and chocolate sauce, like I did. The beets add a sweetness and depth to the flavour, and they’re really good for you, which means that you have total license to eat this cake for breakfast. In which case you might want to leave the booze out.
Or not. It’s your breakfast.
Chocolate beet cake
2 beets, cooked, peeled, and puréed (1 c. puree)
¾ c. brown sugar
¼ c. canola oil
¼ c. Grand Marnier, or bourbon, or orange juice
100g 70% bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 ½ c. unbleached white flour
¼ c. cocoa
1 t baking soda
½ t sea salt
½ c. orange juice
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat together beet purée, sugar, oil, Grand Marnier (or juice), and melted chocolate. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add the flour mixture to the beet-chocolate mixture in thirds, interspersing with orange juice. Beat well between additions. Pour batter into a greased 8” spring-form cake pan (wrap pan with foil so it doesn’t drip all over your oven). Bake 40 minutes or so, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack.
– Andreae Prozesky