painting shows a Mexican chocolate beet bundt cake with birthday banner.

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes I think I am wacko. Having gotten up to roll and fill Nazook, an Armenian pastry, before breakfast, I lingered in the kitchen to make a cake for someone who isn’t here and isn’t going to be here — isn’t a definition of whacked doing things at the behest of people who aren’t there?

Let me explain. There is this blogger who goes by the name of Movita Beaucoup. She challenged all comers to bake her a birthday cake and send her a photo by midnight. She promised us prizes. If you are reading this before 10 PM on Friday you still have time to get in on the action: just bake a cake and submit a photo of it to Miss Movita by midnight in your time zone.

Anyway, cakes are not my thing. How many times in the life of this blog have I said I prefer pie to cake? Many. I like to bake. I like to bake bread and pie and pastry as long as it is not too fiddly. But I couldn’t resist baking a cake for Miss B. because she makes me laugh and because she has said that someday she would like to own a Kale Chronicles painting. Besides, she writes about running from bears and worrying that the bathtub will fall through the floor.

When I met Movita (Well, I haven’t actually met her) here in the blogosphere she was carrying on about her need for an iPhone, I believe — some fool bit of modern technology to help her through culinary school. I joined in the chorus of readers offering her congratulations on signing up for a culinary program and informing her husband, charmingly called “2.0,” that she needed an iPhone. I don’t even have a cell phone of my own.

In my childhood, Mom baked us birthday cakes or cupcakes, any flavor we requested. I used to look at all of the cake pictures in our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to think about what I wanted. That was before I figured out that I could request a birthday pie instead, and before my brothers figured out that they could have a fancy whipped cream cake from Virginia Bakery or an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. I remember relatively few cakes from those days, chiefly the igloo cake Mom made for Kevin’s birthday, an excuse to cut cake layers in half, frost the cake with white icing and upholster it with the cocktail sugar cubes my Dad kept in a secret location. This cake was the stuff of kid dreams, an entire cake covered with cubes of sugar meant to look like blocks of ice.

I have more sophisticated cake dreams now: I have eaten cakes from Tassajara bakery full of mocha buttercream. I have made genoise soaked in rum (twice). But I am still not a cake baker: I don’t own a piping bag and I don’t think fooling with frosting is fun. Plus, I write a blog featuring seasonal cooking and I’m not about to declare it Cake Season.

One of my pet peeves in baking fads is the popular red velvet (or blue velvet or green velvet) cake, which requires one to use vast amounts of red food coloring to produce a chocolate cake that was more appealing when it was left to look like chocolate instead of a vampire’s breakfast. What can I say? I have gray hair and I don’t think ingesting food dye is good for you. Many people, including my late brother, are allergic to food dye, or go berserk when they get it (No, I have not been sipping from the Schilling bottle). Now watch me find out that Movita’s favorite cakes are velvet cakes….

Fortunately, it is beet season, and I have learned to make a cake featuring a dark red batter, owing to the presence of pureed beets. Before you get upset, please remember that beets are often grown to make sugar and sugar is a valid ingredient in cake. This cake is chock-full of things people call superfoods, including beets, chocolate, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil, as well as the usual suspects of eggs and flour. I considered making it with ground almonds to make it gluten-free, but I am not having the kind of a week that bodes success with those sorts of experiments.

I first made this cake from a recipe at recipezaar, reprinted in my farm newsletter by the folks at Riverdog Farm, but I have messed with it — you knew I was going to, didn’t you? I incorporated part of an egg yolk I had left from this morning’s egg wash and I wanted to use Mexican chocolate for its distinct flavor. Then I needed to add cocoa because Mexican chocolate is sweeter than the chocolate the recipe called for and I scanted the sugar. I added some cinnamon as well.

To make this cake, you will need at least a cup of pureed beets. I recommend preparing them ahead of time: you can boil or steam or roast them. Let them cool, remove their skins, and whirl them in your blender or food processor. I will not go into the five times I had to clean the stove or the seventeen times I washed my hands while preparing this recipe — if you need to have your all-white kitchen white at all times, do not make this cake.

For the brave, fun-loving and vegetable-minded, read on:

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake

Preheat oven to 35o.

Rub a bundt pan with olive oil and dust it with a mixture of cocoa powder and ground cinnamon in lieu of flour

Cook, peel and puree 1 cup of beets (I used five small red ones) until completely smooth.

Melt one tablet of Mexican chocolate (3.15  oz) in your microwave and combine with beet puree.

Measure 1 cup olive oil, 1 and 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and blend until light-colored.

While you wait, sift 1 and 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa into a small bowl with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Whisk to blend.

Add to oil mixture 1 egg yolk, then 3 eggs, one at a time, beating smooth between each addition.

When eggs are fully incorporated, add the chocolate-beet mixture. Then add flour-cocoa mixture in two or three additions.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Place on middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This is a moist cake: mine took forty minutes to bake through.

Now the hard part: for best results, let the cake sit covered overnight. This helps the flavors blend. Olive oil cakes tend to get better as they age, so age it for twenty-four hours before digging in. I’ll be taking mine to a potluck tomorrow afternoon.

To Movita Beaucoup: I made this healthy for you, within reason. But I am not there to stop you if you want to eat it with a little cacao nib whipped cream or a puddle of caramel sauce. Just saying. Happy Birthday!

Food notes: I used plain old red beets in this cake, but you can fiddle with the color by using mixtures of red and yellow beets. The batter is a dark, vibrant purple-red, but the cake bakes up red-brown. If you don’t have the extra egg yolk, leave it out — no one will miss it. Cinnamon is fat-soluble — that’s why I put it in with the oil — if you want to incorporate it more smoothly, you could mix it with the sugar before adding the sugar to the oil.

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