Describing herself as a modern artisan baker, her designs are exciting, innovative and quite simply mouth-watering. And making them is a complete pleasure. Although she admits that some of the recipes and techniques can be quite involved, most aren’t actually complicated. All you need to do is follow the rules – which she lays out clearly and plainly – and everything should work out just fine.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This is, after all, a cake that’s made largely from beetroot (beets) and polenta (a ground cornmeal that’s similar – I believe – to grits), and I was curious to see how the ingredients were going to physically mix together, as well as how the baking process would work, and what it would actually taste like.
It’s great when there’s time to experiment like this – testing the versatility of ingredients, as well as learning something new, expanding my understanding and knowledge of baking. The mixture itself was very (very) wet. And the cocktail stick never did come out completely clean, even with an extra 15 minutes cooking time. But that didn’t seem to matter. This was no exception to her other recipes. It really was fun to make, and the result was definitely worth any effort and / or uncertainty.
Basically, this cake is different. I’ve never made – or tasted – anything quite like it before. (If you’ve ever had beetroot and chocolate cake, then it’s really nothing like that). Lily Vanilli calls it a cake for grown-ups… and I totally agree. But it really is absolutely delicious. It’s not quite savoury. But it’s not exactly sweet either (and it’s definitely not sugary, which immediately means that it’s more to my liking than many cakes). It also has an interesting texture – very slightly coarse – and although it’s surprisingly light, it remains incredibly moist. For me, the mascarpone topping is (quite literally) the icing on the cake. This beautiful, soft, creamy Italian cheese really is the perfect accompaniment for this unusual, delightful creation, and although you can mix it with some icing sugar and vanilla before spreading (if you really want to), I think it’s a shame to sweeten it in that way.
The colour – of course – is extraordinary. It took a few days for us to eat the entire cake (which we stored in an airtight container in the fridge), and over that time the mascarpone topping got pinker and pinker until it was almost magenta in colour. Beautiful!
Recipe: Beetroot Cake with Mascarpone and Raspberries
500g raw beetroots, peeled and finely grated
This really needs to be done with a food processor with a fine grating attachment (otherwise it’s really, really messy)
120ml olive oil
60ml freshly squeezed smooth orange juice
80g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
6 tbsp runny honey
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
360g (instant) polenta
Although polenta is similar to grits, I’m not sure a substitution would work here. I think it would probably depend on the texture, which should probably be fairly finely-ground
4 eggs, separated
50g light brown sugar
Raspberries (or other fresh fruit)
A dash of beetroot juice to colour
Handful of chives, chopped
Line two 18cm round cake tins.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / gas mark 6.
Combine the beetroot, oil, juice, ginger, raisins, honey, vanilla, lemon zest and spices in a bowl. Put the baking powder in a separate bowl and stir to combine.
Beat the egg yolks with the brown sugar until creamy and increased in volume – about 4 minutes. Stir into the beetroot mix.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir the polenta evenly into the beetroot mix, then fold in the egg whites.
Divide the mixture between the two prepared cake tins and level out to the edges. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Stir the beetroot juice into the mascarpone, and spread over the cake rounds. Add the raspberries, sandwich together and sprinkle with the chopped chives.