Autumn is my favourite time of year for cooking – although all the seasons have their moments, of course. For a food lover, going to the farmer’s market at this time of the year is an exciting experience and provides an intense visual feast for the eyes as there is such an incredible array of ingredients on offer. Myriad squash varieties with their weird shapes and vibrant coloured skin, jewel-like rainbow chard, deep greens and sumptuous purples of bobbly textured kales and cavolo nero, the dazzling green of the almost genetically modified looking romanesco cauliflower … And that’s just some of the vegetables.
It was a horribly grey and damp day and I wanted to lift my spirits by baking with one of the vegetables I had bought from my recent visit to the market. If you’ve read any of my other recipes you might have picked up that I’m partial to a bit of beetroot. I had some beautiful golden beetroot in the cupboard and although I had already used some in a beetroot, feta, pear and walnut salad I wanted to use the rest in a cake. I had previously tried Nigel Slater’s chocolate and beetroot cake and thought it was heavenly but I wanted the sunshine golden colour to shine through and I didn’t want to use chocolate. I came across another of his recipes for beetroot and seed cake, which I have adapted for the recipe here.
Instead of cinnamon from the original recipe, I daringly used cardamom. I had not paired beetroot with cardamom before but thought the subtle earthiness of the beetroot and warmth of the spice would go rather well. The aroma whilst I was baking was gorgeous and the resulting cake was beautifully moist with a satisfying crust around the outside. It had a gentle beetroot flavour with just a hint of cardamom and the flecks of seeds provided some additional texture. Lovely! It even got the thumbs up from my 13-year-old niece who had serious reservations. It definitely put a smile back on my face and the day didn’t seem so grey and miserable anymore.
Butter or oil, for greasing
225g self-raising flour
Half tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
Half tsp ground cardamom (approx 7 pods crushed)
180ml sunflower oil
225g light muscovado sugar
3 free-range eggs, separated
150g raw beetroot, peeled
Juice of half a lemon
75g sultanas or raisins
75g mixed seeds (such as sunflower, pumpkin and linseed)
For the icing
8 tbsp icing sugar
A little lemon juice or orange blossom water
Poppy seeds, to garnish
1. Preheat the oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4. Lightly grease a rectangular loaf tin (20cm x 9cm x 7cm) then line the base with baking parchment.
2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cardamom (or cinnamon).
3. Beat the oil and sugar using an electric whisk or in a food mixer until well combined, then introduce the egg yolks one by one, mixing after you add each egg yolk. Grate the beetroot coarsely and fold it into the egg mixture, then add the lemon juice, sultanas (or raisins) and the assorted seeds. Mix until combined.
4. Fold the flour and raising agents into the egg mixture whilst the machine is on a slow setting.
5. Beat the egg whites until light and almost stiff. Fold gently but thoroughly into the cake mixture, using a large metal spoon (a wooden one will knock the air out). Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, covering the top with a piece of foil after thirty minutes. Test with a skewer for doneness. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky. Leave the cake to settle for a good twenty minutes before turning out of its tin onto a wire cooling rack.
6. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lemon juice or orange blossom water to achieve a consistency where the icing will run over the top of the cake and drizzle slowly down the sides (about three teaspoonfuls), stirring to remove any lumps. Drizzle it over the cake and scatter with the poppy seeds. Leave to set before eating.