What Is a Beet Cake?

Cynde Gregory

Cooks with a beet cake recipe tend to keep it a closely guarded secret. This isn’t because they aren’t willing to share it but because children, spouses, and even guests who aren't told the reasons the chocolaty cake is unbelievably sweet, moist, and flavorful is due to the fact it contains beets. The truth is, they won’t know unless they’re told because there is nothing in the taste of the final product that would lead a diner to believe it contains a vegetable.

Beets provide surprising sweetness to a cake.
Beets provide surprising sweetness to a cake.

The inclusion of a good amount of beet puree in a sweet baked treat really shouldn’t be such a surprise. After all, no one turns up a nose at zucchini bread, banana bread, or carrot cake. Adding beet puree to cake batter makes it both denser and richer as well as utterly, delectably moist.

Beets can be added to an orange-flavored batter, resulting in a deep pink cake.
Beets can be added to an orange-flavored batter, resulting in a deep pink cake.

While beets do an amazing job of enhancing the flavor of chocolate, not all beet cakes are chocolate. Plain cake batter that has been enhanced with orange juice and zest is the perfect candidate for a beet-based addition. After all, savory beets have been served in an orange glaze for centuries. Beet puree tends to deepen the color of a chocolate cake, but creating a beet cake that is chocolate free allows the gorgeous red color to tinge the cake a gorgeous, deep pink.

As unusual as beet cake sounds, it’s been a favorite for decades. Farm wives who knew the importance of finding a use for everything often included beets in their cake recipes. In addition to chocolate, white, and orange cakes, beet puree works well with lemon, ginger, and red velvet cake. Like the cooks of today, there’s a good bet that great grandmother didn’t bother to mention the kids were eating veggies when it was time for dessert.

The wise cook experiments with a range of beet cake icing. One tried-and-true favorite is cream cheese frosting made with a splash of cream and powdered sugar. Variations on this type of icing abound; adding lemon or orange zest and a splash of their juices instead of the cream is one option. Another is to flavor the frosting with a few drops of orange, vanilla, or almond extract. Some cooks add crushed walnuts or pecans for crunch.

A simple chocolate frosting is another option. Still another way to go is a frosting made with cream and powdered sugar as well as a little beet juice. No matter how it’s sliced, beet cake is a sure hit at any table.

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