Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake

chocolate-beet cake

It’s interesting reading some of the talk regarding if the internet is ready to replace cookbooks. Sure, there are people furiously clicking around wherever they can for a chocolate cake recipe. And there are hundreds of thousands of chocolate cake recipes that you can find using a search engine. But to me, that’s not enough. When I want to spend my precious time and funds making something to eat, I don’t want to merely find a recipe. There’s nothing compelling about a downloadable list of ingredients. It just leaves me cold. I want the author or writer to tell me about the recipe, what inspired them to create it, or how it came about.


I want to know why someone chose that recipe, what twists they gave it, what made the cake or casserole they were making so special to them that they wanted to share it. Was it an unusual ingredient? Did they like the description they read of it elsewhere? Were they inquisitive about how a root vegetable from their garden could make its way into a chocolate cake?

When I had dinner with my publisher last spring in San Francisco, we talked about cookbooks, of course. And as I start a new one, I’m curious to how I want to present the recipes. Everyone is searching for recipes online nowadays and the mere mention of a Parisian pastry on Twitter can set off a stream of recipe requests. (I often wonder if people really think someone can respond with a recipe for a complicated French cake in a 140 character tweet.)


Perhaps the internet does make searching, and researching, easier, but it saddens me to see the large aggregator sites simply repositioning content all in the hopes of making a buck, just to create a profitable database. Although I write for a living, everyone I know who writes about food and recipes, from top-selling authors to people who work for small community-based publications, will invariably tell you that the main reason they work so hard to create recipes is because they really do want people to cook and bake from them.

beets chocolate-beet cake

Seeing how this blog has evolved into something more than I thought it would, with conversations running the comments, tips from people from all over the world, and being part of a vast network of other food blogs, which range from expats learning to negotiate the outdoor markets in Egypt to folks getting by in everyday American communities – I find the whole phenomenon interesting and enjoyable.

I read cookbooks and I read blogs (and write both), and the ones that catch my fancy nowadays are ones with an author’s voice in there. A story about something unusual – emotions, open and unguarded, are ingredients for the best writing. The most interesting dishes, the ones that make me want to pull out my mixing bowls, have a story behind them or offer a glimpse into another culture. They’re not a rote list of ingredients, oven temperatures, and cooking times.

chocolate-beet cake

After my dinner with, a few weeks later, a copy of Tender by Nigel Slater arrived in the mail. It was enormous and most importantly, it was exactly the kind of book that I’m talking about. And it a book that I wanted to spend some time in a comfortable chair with, savoring the recipes, the spontaneous, engaging, casual writing, and the gorgeous photos. I have an iPad, and possibly could have read it on that. But then I would have missed the thick, coarse paper, and the delicate lushness of the photographs would have gotten lost behind the shiny screen.

For me, this recipe popped forward as I turned the pages of this 580 page book, and I went with my intuition to make it. A moist, chocolate loaf cake smeared with thick crème fraîche and enlivened by the subtle crackle of poppy seeds. Count me in.

fresh beets chocolate-beet cake

I found the recipe not by scanning the Index looking for a recipe that sounded good. I started reading the book, Nigel Slater’s thoughts about gardening and the vegetables he’s raising behind his home, and that drew me into his world. Some of the gardening lore went over my head (my “garden” right now, in mid-winter, is a pot of dead mint on my roof) but he was writing about food and ingredients that he believed in, and the pictures were imperfect, real food, like the vegetables that come out of the ground of his garden.

chocolate-beet cake

What truly appealed to me most was Nigel Slater’s deep affection for his subject and his recipes, which was obvious in each and every word printed in the book. It’s intelligent and reflective, and makes me want to position myself on the sofa and continue to read through the pages, and the recipes. And perhaps give my rooftop garden another go in the spring. In the meantime, I’ll stick to making cake.

Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake
Eight to ten servings

Adapted from Tender by

I was attracted to this recipe because 1) I was intrigued but the words “moist chocolate”, and 2) It has beets in it. Because the author is British, superfine sugar (which is readily available there) is called for, which is called castor sugar. In France we have sucré semoule, but elsewhere you can simply whiz regular sugar in a food processor for about ten seconds until it’s fine.

I had a bunch of beets I was roasting so I used a couple of those, but for economy’s sake, you can boil the two beets or cook them as you prefer. You’ll need a scant 1 cup (250 g) of grated beet purée.

This cake is not overly sweet, which is good for those of you looking for more of a snack cake, rather than a towering, frosted dessert. Although the original recipe calls for chocolate that is 70% cacao solids, you can use one that is in the 50-60% range, depending on what’s available in your area. For those of you who can’t get crème fraîche, I suspect mascarpone would be interesting, or perhaps just sour cream. Or maybe just a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside

  • 8 ounces (240 g) beets, unpeeled, rinsed and scrubbed free of dirt
  • 7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (70% cacao solids), chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) hot espresso (or water)
  • 7 ounces (200 g) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 cup (135 g) flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (the darkest you can find, natural or Dutch-process)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) superfine sugar

1. Butter an 8- or 8 1/2 inch (20 cm) springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. Boil the beets in salted water with the lid askew until they’re very tender when you stick a knife in them about 45 minutes. Drain then rinse the beets with cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip off the peels, cut the beets into chunks, and grind them in a food processor until you get a coarse, yet cohesive, puree. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a cheese grater.)

3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring as little as possible.

4. Once it’s nearly all melted, turn off the heat (but leave the bowl over the warm water), pour in the hot espresso and stir it once. Then add the butter. Press the butter pieces into the chocolate and allow them to soften without stirring.

5. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl.

6. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter is melted. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, then stir the egg yolks together and briskly stir them into the melted chocolate mixture. Fold in the beets.

7. In a stand mixer, or by hand, whip the egg whites until stiff. Gradually fold the sugar into the whipped egg whites with a spatula, then fold them into the melted chocolate mixture, being careful not to overmix.

8. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.

9. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and reduce the heat of the oven to 325ºF (160ºC), and bake the cake for , or until the sides are just set but the center is still is just a bit wobbly. Do not overbake.

Let cake cool completely, then remove it from the pan.

Serving and storage: This cake tastes better the second day; spread with crème fraîche and sprinkle with poppy seeds shortly before serving. Or serve them alongside.

Related Recipes

German Chocolate Cupcakes

Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze

Devil’s Food Cake

Upside Down Cake

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Idiot Cake

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa Powder FAQs

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  • November 14, 2011 2:00pm

    Nigel Slater has some good recipes and I expect this one is no exception! Does it count as one of your veg servings per day ? :)

  • November 14, 2011 2:15pm

    Perfect: I was just cleaning my kitchen yesterday and found a couple of beets lying around…and I have everything else handy :)

  • November 14, 2011 2:26pm


    These are exactly my thoughts about food and books, ingredients and blogs. Thanks for putting it into words. A recipe is not a list of things but a set of emotions. A promise of something beyond fuel. Maybe that’s why Nigel never fails to grab my heart and tummy! Tender is perhaps the most beautiful book I own. It’s blissful to read through.

    And the cake is lovely!

  • November 14, 2011 2:40pm

    I’m so thankful we now have blogs to inspire us. I love cookbooks, but blogs are a wonderful supplement. Turns out, in addition to blogs and books I also love beets. The poppyseeded crème fraîche is calling my name. Oh sweet root vegetable dessert …

  • November 14, 2011 2:44pm

    I’ve never wanted to own a cookbook more than after reading your post David. Sounds positively charming and I can’t wait to see Nigel’s imperfect photos. On my way to amazon.

  • November 14, 2011 2:49pm

    I´m not a great lover of beetroot, in fact I can´t abide the stuff, but I have to say this cake looks so yummy perhaps I could put that little dislike aside.

    Come to think of it I never liked carrots too much but I loved carrot cake. Funny old life isn´t it!

  • November 14, 2011 2:53pm

    It’s funny how I was just having this thread in mind about cookbooks vs apps (i just saw an article on NYTimes ( about the topic and it got me thinking…I do want to relate to the recipes, I always make something in the kitchen because I feel like it and because I have something to say about it. Funny how a beet cake can inspire – for me beetcake was a first in many aspects cause I never used to eat beet…until I made that cake…

  • November 14, 2011 3:10pm

    Even if I have a food blog too, I rather prefer reading cook books than some reicpes on the Internet. It’s so much better for me to flip some pages and to smell paper. This cake really looks amazing!

  • November 14, 2011 3:14pm

    I couldn’t agree more about cookbooks. Even though I do Google for recipes, it’s for quick fix. There’s nothing like sitting down with a cookbook and getting lost in the adventure. I have tons of old church fund-raiser cookbooks that my mom collected over the years. Filled with great old recipes, yet sadly none tell a story. Just pages of recipe names, ingredients and instructions. I hate not knowing why Betty or Karen submitted that particular recipe. :)

  • Maggie
    November 14, 2011 3:39pm

    Some fifteen years ago I moved. Reluctantly I gave away and donated several hundred cookbooks. Four year later, I moved again…donated several hundred more to a local school. And, I will be moving once more in early 2012—so this weekend I started the culling process all over again. I figure I still have nearly 700-some books, 80% cookbooks and 20% on France! I’m at the point of not wanting to give up more. Enough.

    Oh, and then there is my collection of “Saveurs” magazines (French version) – neatly stacked from the first issue to 185. Weigh a ton, but every single one of them is moving with me!

    I follow blogs, often find great recipes online—but, I love MY books! From my very first Betty Crocker (in high school) to my pricy Alain Ducasse edition.

  • November 14, 2011 3:40pm

    This post is the perfect bridge between cookbooks and what I call “Internet food” — you had the joy and the pleasure of cooking from a gorgeous book, and then you wrote about it to share your own story, your own spin. This makes me want to pick up the book myself, and then to relate my experience with my blog readers.

    Domino effect. Delicious, delicious domino effect.

  • Jack
    November 14, 2011 3:45pm

    It’s funny, I made this recipe a few months ago (very good, I like the idea of putting “vegetables” in “dessert) but I found it on the Guardian’s website! where Nigel has a column with the recipe and his comment on why he is using certain ingredient for the 2-3 recipes of the column. It’s a win-win ! (but ya I do love cookery books, but they take up much space, and so many interesting books are published these days!)

  • November 14, 2011 3:49pm

    Jack: Yes, books do take up a lot of space (which is challenging to those of us who live in small city apartments) but some books just don’t work in an e-format, while others do. I think reference or technical books, or books that are mostly recipe-driven work well on tablet devices. But some books, like this one, really beg to be picked up and read as a book.

  • November 14, 2011 3:50pm

    I totally share your thoughts on the internet and cookbooks. I don’t have the patients to spend anymore time in front of a computer screen than I already do and would much rather sit down with a good cookbook and be transported to some place else, before getting into the kitchen and cooking.
    This cake looks and sounds amazing and something I’d love to try when we grow beets in our garden next.

  • Mary Claire
    November 14, 2011 3:59pm

    Cookbooks aren’t going away. I read mine the same way as you, David, front to back. It’s the stories behind the recipes that make them so interesting. And thank you for your writing, both the blog and your cookbooks. The act of writing is a generous one…giving a part of yourself to the world, and I appreciate getting a glimpse into yours.

  • Susan
    November 14, 2011 4:33pm

    I had a very good red velvet cake once that used beets and this post reminds me of it. I will definitely be trying this soon. Also, as my bookshelves can attest, I agree with you and many here that the physical cookbook in my hands is pure pleasure. A novel to be read in full. I am inspired by the fact that a new cookbook book store has just opened here in Seattle and is often packed with people who also love the real thing!

  • November 14, 2011 4:43pm

    I read a lot but have given all of my even most loved novels away to charity. It’s the only way I can fit my kids in the house. But the kids will just have to shove over when it comes to my cookbooks. I cannot see the point of buying a Kindle version of one. I also agree about those aggregator sites. I admit when I first began looking for recipes on the internet many years ago, I came away with the naive notion that Americans couldn’t cook. Oops, sorry. I know I was very wrong but my research was heavily based on a certain nameless gigantic recipe site with the word “all” in the title.

  • November 14, 2011 4:49pm

    David – I concur with you. There are so many recipes, websites and books out there, but I find myself gravitating to the ones with context. – What prompted the author to create the recipe? Why is it special to him/her? Did the author serve up the dish with a certain type of wine?

    That human quality/authentic voice excites me to cook vs. viewing cooking as a mere necessity to sustaining my pie hole.

    Thanks for doing what you are doing and allowing us to tag along for the ride;-)

  • November 14, 2011 5:13pm

    I love nothing more than sitting down with a new cookbook and reading the entire thing through. I like connecting with the author and relating to their cooking history and stories. Long live the cookbook!

  • November 14, 2011 5:33pm

    What a unique and inspirational recipe! I will forever treasure my cookbooks.

  • November 14, 2011 5:37pm

    Jen: I think you’re right-on about “context” – like those chef restaurants in Las Vegas, and elsewhere. There’s something a little uncomfortable about them – it’s like they were just set up as a business, whereas most restaurants (at least the ones I seem to enjoy best) are started by people who love to cook.

    Those big recipe sites feel that way and unless they’re curated, like Epicurious, I’m skeptical of them. You know there the recipes are vetted by a test kitchen whereas on those large, aggregator sites, they just find recipes online and cut and paste them, or they invite readers to do it for them by having “contests”. It’s irksome.

    Mary Claire: I like doing both and each is different. The blog is more spontaneous, whereas the books take a longer time and more production is involved. But the longer-term process is interesting and I get to work with some talented people and editors, who often prod me with different ideas.

    (Just a note for others who have chimed in, I like the concept of e-cookbooks and do think they work for some books. I wrote about them a while back in E-Cookbooks. They don’t go out of print either. I also think there’s a future in apps that teach cooking classes, demonstrate recipes, etc…and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as tablets become more common and affordable.)

  • Maja
    November 14, 2011 5:39pm

    my garden looks exactly like yours: a pot of dead, currently frozen mint.:)

  • November 14, 2011 5:45pm

    Small apartments and moving keep my cookbook collection small, but well-loved. I don’t see that changing. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll always have an affinity for print.

    Thanks for the recipe – not too sweet and a little unexpected. It made me miss having an oven, and think about an addition to my collection :)

  • November 14, 2011 5:47pm

    I recently read Nigel Slater’s memoir “Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger” and was instantly enchanted and engaged. I’m in school right now so I’m afraid to buy “Tender” because I know I won’t be able to put it down once I get started. “Tender” is my book of choice for winter break reading and I can hardly wait to turn in my last paper so I can get started. Thanks for sharing the beet cake recipe and giving me a taste of what lies ahead.

  • Kristin
    November 14, 2011 5:49pm

    I’ve got Ready for Dessert, not my laptop, sitting next to my bed.

  • deborah
    November 14, 2011 5:56pm

    Rather like the Chamberlain’s articles in the Gourmet’s of the 60’s and 70’s. There was always a story to tell. Not simply a litany of recipes.


  • November 14, 2011 5:57pm

    What a delightful way to detox. I shall try it. Beets are one of nature’s ways to clean our bodies of impurities. I am unsure if I should leave my website url. I do not make income from my site or take donations for my work but have worked on changing laws in over 30 countries. There is certainly a wealth of information to keep you safe including while gardening. Feel free to remove it.
    Thank you for teaching me.

  • MaryAlice Denson
    November 14, 2011 5:59pm

    I hope no one has forgotten the little stains that get on the page of the cookbook to remind us of the recipe’s smell, texture, maybe even taste. I love my cookbooks, make pencilled notes in them for changes I make, additions, and put a little mark in the index of all the recipes I’ve tried so that should I want to repeat one, it will be a bit easier to find.

  • November 14, 2011 6:05pm

    I love Tender. Whenever I leaf through the pages, I get all nostalgic for a real garden. and also angry at myself- since I do have a backyard, and could actually plant things, and all I have to show for it are a few pots of herbs (at least that, right?). I do search for recipes online, but now that my favorite blogs have accumulated such vast repertoires, I usually will just search those 3-4 blogs. But to curl up with a cup of coffee on the couch? nothing beats a cookbook!

    • November 14, 2011 6:07pm

      A good site to use for searching food blogs is Food Blog Search, which is a list of curated blogs. (I often use it when I’m looking for blogs to link to here, that have complimentary recipes, which I’ll put at the end of posts.) There’s thousands of blogs to choose from, and it’s in a variety of languages, too!

  • November 14, 2011 6:08pm

    Btw, I recently took a road trip to the fingerlakes, and had dinner at a nice-looking restaurant overlooking one of the lakes. For dessert, they served us an inedible chocolate cake, and I was tempted to email them your recipe for the “Chocolate Idiot Cake”.

  • November 14, 2011 6:10pm

    This post really got me thinking about how much I appreciate the story behind the recipe. It’s apparent by the success of your blog that so many others do, too! I see an awesome new project ahead, DM me if you want to know. :)

  • November 14, 2011 6:12pm

    Nigel Slater was so lovely to me when I was writing my recipe book. He’s just really really lovely .. as is his cake !

  • Tiaré Olivia ferrari
    November 14, 2011 6:14pm

    Thank you David for this post.

    For me the beauty of the Internet is that it presents the opportunity to converse with the author, and others that are brought together by this common interest. This is something that would not happen for me otherwise.

    But when it comes to cooking, it always starts with musings, and yes like your other readers I find that I will curl up with my favorite cookbooks, or at this time of year also my smaller collection of magazines trot off the shelves and find themselves a comfortable spot near where I am reading.

    These are the friends that I turn to, and listen to when I cook. Yes you are right – the books are here to stay. In this way I KNOW I can return to my favorite apricot soufflé or canard en croute recipes. And yes, if my hollandaise or mayonnaise fall apart is that “list of ingredients” going to fix? No, it is the extra words that the author bring to table, those extra words of the fix, the quirks, and the musings and story behind the food that are the inspiration of generations to come.

    Thank David, you are a gem!

  • November 14, 2011 6:19pm

    This was a really lovely post to read, and encapsulates exactly what I love about blogs: my favourites are the ones with a true voice, an author I feel I could get to know, a story or even just a little bit of context; the ones where the writer’s passion for what she or he is cooking and creating shines through. I don’t think the blogosphere can replace cookbooks — my favourite gift for myself or others is still a cookbook — and this post also shows why that’s true. (And it makes me excited to try to bake this cake!)

  • Christina
    November 14, 2011 6:29pm

    So where are the poppyseeds???????

  • November 14, 2011 6:32pm

    David, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this internet versus print recipes/cookbooks debate. It has interesting parallels to the world of academic writing, where I work, and where a traditional hierarchy has privileged print, book length manuscripts and barely recognized online, open access authorship. What is proving most valuable now is a mixture of digital and analog, though academics are still debating the pros and cons like food writers are. Hybrid online/offline publishing has the added benefit of being less exclusionary and opening up work to a more varied audience.

    After reading your description of Nigel Slater’s book, I can’t wait to check it out. Thanks for sharing this recipe, in particular. We are nearing the end of beets season in New England, and this will give us a chance to appreciate them even more before they’re gone. I imagine it would be a blast, too, to play around with different single origin/single variety chocolates to find what best complements the flavors of the beets. Perhaps some Madagascar to start, to pair the bright acidity and notes of citrus and cherry with the hearty, earthy beets.

  • Janet in Maine
    November 14, 2011 6:32pm

    I’ve been enjoying the instant gratification of using my Nook. Initially I thought I wouldn’t buy any cookbooks for it as I enjoy having the book in hand but I have found that there are some cookbooks that I don’t necessarily want in my hand so I get the Nook version and have it quick and easy and usually cheaper. These are books that I would probably not buy in book form because they do not seem to be special.
    I would not even consider buying some cookbooks in Nook form. I want, and to be honest, need to hold them in my hands and turn the pages and be able to savor them. I don’t feel the same with the Nook. It is there for the convenience. I feel the same way about the internet. I know that I can go and pull off a recipe but I don’t get the same satisfaction as reading the author’s words about it or the story behind it. I have a couple/few hundred cookbooks (and left many, many more behind the last time I moved) and almost every one of them is made up of much more than just the basic recipe. I read my cookbooks as many others do, from cover to cover.

  • TGirlZA
    November 14, 2011 6:34pm

    I love my cookbooks, though I am ruthless about throwing out/gifting ones that I don’t use. As for those that I do – they just keep on giving. I love just sitting down with them and paging through them for enjoyment or inspiration, and the pleasure never gets old. I use the odd Internet recipe when I have a weird combination of ingredients lying around, because someone else has always already come up with some smart way of using them.

    I have to rave, though – and I won’t name the site as it’s commercial (and I assure you it’s not mine – I pay to use it) – about a website, that allows you to search your own cookbooks by ingredient(s) etc. You don’t get the recipe, but you get a list of all your cookbooks that have a recipe with the specific ingredients you have. I have so many cookbooks now, that I forget what’s in them all!

    The Internet’s turned out to provide a great solution to using and enjoying more my gorgeous, spattered and dog-eared treasures. I still love to pull out a few just to discover them at leisure all over again, but I love the ability to come home on a week-night and plug what’s left in my crisper drawer into the search box, and find I have several great recipes to use them.

  • November 14, 2011 6:36pm

    I adore the combo of chocolate and beetroot, or beet – interesting recipe. I need to check out Nigel Slater’s cookbook since it sounds super. I totally agree: there’s nothing to beat the old fashioned way of flicking pages of a cookbook, though, filled with spattered pages from using the recipes.

  • Lynda Byrnes
    November 14, 2011 6:36pm

    Yes, Yes, and Yes! You so hit the nail on the head with his one, David. It is the reason I read cookbooks like novels.I search out the ones with souls and the author’s voice. It makes it so intimate and engaging. It fills me up almost as much as the food (beautiful photography helps, too). And the feel and sound of the paper between my fingers…I just can’t imagine never wanting that and using and e-reader for cookbooks.You have such a gift for putting food experiences and feelings into words and I am grateful you share that. The beet cake looks amazing. I have been meaning to try one, but didn’t want to try a personality-less one from a web search. Thanks for bringing the right one to my in-box!

  • A Knight
    November 14, 2011 6:45pm

    There is nothing like a good cookbook. I agree with you completely!! Like that cookbook…..what’s it called? Oh yes, The Sweet Life in Paris. I recently discovered this book and last night I made the chouquettes aux pepites de chocolat. They are seriously delicious! Thank you for shaing your talent with us.

  • November 14, 2011 6:47pm

    Funny how just today I blogged about why I blog and why I read blogs. It is exactly what you have just mentioned that makes me read this blog and the same reason that makes me try a recipe. You add value to my life as a blogger and as someone who is interested in food. Thanks.

  • November 14, 2011 6:53pm

    Nigel Slater has been my favourite cook book writer (as well as non cook book writer, his book Toast is an infectious read) for quite a few years now. I will buy one of his books sight unseen as reading them is always an adventure that takes you to another place. I love the way his recipes become more and more minimalist, practically abstract, to the point of barely being there and yet they always come out delicious. He has such a strong voice, that I can read one of his recipes without seeing his name credited and instantly know it is one of his. I read cook books for inspiration and know-how, but I also just want a good read, after all we all know how to cook by now……don’t we?

  • November 14, 2011 6:56pm

    As a gardener I am always on the lookout for delicious ways to use up my surplus of beets. Thank you for this recipe, but what tasty concoction did you make with the rest of the beets that you roasted?

  • Heather
    November 14, 2011 7:02pm

    I’m sure this is entirely missing the point of this cake, but do you have any recommendations for how this recipe might be changed for those of us who are chocolate-sensitive (it’s a shame, I know)? I love beets and would love to incorporate them into my baking, but it seems they are always paired with chocolate. Any suggestions for this particular recipe or other chocolate recipes in general?

  • Kat
    November 14, 2011 7:31pm

    Hi David! I totally agree with your analysis of internet recipes via search engine vs. reliable recipes acquired from a trustworthy blog or cookbook author. When I’m looking for a recipe that I know isn’t in one of my cookbooks, (or if I’m at work, or away from home and need a recipe STAT), I start my internet-based research with your blog and Deb’s blog – you’re my two faves! If I can’t find what I need, or if it’s something really specific, I look to Martha Stewart. Her site is like a reliable google: so much volume, yet 99% of her recipes are good. If Martha lets me down, I might go to Food Network or Epicurious. Only after I’ve exhausted my reliable options, do I type my search terms into google. Usually by that point I’m desperate. It does prove helpful sometimes, though. Just the other day, through the magic of google, I found a recipe for broccoli rabe pesto, which I’d never even heard of. It was good.

    I also agree with your statement that, when looking for recipes, you want to know why the author/blogger chose it, what makes it special, what are its quirks, etc. Yours and Deb’s blogs (as well as a host of other home-cooking blogs) are great in that respect, and it’s your stories that I enjoy as much as the food. I need some sort of introduction to what I’m making; I find nothing so disappointing as a recipe with no story. And it doesn’t even have to be a personal story (although that makes it better); just tell me something, anything about this recipe, please! I need words to connect.

    Another thing that is (in my opinion) important – nay, crucial – to both food blogs and cookbooks? Beautiful, color pictures. Show me what I’m reading about, and I will be that much more likely to make it. Again, your blog does a beautiful job. As do your cookbooks. I love it all!

  • November 14, 2011 7:31pm

    I am obsessed with cookbooks in the same way a collector sees fine art. I love the timeless books of Paula Wolfert from the 1970’s and regularly reference Julia Child’s How to Cook rather than googling queries. I love Lidia Bastianich’s Cooking in the Heart of Italy for the fact that each recipe is accompanied by a story of discovery during her travels. Like you, I want to get lost in a good cookbook and see where it takes me. As much as I enjoy the community online, nothing can replace the experience of a collected work of recipes and stories in a cookbook.

  • November 14, 2011 7:36pm

    I totally agree, I want recipes in every form! Love the blogs but I’m equally addicted to cookbooks. Online recipes sometimes can’t be trusted, thats why blogs are so great. Its all about the story and how you can relate to the chef. I have been trying to find a good recipe with beets and chocolate for my students for a few years now, can’t wait to try this with our rooftop garden veggies! Thanks :c)

  • Thomas
    November 14, 2011 7:38pm

    I think cookbooks are (one of) the only source of good recipes, that and your grandmother ;)
    apart from a few very good websites, this one and fxcuisine spring to mind, i find very little recipes i like on the internet.
    and, what else do you put on those kitchen shelves? ;)

  • November 14, 2011 7:42pm

    Looks delicious!
    Love Nigel Slater’s writing and love beets – an unbeatable combo.

  • Bonnie Powers
    November 14, 2011 7:44pm

    I find photos in the downloaded books on my iPad to be actually much better than those in books since they are highlighted from behind and beautifully illuminated. Granted, the “feel” of the page is not there but the then the iPad is easier for me to carry around than, for example, Nigel Slater’s 580 page book!
    I’ll definitely make his Chocolate-Beet cake since my sweetheart loves a moist rich chocolate cake…no dense “Death by Chocolate” cakes for him!

  • November 14, 2011 7:48pm

    what a thoughtful and wonderfully written piece. avid cookbook lovers adore curling up with a good cookbook and reading about the stories behind the recipes. thank you for a great piece. now I have another cookbook to add to my collection…!

  • November 14, 2011 8:05pm

    What a wonderful analysis of the emotional impact of good writing in general and specifically food writing…. and thank you so very much for the inclusion of gardening. My passions go back and forth between dirt and the kitchen with much of the former being tramped into the later when my vegetable garden is producing.

    But above all I’m a reader (and a writer) who appreciates the story behind the ingredient, the occasion, the plant, or the season. My groaning bookshelves attest to my love of ink and paper. I may turn to the internet for a recipe or an aggregator site for inspiration (and a functioning clip file) but I savor, relish and truly dine on the words of fellow passionate cooks and gardeners. David you are a delightful personality in the mix… and I can’t thank you enough for your candor, your humor, and your generosity in sharing it on your blog with the rest of us!

    Good luck with your next project…

  • Ally
    November 14, 2011 8:06pm

    I was just thinking about this the other day. I haven’t purchased a ‘paper back’ book in 3-4 years. All of my fiction books are in e-format. However, I still prefer to purchase my cookbooks. I love the color illustrations (kindle is black and white) and I’ve been know to mark up the pages of my cook books.

  • November 14, 2011 8:26pm

    I love a good chocolate beet cake, and this is just a lovely post all around.

  • Norine
    November 14, 2011 9:32pm

    Oh, what’s not to like. Fresh beets are one of my favorite vegetables. Good chocolate is a good vegetable, too :-) BTW, I am so hooked on the artisanal chocolate company you blogged a few months ago. Some of those chocolates are supurb. I nibbled judiciously on them for weeks. Time for another order now that the weather has cooled.

  • November 14, 2011 9:35pm

    I agree completely… reading your post was so refreshing. My sister, knowing that I have an interest in cooking and baking, tried convincing me to use the google recipe search–as she said, “it’s so easy and has great ratings.” I don’t think she understands that probably even more than baking or cooking itself, I love finding, comparing, reading recipes, and the stories and perspectives that come along with each one. Cookbooks in their proper form can’t ever be replaced (or at least I hope so).

    Can’t wait for your new cookbook to come out–I’ll be curling up on the couch with it, I’m sure. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  • November 14, 2011 9:43pm

    Great tip on turning regular sugar into fine sugar…thanks:)

  • November 14, 2011 9:59pm

    I can completely relate to your belief in cookbooks and blogs with life behind the recipes. I can also relate to your dead mint. There is some rather crunchy thyme on my balcony at the moment.

  • Alex-Providence RI
    November 14, 2011 10:29pm

    Just bought a ebook version…..was trying to decide….a real book or an ebook version……..but chose the later…….so I can bring it anywhere I go…….

  • Rijk
    November 14, 2011 10:56pm

    This morning I read the recipe. This afternoon I made it. This evening we ate it. Another hit!!! Thank you for posting it.
    I’m just very curious in how far Slaters version differs from your adapted version

  • November 14, 2011 11:18pm

    I read my cookbooks the same way. I am always more intrigued by cookbooks where I feel the author loves the subject and is able to convey that message to me. I’m always drawn into a recipe more when I can tell the author has an emotional connection and love of the final product. This cake looks delicious, by the way.

  • November 14, 2011 11:30pm

    I love Nigel Slaters books, the way he rights is so encaptivating – just as his TV programmes. I have Tender I and II, they are brilliant. I have not yet come across the recipe in it, but I feel I must ow try it!.

  • November 14, 2011 11:32pm

    I completely agree with you with regards to recipes and cookbooks. I LOVE to hear a story behind the recipe. My favourite cookbooks at home, however, are the traditional recipe with photo. These cookbooks, do have a great history and story to them, having been given to me by my grandmother so I imagine she is there reading them and talking about them, possible tweaks, with me. Even some of the ones I have bought, I imagine it too :)
    This recipe looks fantastic and I think will be one that will be made for the next family gathering.

  • November 14, 2011 11:46pm

    Oh my goodness – you, too, have discovered that amazing cake… I did so a while ago myself.

    And it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve made/ate.
    And Nigel… oh, Nigel… He’s one of the best.. eh, in my world – he is the best. And his way writing – telling stories and all – is a dream.

  • Albina
    November 14, 2011 11:56pm

    I got two beets from an aunt which I did not know what to do with and then this recepie popped up the next day! I just made this cake, it was delicious and the beets and chocolate are so perfect together. I never thought it could be this good, now I have too cook more with beets!

  • Sharon
    November 15, 2011 12:10am

    From Tom Robbins’ book, Jitterbug Perfume: “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion.Tomatoes are lusty enough, but…Beets are deadly serious.”

    He goes on to write the most wonderful fantastical tale woven around a perfume made of beets. It’s a crazy book; who in the world waxes passionate about beets? Well he does, and I never eat a beet (love beets a hundred ways cooked and raw) without thinking of him.

    Now you’re about to add to my beet repertoire and I can’t wait to see what seduction this beet recipe will work on me.

  • November 15, 2011 12:11am

    I am in complete agreement, I love cookbooks too! I don’t believe cookbooks or other books will become obsolete b/c of recipes online/kindle/nook/what have you. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned that way, but even so I think a lot of people are of the same sentiment! I have a good amount of cookbooks on my Christmas wishlist this year… That beet cake looks so delicious, dense, interesting that I might want to add Tender to the list! :) Wonderful post, David.

  • Lien
    November 15, 2011 12:12am

    Thanks David. This recipe is great because i need to use the beet somehow since i don’t like eating it :-). If i only use cocoa powder instead of bitersweet chocolate, do you have any suggestion on the amount?. Best regards, lien.

  • Brittany Rose
    November 15, 2011 12:45am

    not much of a beet person, but this sounds lovely (and complicated!)

  • November 15, 2011 12:53am

    Tiaré’s comment really resonates with me-blogs allow conversations between readers and authors (and also, enjoyably, with other readers) whereas reading cookbooks is a quiet and solitary activity. I love both. I don’t have a cellphone so apps are useless to me, nor do I have an electronic book device, so those aren’t relevant to me either. I collect cookbooks because they give me pleasure to read. They let me sit in someone else’s kitchen and hear their thoughts and I can take them with me anywhere. I read food blogs for the lively interaction and inspiration, I read cookbooks when I want to get serious in the kitchen or be taken away completely to somone else’s.

    We had to cull down our book collections quite a lot in past years and I decided to give up most of my novel collection, only keeping the very hard to find ones, and decided to keep all my cookbooks. I never resent the space they take up.

  • Oakjoan
    November 15, 2011 12:55am

    Nigel Slater is my latest favorite cookbook author. I like Kitchen Diaries better than Tender, although Tender is pretty great.

    His books were chosen as cookbooks of the month on Chowhound recently. I made his apple shortcakish thing last night to great acclaim. Haven’t yet tried the chocolate beet cake, although I’ve had pieces of that cake in the past few years.

    We’re so lucky to have folks like Slater and you around!

  • Linda H
    November 15, 2011 1:32am

    When my brother saw my shelves full of cookbooks after we had moved into an old house, he said, “So, you’re trying to put the first floor into the basement?”
    I’m not giving up my big heavy beautiful cookbooks. “Ready For Dessert” is a great example.

  • Leslie
    November 15, 2011 2:13am

    I’ve been inspired by blogs (yours was my first) to buy more cookbooks! Now I must add Tender.

  • November 15, 2011 3:06am

    Yes! Books! Books! Books! :-)

  • Jacques Bredius
    November 15, 2011 3:15am

    Great recipe. Would like to print it out, but every time I try to print out your recipes I have to print out the whole page. And for this recipe ir will take 30 pages. Is there a better way or do I have to write it out?
    Thanks for all your great stories.

  • November 15, 2011 3:18am

    It’s funny reading a post from you about this – it’s a similar reason to why I read your blog! The recipes are to die for, but it’s the stories behind them, the way you weave words together to make a simple sorbet sound like the most romantic thing in existence (which it very well may be).

  • November 15, 2011 3:54am

    I’ve been experimenting veggies in my baked goods recently and I must say – it truly keeps cakes and baked goods nice and moist. Don’t need a whole glob of fat – not that I mind ;)

  • November 15, 2011 4:32am

    Sweet, sweet joy….something with chocolate…and one of my favorite root vegetables. I never would have paired the two together had it not been for your post, and Nigel’s recipe.
    Oh…and it has coffee in it, too! ;)

  • Caity
    November 15, 2011 4:33am

    Hi! I was wondering if you knew why he folds the sugar into the egg whites, wouldn’t that unnecessarily decrease the egg whites’ wonderful fluffiness? Could I just incorporate the sugar into the chocolate mixture before I fold in the egg whites?

  • Elle
    November 15, 2011 4:44am

    Hi David,

    My mother who died in 1991 made that cake when I was in high school. It’s delicious and yes, she was an adventurous cook. She also made a chocolate cake with potato.

    My comment is actually a request for help, so please feel free to contact me privately at the address noted. Here’s the thing: I made your heavenly sounding prune armagnac ice cream exactly as instructed including weighing the prunes and it seems way too sweet and the alcohol seems like it was too much. Other versions of your recipe that I found on the web use less booze and less sugar. Is there an error in The Perfect Scoop? It can happen; I understand. I do appreciate Errata sections on authors’ blogs when it does – (Dorie and Rose both do that.) It saves money on wasted ingredients as well as disappointment. Please provide guidance. I am an experienced cook and ice cream maker and I enjoy your work very much.

  • November 15, 2011 5:05am

    I love Nigel Slaters books and have several although not this one. I prefer to read the actual book but don’t mind apps for magazines. We are moving house soon and what I have designated as the guest room has a wall of book shelving. My plan is to put all my cookbooks in there. I like the idea of my friends sleeping in a room full of my cook books.

    I make a beetroot cake with grated raw beetroot and no chocolate. It has an earthy flavour which I like.

  • November 15, 2011 5:37am

    What attracts me to that cake are those photos… mon dieu! I can taste how moist it is just by looking at them…

  • Gavrielle
    November 15, 2011 5:57am

    Sound like a delicious cake, but if it’s not a Lebovitz, I think I’ll save my calories. I had to send most of a Spiced Plum Streusel Cake home with my guests on Saturday night (they insisted) so I’m currently jonesing for another. And to find it I’ll leaf dreamily through Ready For Dessert – much more fun than downloading.

  • KiwiRob
    November 15, 2011 6:09am

    I totally agree, I like to read a good cookbook right through as bedtime reading first of all, noting the page numbers of the recipes I want to use in the immediate future.
    I was telling my husband about this recipe as I read it, mentioning that it tastes better the next day. His instant response was to snort & say : can’t be a good cake if it’s going to last that long!!

  • November 15, 2011 6:14am

    I agree with you, David…I love to hear the author / blog writer’s voice when they post their recipes. I want to know what makes their version so special and why that particular recipe is connected to them. Then I want to see images that inspire me to eat / dream / create something special in my own life! This is what blogging is all about! …And that’s why I love reading your blog AND I love buying cookbooks that have a personal tone to it – something that tells a story!

  • November 15, 2011 6:59am

    On a trip to London last year, I made sure to track the “Tender” books down (they weren’t available in the U.S. at the time). I even brought an empty suitcase just to make sure I would have the room for them. I’m currently reading Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite.” Every recipe in the book has a story with it that makes me want to drop everything and head to the kitchen.

  • wendy baschkopf
    November 15, 2011 7:27am

    I bought my ice cream maker and studied 2 books on the topic. David, your inimitable voice won hands down. Then I chatted with Celia at San Francisco’s Omnivore Book right after she opened. Celia got me to join Bakers Dozen and I learned you were there at its beginnings. There I met Jennie Schacht who wrote FARMERS’ MARKET DESSERTS. And your blog reminded me about her recipe, drumroll . . . for chocolate beet cake. Different, but much fun to compare. There’s nothing like spreading a batch of cookbooks out and learning from the personal trek of each author. What a treat to meet an author I’ve been reading and cooking with for years. It’s like meeting an old friend whose shared many a meal with me.

  • November 15, 2011 9:10am

    Dear David, both you and Nigel Slater are two of my favourite writers in the world. Your voice, personality, humour, honesty are wonderful to read, I always feel like it’s such a privilege to be able to peek into your world. Great recipes are a bonus. :-)

    “Ready for Dessert” and “My Kitchen Diaries” are near the top of my reading pile at present!

  • November 15, 2011 9:19am

    Jacques: When the site was set up, there was no print option available. So in order to have one now, I’d have to go back and reformat hundreds of posts, which time doesn’t allow. There are sites like “Print What You Want” (you can find them on Google), which allow you to print pages as you wish, or you can cut and paste the recipe into a Word document and print it from there.

    Caity: I was wondering why he did that as well. Normally I would just beat the sugar into the whites to make them more stable. But perhaps he wanted a denser cake, which this is. (And I liked it!)

    Mel: Glad you be in such good company : )

    Elle: That’s a little less than the standard amount of sugar in an ice cream recipe (that custard has 1/2 cup of sugar versus about 3/4 in other ice creams – there is a few spoonfuls in the prunes because when I made that, I found the alcohol a bit harsh without it) – and there’s less fat in that one as well, to compensated for the liquor, so am not certain why yours was too sweet.

    UPDATE: I made it today and actually found it on the less-sweet side, due to the alcohol. It firmed up nicely. (Picture)

    wendy: Interesting since I have Jennie’s book – I should go look at it to see how her recipe differs.

  • Aimée
    November 15, 2011 9:44am

    Do you think that if you weren’t to eat all of this cake in the first day then it should be stored in the fridge? Or will it be alright on the countertop?

  • November 15, 2011 10:27am

    If anything, the Internet helped me find good cookbooks, not replace them. That is how I found yours. Yes, in a hurry (like when I have to bake this tomorrow), if I wanted a tried and tested, towering, frosted dessert, I’d Google you or Deb Perelman but that doesn’t stop me from waiting excited for Dorie’s and Julia’s books to arrive in the post.

    Additionally, the evolution of culinary information on the Net helped me in other ways – learning about new ingredients, regional cuisines, specific techniques (YouTubing how to braid a challah, shape a bâtard etc.) and writing about food/recipes.

    All that said, let’s cut to the chase. Is your next cookbook going to be like everything you described here? Then I don’t even need to know what recipes are in it.

  • evi
    November 15, 2011 10:39am

    I don’t see the need to oppose cookbooks vs. internet search vs. blogs etc. They serve different purposes. Well-written cookbooks are a pleasure to read. Recipe aggregator sites help you find what to make for dinner quickly. Don’t forget there are plenty of people out there who aren’t that fussed about cooking. It’s not their passion, but they still want to feed their family food cooked from scratch. They just want a recipe.

    • November 15, 2011 10:52am

      I agree. There are good recipe sites, such as the previously mentioned Epicurious, and others, and then there are the ones that are simply plucking recipes from around the internet and republishing them indiscriminately and without attribution just because it’s a way to make a buck. (It irks lots of people who write recipes to find their recipes on those aggregator sites which don’t, and won’t, attribute them.) Plenty of people want to simply feed their family and that’s certainly what cooking is all about – but even the recipes that my mother and grandmother used (both working women with families), plucked from magazines and cookbooks, were written by people who were interested in cooking, which you can easily discern by reading them.

  • Dani
    November 15, 2011 10:53am

    I can’t wait to make this and I agree with everyone about cookbooks vs online recipes. I love books, including cookbooks and am interested to see how an author presents the content, background info and I even judge a book on its index. (I confess, I’m a librarian). On the other hand, I will use the internet to see different versions of a chocolate cake or shrimp curry, for example, since there are so many variations on some things. I get ideas and take what I like and try it out. Best thing about this post though: “snack cake”!!

  • Sreifa
    November 15, 2011 11:12am

    superfine sugar = powdered sugar?

    No, they are two different sugars. -dl

  • evi
    November 15, 2011 3:59pm

    Me again. I absolutely agree. There are good and bad aggregators – and good and bad recipes. Worth noting that plenty of magazines and books have bad recipes too. Which is where the internet can be very useful – the comments on epicurious are one of the things I like best about it. Interesting too that there seems to be a cultural difference. French cookbooks don’t seem to have much writing in them – eg. those “themed” series by a certain publisher that churn out endless personality-free recipes – and yet are very popular.

  • November 15, 2011 5:21pm

    I am intrigued in trying/baking chocolate beet cake. It sounds weird enough to try.

    I’ve noticed there’s a trend on vegetable-based desserts. In New York City, there’s a dessert composed of celery sorbet with celery and fig agrodolce served at a fine-dining restaurant. Odd that it sounds, it’s pretty darn delicious.

  • Susan
    November 15, 2011 5:25pm

    If I had to choose between books or the internet, hands down, the internet would be my choice. I love to cook, but with limited funds, I have to choose carefully the books I buy. The content has to really have some meaning for me beyond the recipe or the personality of the author. Fortunately, for the money spent for my ISP, I get much more in the way of cooking inspiration, technique, photos, feedback, commentary and personality than I could ever hope for in a cookbook.

    I flip through many of the current books (that I learn of from blog sites) at book stores or libraries, and I really like what I see much of the time, but I don’t necessarily impress me enough to make me want to spend so much for one or two recipes, or because the author is charming or offers the newest “thing”. Lately, with the onslaught of blogger cookbooks that are coming out, I kind of get the feeling that these publishing houses are taking advantage of the popularity of food blogs just to cash in on their readership…like a greedy pimp! That sounds terrible, I know, but for all the time, money and energy you have to put into developing a recipe, writing a manuscript and time spent on book tours (who pays for those?) who gets the most from the deal?

  • November 15, 2011 6:45pm

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! It looks great!

  • Lazyelephant
    November 15, 2011 6:52pm

    What a great recipe! My boys who hates beets have finished it without knowing what they ate! Heard that beets are very anti-cancer.
    Also, I made your lemon tart the other day to my very french in-laws and received bravos. I’ve looking for a recipe for the pate brisee for almost 20 years and am finally satisfied.

    Thank you always for your inspiring recipes and food reports.