Beetroot Chocolate Cake
February 5, 2021
Time goes by in a daze. I spend my days doing the same tasks without much variation. I work and I cook and I watch television and I read and I sleep. Stir crazy, I think, is the word for it.
The snow was a good break. It’s been nearly a decade for me since real snow, and even though it wasn’t real, get-out-of-school snow, it was a change from the city’s usual sleet-slush, and we drove out to Spandauer Forst the Sunday after it stuck to take a walk crisscross over the frozen waterways and under delicate ropy loops still clinging to the branches.
It’s gone now. The snowman the one child living in my building built in the courtyard is just an unpeeled carrot on the flagstones. The sky endlessly dribbles out a wintry mix, or just rain when it’s feeling particularly uninspired. The trees are dead, my plants are dying, and I lost my new raincoat. All day, I’ve been singing Leonard Cohen.
Some good news. I never loved green tea before, but now I crave its musky smell, like an old red barn filled with damp hay drying from the heat of itself.
I crave its musky smell, like an old red barn filled with damp hay drying from the heat of itself.
Cat is changing, too. He’s becoming fond of reading. In the evenings, I sit on the couch with a mug of hot drink and a book, and he slinks in beneath my arm, then crawls carefully across one leg and purrs with a deep-throated decisiveness and sleepish eyes. When he tires of being too close – because he’s wary of prolonged closeness – he sprawls himself against my calf, back just brushed against it, so that he’s there, but not there there.
No one is afraid of running out of toilet paper anymore, and there is a cake in the oven made of melted chocolate and beetroot and cocoa. The batter was thick and good and there is less cake in the oven than there should have been.
Twice now, I’ve ridden my bike behind Man Who Runs in a Gas Mask. It makes my skin crawl, and I wonder what he does it for. Training for a marathon? Training for the Apocalypse? He can definitely out-run the zombies.
I wonder if he stole my raincoat.
I am tired of going on walks.
I crave walks.
Puzzles have never appealed to me, but now I wonder if they should.
I did the entire New Yorker New Year’s crossword, every last word. It’s the first crossword I’ve ever successfully finished. One summer, in Orlando, I was obsessed with doing the daily New York Times crossword, and my grandpa taught me things like how to read the clues for clues. But I never did complete a puzzle on my own, not even a Monday.
What is it with New York and publications? Who gave them a monopoly?
My favorite new activity is complaining about how there are no new activities to do. D complains too, about the limitations of walks and our limited list of activities. But I don’t think he complains as much as I do.
I’m a positive person. But I also complain a lot.
I’m a positive person. But I also complain a lot.
When we were in France about a million years ago, on a family holiday in Provence somewhere in some itsy-bitsy ceramics shop, there was an English family, a mother and a father and a little girl, and it was hot and she was tired and she certainly didn’t want to be in an itsy-bitsy ceramics shop in Provence. She was dressed in yellow and her hair was blonde, and this prim little girl grabbed her mother’s shirt and in a prim, posh voice said, “Mummy, if we don’t leave now, I’m going to moan.”
Mooooooaaaaan, she said. Stretched all the way out.
I think of her a lot.
Oh! There’s the saga with the broken heater. It’s always on full blast; you can’t turn it down, and if you do, it clanks so loudly it sounds like Marley’s stuck inside it rattling his chains. I sweat indoors, while outdoors everything aches with ice and frost. My mother is perplexed when we Zoom because I’m always in a tank top.
I made a very bad pad Thai. Too much tamarind, too much of that Thai soy sauce that tastes exactly like molasses. I can’t shake the disappointment of it, because my hopes had been so high.
On the other hand, I made a very good potato waffle with grated beetroot and caramelized onions and crème fraiche. Drizzled with maple syrup. I think that was the key.
Beets. It seems I’m rich in them these days. Them, and other root vegetables; the winter stuff that gets delivered to my door twice a month in my subscription box. Carrots, parsnips, cabbage, potatoes, radish with skin that looks charred as coal, black salsify. You better believe I had to look that one up.
I’ve been drinking two liters of water a day. My skin is flush and plump. My hair is long, but you’d never know it, since I wear it pinned on top of my head day after day. The look I’m going for, I say, is windswept Victorian. But really, I can’t think when there’s hair touching my face.
I bought a beautiful dress, even if I don’t know when I’ll ever wear it.
My bike broke while I was riding it, and in the same journey it fixed itself.
Right now I can’t tell whether I am hot or cold. I take off my sweater. I put on my sweater.
Apparently, you can order unpasteurized cheese and kombucha online.
After I frost my chocolate cake, I think I’ll make kimchi.
Are you bored yet?
Winter is a doldrum. And this one… well. But it’s the home stretch. It’s just a few more months. It’s just a few more highs and lows, held in smaller measure, still consuming in their own way. It’s a little litany. Overall, I am content.
Here’s how the story really ends. D found my raincoat. It was hanging on the coatrack.
Beetroot Chocolate Cake
What’s nice about this cake is that it’s very dense and moist and chocolatey without being too sweet. Regarding the topping: If you’re in Germany, you can do like I did and cheat (is it cheating?) with a packet of chocolate Kuchenglasur. It’s been so long since I’ve baked a cake in the US, I have no idea if you can find that there. If you can, great! If not, the internet is full of good chocolate glaze recipes, made with a simple combination of butter, chocolate, powdered sugar, and water.
3 medium-sized beets (yields about 2 cups pureed)
1¾ cups (250 g) flour
¾ cup (80 g) cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil (plus more to grease cake pan)
1¼ cup (280 g) sugar
¾ cup (100 g) bittersweet chocolate
Chocolate glaze or frosting
Chopped hazelnuts to garnish (opt.)
Place unpeeled beets in a pot of gently boiling water, and boil until soft, about 30-40 minutes depending on the size of your beets. Once soft, remove from water and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 180 ºC. Grease a cake pan (I used a springform pan) with vegetable oil.
Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
By now, the beets should be cool enough to handle. Peel them, cut them into smaller pieces, and then puree them using either an immersion blender or a mixer.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat eggs, vegetable oil, and sugar until foamy.
Chop the chocolate, then melt it in a saucepan on low heat, being careful not to burn it. Using a spoon, fold it into the oil and sugar mixture along with the pureed beets. Next, add the dry mixture. Stir well to combine.
Pour into the greased cake pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
After the cake has cooled, finish with chocolate glaze and chopped hazelnuts.