Sweet surprises for April Fools' Day: two delicious vegetable cakes

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Somehow it's hard to imagine Marie Antoinette scoring any points with the bourgeoisie by stepping out on her Versailles balcony and tossing pieces of sauerkraut-chocolate cake or chocolate beet root cake to the crowds, even if she insisted they were palace-made from scratch. But, when you think of it, it wasn't too long ago that we were looking down our noses at zucchini bread and the like. And just look at carrot cake! It's become somewhat of an American institution. Perhaps not as ``American'' as Mom's Apple Pie, but it's arguably more popular these days in restaurants from Portland to Pasadena.

Carrots, zucchini, beets, and sauerkraut add more texture, substance, and moistness to the cake than any particular flavor.

These are not light and fluffy afternoon tea cakes. These are moist, dense, stick-to-the-ribs desserts. And they don't go stale in a day either. All keep for a week if tightly wrapped in aluminum foil. And they're fun as well. A perfect April Fools' dessert. Just don't tell your unsuspecting guests the ingredients - let them try and guess after they've take a bite.

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Most likely you know someone who wouldn't get within a runner's mile of a plate of sauerkraut. Watch as they gulp down the sauerkraut-chololate cake and have your cake knife poised when they ask for another slice.

Several cookbooks have crossed this desk with recipes for chocolate-beet cake. This particular one is from Bert Greene's ``Kitchen Bouquets'' (Fireside Books, $9.95).

Mr. Greene got it from Jackie Cook who works at Ford's Cafe in Sonoma, Calif., and is attributed to Ms. Cook's grandmother who, as the story goes, brought the recipe by covered wagon across the Oregon Trail. It's a cake with a past, and a bit of history, and hopefully a future. Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake 1/2 cup butter, softened 11/2 cups granulated sugar 3 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup cocoa powder 1 cup water 1 8-ounce can sauerkraut, lightly drained and finely chopped by hand (don't use food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. In separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together and add to butter-sugar mixture slowly, alternating with water. Stir in sauerkraut. Mix until smooth. Pour into 13-by-9-by-2-inch greased cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until knife inserted in cake comes out clean. Frosting 1 6-ounce package chocolate chips 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon salt 21/2-23/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Melt chocolate chips and butter in a double boiler. Remove from heat and add sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. Ford's Cafe Chocolate Beet Root Cake 3-ounces semisweet chocolate 1 cup vegetable oil 13/4 cups sugar 3 large eggs 2 1-lb. cans of sliced beets, drained and pureed 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla Powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt chocolate with 1/4 cup oil in top of double boiler over hot but not boiling water. Allow to cook slightly. Beat sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy. Stir in remaining oil, beets, and melted chocolate. Beat thoroughly. Sift flour with baking soda and salt; stir into to batter. Add vanilla; mix again. Pour into greased and lightly floured Bundt pan; bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on wire rack. Remove from pan. Dust with powdered sugar.

Serves 8.

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