This Valentine's Day is the first that my husband and I will be celebrating as a married couple. I should be atwitter with newlywed excitement about this, but it's hard for me to work up enthusiasm for a holiday that falls dead in the middle of my least favorite time of year: winter.
Aside from the frigid temperatures, the dry indoor air, and dressing in layers (ugh), one thing the Florida native in me has always detested about this time of year in Massachusetts is the dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables. So this year, I guess as part of some ill-conceived coping strategy, my husband and I signed up for a local winter farm exchange. That means every other week through April, we get a heavy sack full of the only crops farms in this area can grow: root vegetables.
the weeks leading up to our first share, I was convinced that this was a terrible idea. Roots were never a common feature of my Florida cooking, and I was sure we’d end up eating parsnip soup over and over again for weeks on end. Instead, it’s been one of winter’s (few) pleasant surprises. The contents of the farm share so far have been endlessly useful, and the bi-weekly assortment of carrots, potatoes, and turnips keeps long enough that we can eat everything at a reasonable pace (take note, lettuce-heavy summer shares).
The one crop that stumped me, so to speak: beets. We get a lot of them, and while they’re perfectly fine as part of a roasted medley or a salad, neither of us like them well enough to eat as a main feature of a meal (roasted and eaten whole, borscht, etc.). We’re not alone. Most Floridians don’t grow up eating fresh beets, and many find the intense color and the earthy sweetness just too weird to deal with. My solution came not in the discard pile, but in dessert.
While Googling “What to do with root vegetables” (I told you: beginner), I came across several recipes for red velvet cake that use roasted, pureed beets to give the cake its characteristic red coloring. For the beet-skeptical Southerner, it’s a perfect starter and an appropriate treat for our inaugural married Valentine’s Day: The beets give this Dixie staple a gorgeous magenta hue and a moist, savory dimension that, when baked in, offers a gentle suggestion of the root, similar to the carrot in carrot cake. The orange buttercream frosting in this cupcake recipe provides a sweet, zippy contrast to the cupcakes’ earthiness, as well as a little taste of the Sunshine State to send you daydreaming of warmer climes. You can make the roasted beet puree up to thee days ahead, or roast the beets while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Now if I can find a way to bake radishes into a pie, we’ll be all set.
Red velvet beet cupcakes
Adapted from “Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes,” by Diane Morgan
Makes 12 full-sized cupcakes, 36 mini cupcakes
2-3 large beets (about 1 lb.), rinsed and scrubbed
2 cups cake or pastry flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Orange buttercream frosting:
1-1/4 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons of orange juice
Zest of 1 small orange
1. Beet puree: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tightly wrap each beet in separate foil pouches and place on a baking sheet. Roast until soft, about 90 minutes, then remove and let rest.
2. When beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and ends (use disposable gloves if you don’t want to get the color on your hands). Chop into small pieces and puree in a blender until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Should make between 1 and 1-1/4 cups of puree. Set aside.
3. Cupcakes: Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, then set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, canola oil, beet puree, and vanilla
4. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Place cupcake liners into a cupcake tin and fill to just below the rim. Bake 20-25 minutes for full-sized cupcakes, 8-15 minutes for mini cupcakes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out cleanly. Cool 10 minutes in the cupcake tin, then at least an hour on a cooling rack before frosting.
5. Orange buttercream frosting: Using a standing or handheld electric mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth. Add the orange zest, vanilla, and cream. Add the powdered sugar in three sections and beat on low speed, Add orange juice to taste and beat on medium until fluffy. Heap generously onto the cupcakes using a knife or icing piper.