Friday, November 19, 2010

In Praise of the Beet, and also Brownies

I am a woman who has dedicated her life to growing and eating vegetables. I like them all, but there are a few I love.

Among the loved are eggplants, gold ball turnips, baby spinach, and beets.
I love beets. I love that they poke from the earth like little grey rocks sprouting glossy green and red leaves. I love that they bleed when you cut them. I love the velvety texture they take on when roasted. I love that they taste like sweet garden soil.

So why on earth would I use them up in a recipe that promises to hide their splendor?

I am sure you've seen the recipes I'm referring to. Baked goods in which beets are used for their texture and moisture, instead of their overall grandness. Usually chocolate beet cake or brownies. They are always accompanied by an assurance that the beet will not be tasted in the final product.

I've never made one of these recipes.

This does not mean, however, that I am close minded as to the use of the beet. I recognize the beet's dessert potential. In fact, I'm inspired by it.

A few months back I spent some time contemplating the beet and was struck by how good it would be roasted and drizzled with caramel. I didn't try this, but made a note that I should come up with a recipe for some sort of bar cookie with beets and caramel sauce. The note reminded me of all those chocolate beet cake and brownie recipes I've never made. This led to a desire to create a brownie recipe that actually tastes like beets. Beet brownies.

You may notice that the brownies are not actually brown. I'm still calling them brownies because they do contain some cocoa powder and I find blondie to be a strange name for a food item. If you can't call them brownies, try beet bars.

Brown is what they are not. What they are is luscious. They taste like caramel, fall, richness and, most importantly, beets. The beets rise to the surface in the baking, and create a layer of soft, sweet, rooty goodness. You understand what I mean by rooty, right? I mean all the best parts of creating a new garden bed, somehow compressed into a flavor.

The walnuts and chocolate chips are optional. If you use them, the nuts will rise to the top and become crisp. They are buttery and cut the sweetness nicely, though I don't find the brownies too sweet without them. The chocolate chips sink to the bottom. The chocolate contrasts the deep beet flavor and, being chocolate, is simply yum. If chocolate is what you want, use them, but the brownies will not be lacking without them.

These have lots of butter and eggs, very little flour, and no leavening agents. Had they more chocolate, they would most definitely be described as fudgy.

A beet jewel.

Beet Brownies

The baking time will vary for these brownies. It seems to depend on the moisture content of the beets. The most important thing is not to over bake them. They go from perfect to burnt in a flash. So start checking at 25 minutes and check every five minutes until they are done. The butter that I can get locally is salted so this recipe was created with salted butter. If you are using unsalted I suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon salt when you add the sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Butter and flour a 9x13 inch pan
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 - 3 medium beets
  • 1 cup walnut halves (optional)
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (optional)

This is how your diced beets should look.

  1. Dice the beets very small. They should be about the size of chocolate chips. I don't peel mine, but you can if you prefer. Do it by hand because a food processor makes the beets too juicy and changes the texture of the brownies. 
  2. Combine the butter, honey, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a saucepan large enough to contain all of the ingredients. Place it over low heat.
  3. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted and it looks like chocolate sauce.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar.
  5. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time.
  6. Add the flour. Stir just until the ingredients are combined.
  7. Fold in the diced beets, and the walnuts and chocolate if using
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and bake at 350 F for 25 (or more - see header) minutes.
  9. The brownies are done when the surface is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out with crumbs stuck to it, rather than wet with batter.

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