Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chocolate Beet Cake with Maple Cream and Fresh Blackberries...for the Big SIXTEEN!

Yes, this is the cake my son picked out for his birthday.  I have this cookbook of very simple but delicious cakes.  Once my children were old enough to form their own opinions, they moved away from the sugar coated ooey-gooey cakes to more subtle flavored birthday options with hints of sweetness and spice.

I decided to take this recipe and swap out the cake portion with a recipe I saw recently on the blog "Simple Bites".  The cake is made with part whole wheat flour.  Instead of cups of sugar...beets, honey, and maple syrup are used as the sweeteners.

To be truthful, as I was grating mounds of beets and their earthy aroma filled the air, I certainly had my doubts. "Could I really pass this off with a 16 yr. old?  Was it going to taste too 'au naturel'?"

Before I delve further into whether this cake passed the "birthday level" cake test, I have to say a warm thank you to all of the wonderful people who give me such encouragement with my ongoing question of whether or not to continue on our homeschooling path.  

The inspiration and acceptance of a diverse way of educating our unique children truly amazes me.  I am truly grateful to the many parents around the world who lend an ear and reach out to let me know "It's going to be o.k.  Your son will indeed turn out o.k."

Because I'll say, I sure had that secure boat rocked a few weeks ago.  When I was out in California, for a memorial, there was a friend of the family who attended.  He had a mouthful of opinions that he just couldn't wait to "share" with me.

Within less than a minute of meeting me he puffed up his chest and spouted, "Every homeschooled child I have met is a social basket case!"  Yes, that is exactly what he said.

Case closed.  The truth was now out there in his black and white world.  Not only was my son (whom he has never met) a social basketcase but, as I regarded him cooly, taking slow soft breaths, I imagined he saw me, as the crazy homeschool mother, who was equally as sociably inept.

When you choose to homeschool, you have to have very thick skin.  You also experience people at their most base selves.  I try to view myself as a "pioneer woman" who must quietly persevere through a slowly changing world of naysayers and fault finders.

As I gazed across the car at this larger than life persona of a man, I realized that many stereotypical thoughts flew into my mind.  I quickly had him racked, stacked, and pegged for slaughter!  

What I wanted so badly to say was, "So, Mr. :$#!+-head, are you telling me that...you were homeschooled as well?"  I just wanted to load up my tongue with sharp nails and spit them in rapidfire succession right into his beady little eyes.

So, I gazed at this man and thought of how difficult it is not to stereotype people.  I looked deeper into his eyes and wondered what events in his life brought him to feel so emboldened to deliver such harsh and derisive criticism.

And then I felt nothing but pity for him.  

I reflected on my son.  He is on the cusp of manhood.  His opinions and outlooks on people, politics, religion, and education are all forming.  We see glimpses at this age as to the young man he will soon become.

I didn't let those loaded up nails fly out in rapid-fire succession, though.  Yes sir, indeedy, it was hard.  I sat quietly and listened to a 5 minute rant about what a horrible decision it is for parents to pull their children out of the mainstream accepted environment and dare to "reinvent the wheel".  

Let's just say that I possess a temper, that when ignited,  could power that latest mission to the moon...no, let's choose...Mars.  I imagined during that conversation that there was a glowing halo forming above my head, such was my angelic guise.

I thought of my son.  I thought of his turning the all-important 16 years of age.  

I also thought of this election year.  We've studied election year hype in the past.  It isn't necessarily more shocking than what is going on today, but because we are living through it, it certainly seems more shocking to us now.

So many conversations at home center around AVOIDING choosing political parties.  We are, as a family, caught up in the political and economic issues of our country.  

We are working to stress to our kids that there are no "sides".  There are "issues".  

Each of the issues are neither red nor blue.

Each of the issues shouldn't be colored red nor blue.

...but each involve careful consideration of the implications for the young,old, poor, wealthy, women, gays, immigrants, etc.

I listened impassively to this man rail on about the social ineptness of every single homeschooler that he had encountered.

I considered my son.  I tried to imagine him spouting off such direct criticism to a mere acquaintance, met minutes before.  I tried to imagine him dominating conversations with "red" or "blue" opinions.  

I could not imagine it.  I felt secure in my seat that he would not.  With a cleansing sigh and a steadying of my heart rate, I concluded my son is doing just fine.  

Because if this man before me was an example of how my son could do "better", then I reckoned that I would comfortably stick with the "socially inept" option.

So happy birthday to my young man, Riley.  In one glance, this cake could be pigeon-holed as a super caloric ooey-gooey sweet chocolate loaded cake with sticky sugar frosting.

And, one could take a bite of its moist deliciousness and marvel at the depth of chocolate flavors and hints of maple and honey goodness surrounded by fresh plump blackberries nestled in whipped up cream.

But, what might look one way on the surface (and I am certainly intending to create parallels here...) might have altogether a different make up of ingredients.

"Don't judge a book by its cover"

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them"  Mother Theresa

“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

"A man is the product of his thoughts.  What he thinks, he becomes." - Ghandi 

Chocolate Beet Cake with Maple Cream and Fresh Blackberries
(adapted from the food blog "Simple Bites")
(filling and cream topping from Williams-Sonoma "Cake" cookbook)

Dark Chocolate Beet Cake with Maple Cream and Fresh Blackberries
Cake portion author: 
Recipe Type: Dessert
Yield: 10
Cook the beets ahead of time and this cake will come together fairly quickly. You can boil, steam, or roast your beets whole, then peel and grate them. Recipe adapted from the Green Market Baking Book.
  • 3 medium beets, cooked and cooled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup light olive oil
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup organic, unbleached white flour (I used organic cake flour)
  • 1 cup organic whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

For the filling and the cream frosting:
  • 2 1/2 cups (20 fl oz/560ml) heavy (double) cream (I made double this amount to really cover the cake)
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon kirsch liqueur (for a bit of a cherry taste)

Sugar Syrup: for sealing each layer so cake remains moist
  • 1/4 cup (2oz/60g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60ml) water

Poached Cherries/Blackberries: for the bottom layer of the cake
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2  cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups cherries (or blackberries)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Butter a 9 inch springform cake pan and dust it lightly with cocoa.
  2. Grate the beets on a box grater and measure them; you should have 2 cups of grated beets. Transfer them to a medium colander and allow them to drain of any excess moisture while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, olive oil, maple syrup and honey until everything is well blended.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla extract.
  5. Sift together the flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, but do not over mix.
  6. Fold the beets into the batter until distributed, then scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan and spread around until it is even.
  7. Bake for about 35-45 minutes (mine took 50 min.), until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool, in the pan on a wire rack, for a good 20 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove the latch from around the cake.  Leave the metal layer on the bottom so you can move the cake after spreading the whipped cream on top...to your serving platter.
  9. While the cake is cooling, bring the water and sugar up to a boil for the poached fruit.  Add the fruit to the mixture, reduce the heat to low, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.  Let the fruit cool, then drain, discard the syrup.
  10. Using dental floss, carefully cut cake into 3 layers.
  11. Brush each cake layer with the Sugar Syrup (above) 
  12. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream on the bottom layer
  13. Lay the poached cherries (or blackberries) over that layer of cake.
  14. Place the next cake layer on top.
  15. Coat it with the Sugar Syrup (above)
  16. Layer another coating of whipped cream
  17. Place the top layer of the cake...on the very top.
  18. Spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and the sides of the cake.
  19. Decorate the top with fresh cherries (or blackberries) and chocolate shavings (I added crushed pistachios too and a few sprigs of mint leaves) 
  20. Serve  cool or at room temperature


  1. Oh me oh my...this is amazing!!! Thank you for sharing and happy Sweet 16 to your dear one. xoxoxoxox

  2. Oh, what a horrid experience for you and how graciously you dealt with the situation! Bravo! With a teacher like you, I know your son will turn out magnificently. And bravo for the beautiful cake as well. I love how the layer of blackberries evokes the color of beets. And the superficial part of me is impressed with your even layers of cake and beautiful frosting! :)

    1. It was a mystifying experience for sure...one that took me days to shake off and process. Just when I think I've heard it all...along come someone like this character.

  3. Stunning! I can only imaging how amazing the flavour of this cake is. Gorgeous decorating and incredible colours!

    1. John, I was so pleased with the cake. The travesty is that we threw out 1/4 of it at the end of the day. The next day, we were so sorry for that because all of the ingredients really are so healthy there was no reason to treat it as a "bad confection" to have around. I loved the flavors and the moistness of this cake and will definitely make it again!

  4. I'm writing this anonymously because I am a home school mom of two adults. And I now work at a public school in the primary grades as a teacher's aide. I did the right thing by homeschooling my children...I am convinced of this now more than ever. My heart hurts for these children that struggle or get straight A's and are bored and prideful. It's really not good for either.

    I don't see a solution to the problem aide from homeschooling but I know that wouldn't work for every family. My children are in college and thriving. They have friends all over, serve on student government, and participate in life.

    Don't doubt your decision. Even a year without formal work is not without growth and learning. The only thing I might do differently is to lean more towards unschooling.

    1. Anonymous, I do appreciate feedback and insights like yours. I, too, (for lack of anything else to do) became a substitute teacher while my kids were in various schools. It did give me an eyeful as to the pros and cons of each style of schooling. I love traditional school, but I fear our class sizes have reached a boiling over point that just cannot positively affect these children any more. I was in an unschooling group for a year in New York. I enjoyed all of the very diverse parents that I met. That's a tough one for me b/c we follow a very traditional classical curriculum once hitting high school. It's sad b/c I know the true learning could be coming from getting out into the world but its amazing how much work has to be cone (at the table) during the day. Thank you for popping in and chatting with me!

  5. Just beautiful Happy birthday to Riley!:)

  6. 'crazy home school mother' hehe i'm sure your anything but, and hey even if you do have a little but of craziness, is that a bad thing?!
    i love love love the look of this cake, i'm going to keep it in mind for a cake cooking opportunity.....

    1. Thank you muppy. I love how much you incorporated your kids into your kitchen cooking adventures!

  7. Your son is very blessed to have such loving, caring parents. It takes a lot of work and courage to home school your children. It's a big responsibility, but parents are the main source of learning for children. I applaud you for taking your parental responsibility above and beyond! If I had children, I would want to do the same.

    That cake is beautiful and interesting!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am encouraged by hearing such positive feedback from my daughter now that she is in college. She has been instrumental in encouraging me to continue homeschooling her brother and not to worry about his college transition...something I was worrying about alot!

  8. A very happy birthday to your son. Such a delicious chocolatey cake. Love the addition of beets. I love the styling and pictures. My most favorite one is the eggs with one feather. So beautiful!

  9. I know I've said it before, but your son is so lucky to have you for a mother! And the cake has to be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The way you've decorated it, it almost looks like a piece of fine millinery!
    I'm planning a different kind of chocolate beet cake for next week, I just love the combination. Hope your son had a wonderful birthday!

    1. Good luck with your beet cake Sue! This was the first time I've used them in a cake and I was so pleased. It was chocolaty, moist, hints of sweetness...I was happily surprised, I must admit!

  10. The cake is beautiful. Cakes are a big deal in our house and it is amazing what ingredients are allowed as long as the word cake is involved.
    Yes, it is frustrating when people feel they have the right spout off on something that is really not theirs to spout off about. As parents, we are tasked with molding our children into mature, responsible members of society. It sounds like you are well on your way to doing just that.

    1. It certainly gave me a jolt hopefully in the right direction. We are really watching how much we make politically pointed comments this year so that we don't force our children to think there is only "one way" of thinking about things.

  11. Well said! What a pitiful man - so embedded in negativity. I used to walk away from them as soon as they started ranting and yes, pity was what I felt for them. As you know, my homeschooled son is now gradtaed as an architect and is getting straight A's in his second degree (design, majoring in photography). He is anything but socially inept and so sure of his place in this world.
    Happy birthday to Riley and I think I might make this cake for my niece's daughter's 5th birthday party on Sunday. I'll see how I get on with finding the beets. I don't actually like them but I am sure they will be quite acceptable in a cake.

    1. Suzanne, you are one of the blogger friends that I just love to hang on your every homeschooling story. I see where your son is and it is so comforting for me to have hope that he will be o.k. in the future. I don't like beets either. I was skeptical about the recipe but I really wanted to try it. We didn't taste the beets but be sure to grateful them well and don't like a little beet chunk get in that batter...or it will end up in someone's cake slice!

    2. The beets will be grated very well - no beet hunks in my cake. Meanwhile hold the faith - Riley will surprise you with what he is capable of once he completes the process of becoming a man. The funny thing is I had few doubts about what I was doing while I was deep in the process. Sometimes now I wonder what he would have been like if he had had more formal schooling. The last two years when he went to school to get his qualifications were tough for both of us because he knew what it was like to have more freedom and rejected so much of what they were forcing him to do. The paths taken can't be reversed and we will never know what it would have been like if the other one had been chosen.

  12. That cake is stunning. Love the last shot, the red color completely surprised me! I'm completely shocked that someone could say something so insensitive. Your thoughts on this man and his opinions only show how much better off your son is to be learning from you. Wish him a very happy birthday!

    1. I think I spent the entire weekend trying to process his points of view and forcing myself to find the good behind his words. I tried to think of it as "an assignment" that I was tasked with passing!

  13. Oh my dear Sarah...I should know full well by now...visiting your blog will illicit heartfelt tears... You know this subject too...touches my heart...you tell the story of a path less traveled with such purity of purpose...you make me so very proud to have traveled the road.

    I know i have over the years, been most dumbfounded at some people feeling so free to express their opinion on my education choice for my children...in a way i would never even consider giving to those I know nothing about ..

    But. knowing in my heart... what I have always told my children...there are many ways to the top of the mountain. It is situations like you describe...that I have to remind myself...if it is tolerance I teach my children...then it is also the path of tolerance i must walk...no matter the bloodied and bitten lip. I applaud you my dear Sarah...you are a beacon of love for us all.

    I also know ...I am far enough down this path less traveled to know...just how very, very well it all turned out...

    1. And, my dear Tamera, thus we must have children so that each can teach us as parents and adults to take a look at ourselves and strive to be more caring and thoughtful! You and Suzanne above are so inspirational to me!!

  14. Wonderful!
    Lovely photos.
    Love this!

  15. Sarah! Never have I seen a more beautiful cake! This is a real masterpiece!

  16. It's amazing that you made it all by yourself. The decoration is amazing, so beautiful and professional. And photos - simply beautiful.

  17. I am not sure that I would be brave enough to try this cake. I just hate beetroots so much but the thought of eating chocolate cake might convince me to take a bite or two :) Your photos are simply stunning. Happy birthday to Riley.

    1. I love your honesty Loree...I do NOT like beets either. The smell of them grating was even making me furrow my brow. No taste in the cake however and I'm sure my son would let me know! Ha!

  18. I adore the combination of beetroot and cocoa powder or dark chocolate. Love all the photos .. your styling and the dark mood that you set is always SO gorgeous!

  19. The combination of beetroot and chocolate is quite good. Maybe we can use dark chocolate to make it more delicious. This could be a good addition for the menu of catering suffolk.

  20. I would love to try this cake, in fact I like to have a piece now!! Happy Birthday to your son. Your best photos yet!!!

    1. Well, we certainly had enough to spare! It turned out to be a pretty big cake!

  21. Hi Sarah, I love your quotes and I will always the words of Gandhi. But I love your words so very very much

    So hard to live and grow and nurture in a world full of judgments. There is no ONE answer for all, 'no one shoes fits all' in life. You are doing what you think is best for you and your family. Those who align themselves with you are your tribe, others, why bother? If Riley has even an iota of his mother, I have no doubt he'll be exactly the kind of young man I'd like to know and would want my sons to know.

    Have no fear, Sarah - fortunately this world is a very big place and it is large enough and deep enough to accommodate all of us :)

    The cake is splendid. The decoration is superb. Everything about is beautiful and complex and so apt.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    1. The older I get, it seems I notice that people do hold hard and fast to their judgments. I don't know if they feel that is a "safety net" or "security net" or what... I do tend to see things in grey as opposed to black and white. Thank goodness this world is a really big place!!

  22. I think you are doing a great job and your kids are proof of making the right choices and tackling the issues. Love your sentiments and kudos to you for being strong and special. This cake looks divine love beets and chocolate!

    1. It's been in an interesting road for sure. I really have more empathy for people who are easily stereotyped. I had never encountered this before without the "homeschooler" label.

  23. Wow what a cake. Love the way you decorated it. Happy Birthday!!!

    1. Thank you Helene! I'll bet it's getting really chilly way up there...blow some of that cool air down here to Texas!

  24. It's hard to not be shaken when someone criticizes our life choices. I admire your strength of character and conviction in the choices you've made for your family.

    1. I have homeschooling friends whose convictions are so strong. I admire that. I seem to always be in the "pros" and "cons" world of everything. I'm always trying to determine if that glass is half full or half empty! Oiy!!

  25. Awee....what gorgeous click, I doubt I can ever frost my cake like this! You are a strong lady..warm hugs.

    1. If you use a whipped cream frosting, it is soooooo easy to frost on the cake and make look smooth. So much easier than regular frosting.

  26. The cake is beautiful and the way you write about your choices is so very sage. How lucky your son is to have a mother like you.

    1. I'm chuckling because this year, no assignments that are unfinished during the week can slip into the weekend. I'm wondering what he would comment if I showed him "how lucky he is to have a mother like me". Ha! Ha!

  27. What a beautiful birthday cake! The whipped cream and blackberry filling sounds lovely. Your son must have loved it. And, it sounds like you're doing a great job of raising him and teaching him.

  28. The cake looks and sound amazing, you have such beautiful photographs

  29. Really great post and I am certain that you all are proud of the young man that you're raising. Happy Birthday Riley!

  30. i am not sure how i stumbled on to your blog, but i am so very glad i did.
    your words made me well up with tears. i am a homeschooling mama.
    my daughter will be soon be 17, my son will soon turn 18. they have never been to "real"
    school, but i can tell you this, they have way better manners than that know it all guy.
    thank you for sharing your words with us.

    a lovely cake for your young man.

  31. Happy birthday to your son. You have taught him to have quite a palate. You've made me think of Marcus Sammuelson's memoir, Yes, Chef. Have you read it? I think you'll love it.


How wonderful to hear from new friends...