Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting



Hey Dude (that I’m currently dating),

We need to talk.  It’s about your mother.

Mostly… it’s about how I need to meet your mother.  We’ve been carrying on for a while now… and I need to meet the lady that birthed you, clothed you, slapped you upside the head, and made you the awesome man you are now.  If I don’t meet her soon, she will surely think me some sort of hussy harlot who was born in a barn and doesn’t much care for other people’s mothers.  This is not the case.  I care about most mothers, often.

It’s a lady thing that perhaps you don’t understand.  I need to be nervous.  I need to bite off all my nails.  I need to agonize over the perfect outfit that will make me look sophisticated, but sweet and approachable, womanly without being more womanly that her.  I need the outfit that says I can damn well take care of myself, and keep her dear and darling son in line for the rest of his life.  It’s a fine fine fiiiine line.

I need to let your mother look me up and down in examination.  I need to stand there and let her envision me as her daughter-in-law.  I need to eat her casserole, express my desire for the recipe… then I need to do her dishes.

I need to let her tell me how to do things that I already know how to do, like make a pie, and pluck my eyebrows.  We need to watch 60 Minutes together.  She in her recliner, me sitting on the floor.  I need to offer to bring dessert.  She’ll make a face when it’s being served, and enjoy it despite herself.  It’s all a dance.  Every moment of it.  It’s all a test… because mothers do not let their sons go quietly… they let them go passive aggressively.

Lastly, she needs to see that I make you happy.  That’s where you come in.  Don’t act weird.  Well, don’t act weirder than you usually act.  Be natural… and put your arm around me once in a while.  It’s your job to make sure that no one gets a third glass of wine.  That’s when things get weird.

It’s also your job NOT to tell your mother that there are beets in the cake I’m serving for dessert.  That will be our little secret.  Unless she loves it… then I’m taking all the glory.






Quite right.  This chocolate cake is chocked full of roasted beets.

Beets are trimmed of their greens (which are delicious sauteed) and roasted whole in foil and just a touch of oil.  You know… like you’re making a beet salad, but you’re totally making cake.


Besides beets, this cake also has the usual cake- y suspects:  flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, powder, and salt.


I love preparing cake pans for baking.  Something about the ritual just calms me.

Parchment paper rounds (that are cut by hand) totally ensure that the cake will come out of the pan in one piece.  It’s an extra bit of work, but I love the insurance.


Roasted beets are cooled and peeled (which is easy… not to worry), and grated on the fine side of a box grater.

If you’re wondering about beet stained hands… yes, I had two.  They eventually wash clean.

Beets add moisture and sweetness to the cake.  Beets do not make the cake taste like a salad.  That’s an important thing to know.

The cake batter will be a purple color, but will bake into a moist chocolate cake with no trace of beets.


Let’s talk about frosting.  Butter and cream cheese are left at room temperature until soft.  They’re beaten with powdered sugar, vanilla, and a squeeze of lemon.

Beets, too!  Beets, shredded and mashed add a slight sweetness and intense color to the frosting.  It’s all you need for food coloring.  It’s delightful and delicious.  And again… it does not taste like salad.



You may have a few beet strands in your frosting as you decorate the cake.  Think of it as nature’s sprinkles.

… I can’t believe I just typed that.

I’m sorry.


I want you to fall in love with this cake.  I did.

The cake itself is moist and chocolate-y.  It’s not too sweet either!  Bonus.  The frosting is bright pink, speckled with beet bits, and creamy sweet.

No one would ever know this cake is chocked full of vegetables.  We can just keep that little bit of information between us.  Secret ingredient power!

Pssst… Valentine’s Day Cake!  I’m just sayin…

Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes one 8 or 9-inch layer cake

adapted from Fine Cooking November 2001

Print this Recipe!

For the Cake:

2 medium beets, unpeeled but trimmed of their greens

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

2/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

For the Frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened

4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons finely grated beets, mashed with a fork

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or scrapings of one vanilla bean pod

1-2 teaspoons milk, depending on desired consistency

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Thoroughly wash beets under running water, and trim their leaves, leaving about 1/2 inch of stem.  Place clean beets in a piece of foil.  Drizzle with just a bit of vegetable oil.  Seal up foil.  Place on a baking sheet in the oven.  Roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Remove the beets from the oven.  Open the foil and allow beets to cool completely.  Beets will be easy to peel (just using a paring knife) once completely cooled.

Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.  Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting.  Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Use butter to grease two 8 or 9-inch round baking pans.  Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan.  Cut it out and place inside the cake pan.  Butter the parchment paper.  Add a dusting of flour to coat the pan.  Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars.  Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, for one minute after each addition.   Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture.  Beating on low speed , slowly add the buttermilk.  Once just incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients.  Beat on medium speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Try not to overmix the batter.  Bowl can be removed from the mixer and mixture folded with a spatula to finish incorporating ingredients.  Cake batter will be on the thick side… not pourable.

Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan).  Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.

To make the Frosting:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth.  Add the butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beets.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky.  Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

To assemble the cake, place one layer of cake on a cake stand or cake plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting.  Spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake.  You will have extra frosting left over.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice).  Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

471 thoughts on “Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. In the olden days red velvet cakes were made with beets instead of food coloring. Beets in the icing is new to me, though.

  2. I’m glad I waited to take my sip of tea before reading “they let go of them passive aggressively.” Hilarious… and incredibly true. Five years later (2.5 of them married) and I’m finally breaking down the walls.

  3. I have this recipe but have never tried it! You have given me courage.
    I am also the mother of 7 sons!! Yes, I birthed them all and Yes! they all have the same dad, who is also my husband.
    We (mothers of sons) don’t let them go easily.. but when the right girl comes along, and sometimes we know before the son (so make sure to meet the mom) , it’s great! Enough said….

  4. Wow! this is the third time this month I’ve come across a beet cake! The first one I made, I found at David Lebovitz blog and it came out super tender. The only thing is that it tastes soooo much better the next day. I also saw a beet cake with bourbon creme anglese in this month’s issue of food and wine. As to beet frosting…this is a first! can’t wait to try it out!

  5. This is gorgeous!
    Although, I should warn you, I wouldn’t bring a beet cake to meet a mom. Unless that mom is from Berkeley and loves that sort of thing. You’d be better off with a decadent cake that is actually not as high in calories as it tastes? I don’t know. Don’t listen to me. Eat beets with sugar! :)

  6. Joy, this is positively amazing. I love your wit and writing style. I’ve never baked or cooked with beets but I’ll consider it, thanks to your post!

  7. Beets…and…Chocolate? Hmm. do you ever feel like you could throw together something totally gross and take awesome pictures of it and everyone would comment “OMG AMAZING!” ?

  8. Meeting the mom is important- and it’s scary! I met my mother in law at my surprise bridal shower. My husband and I got engaged within a month of our first date, so yeah- walked into a friend’s house to SURPRISE! Happy Bridal Shower! Oh and SURPRISE! Meet your soon to be mother in law! I didn’t have the chance to pick the perfect outfit, make a cake, anything! Sometimes I think it was better that way. Sort of like ripping off a band-aid ;)

  9. Speaking of mothers: The first time I met my BF’s grandparents, I decided to bake a glorious cake, to impress them with my homemaking skills. Well hour until we had to leave, I realized I ruined the cake. I cried a LOT, and had to bring *store-bought pound cake* to dinner. I’m still a little ashamed.

  10. Joy,
    I have to be honest here. I think beets taste purple. There, I said it. I can’t eat them….but in a chocolate cake with purple icing? Well, I might be able to take the plunge. Also, you are a wise woman when it comes to mothers. Wise woman.

  11. OMGosh! I love this!!! I love the cake and I love the meeting of the BF mom… I may just have to send this on to my guy, but then he’ll know my secret to the Valentines cake… cause that beautiful pinky purple is to die for and totally meant to be eaten on the most lovey dovey day of the year!

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