Winter is drawing rapidly closer – the clocks are due to fall back and it will soon be dark when I leave work – my desire to cook good wholesome food seems to be an all time high. I am so excited about the impending winter events, Halloween (celebrated by the ancient Celts as part of the Samhain festival and which indicated the end of the year and thus the onset of Winter), Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and New Years, that I have already started planning menus for all of them. I have an urge to cook for large crowds, yet I am very rarely given the opportunity unless we visit my husband’s family in the US.
The winter months seem like the perfect time to be overly generous with your food (you should be anyway, but when it’s cold, it seems like we need extra nuturing), and if it doesn’t all get eaten in a sub-zero body-protecting frenzy, we have leftovers instead.
Beetroot was charmingly referred to as Blood Turnip in the 19th Century so it seems like a perfect vegetable to prepare for All Hallows Eve.
I hope that some unsuspecting Trick or Treaters will come to the door that night so I can confront them with blood pink stained hands, half peeled beet clutched demonically in my fist, paring knife in the other. When they yell “trick or treat” at me, I will say “Borscht or Candy?”
I had great fun peeling the beetroot. It is amazing to see this dull, deep red root vegetable transformed into a vibrant, ruby coloured gem (traditionally used as the colourant for pink lemonade – shattering my dreams, as I thought that some remote tropical land grew pink lemons) as you gently remove the soft outer skin. I didn’t wear gloves as recommended, and my fingers weren’t really stained too badly at all.
For the Beetroot Muffins, which sound like something from a Roald Dahl novel, the beets have to be roasted in the oven for about an hour and a half, skin on, wrapped in foil. With those snugly ensconced in the oven, I got on with making dinner.
The Romans thought of Beetroot as an aphrodisiac, but taking into consideration that it also has a highly effective laxative quality (Apicius devoted at least five recipes to using beetroot to relieve constipation), it’s probably not recommended for a romantic night in for the just the two of you.
These Beetroot Muffins, which are a glossy chocolate mauve colour and are rich enough to serve dusted with icing sugar and a swirl of whipped cream but are also sturdy enough to survive travelling in a lunchbox. The beetroot gives them a delicious moistness, meaning that they keep well in the cake tin (if they last that long!) and, more importantly, they are a tasty way of getting all of the beetroot’s nutrients into you.
However, because I’m entering this into the the eleventh edition of Muffin Monday, hosted by Cuisine Plurielle, I have decided to make it even more Autumnal, to tie in the with theme, Colors and Flavors of Autumn.
Whilst on their own, the muffins are richly chocolatey with a hidden depth (that’ll be the beets), I decided that a tangy fruit layer would work really well with the dark, dark chocolate, so I added a layer of freshly picked blackberries, of which there is a surfeit of along the roadside. And then I got to thinking, how am I going to use up those baby marshmallows that I bought for hot chocolate? So, I decided to throw a couple of them in the mixture too, plus stud the top of the muffins with them. I suppose I was thinking campfire s’mores and picking wild fruit in the woods. Finally, I sprinkled the tops with some Cacao Nibs, mostly just because I had them but they do give them muffins a woody looking effect and add an unusual texture.
N.B. This recipe uses roasted beetroot, but you can buy it vacuum packed and ready cooked at the supermarket which saves quite a lot of time. Just be sure that it isn’t pickled!
BEETROOT MUFFINS Makes 12
300g Beetroot Raw (to give about 250g cooked and peeled, see method) or 250g Vacuum Packed Ready Cooked Beetroot
75g Cocoa Powder (I use Green and Blacks because it has a wonderful dark, rich flavour)
180g Plain Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
250g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
200ml Unflavoured Oil (such as corn oil or sunflower oil)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Handful of Blackberries and Mini Marshmallows (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 200c. Wrap your uncooked beetroot, unpeeled, in tin foil. Fit snugly in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for about an hour and half or until tender. If using ready cooked beetroot, skip this and go straight to step 2.
2) Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Put to one side.
3) Once your beetroot is cooked, peel and chop into large chunks. Puree in your blender. Add the eggs, one at a time until blended.
4) Add the Vanilla Extract and Oil and blend until thoroughly mixed. The blender will now look Pepto-Bismal Pink.
5) Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in your hot pink beetroot mixture. Combine gently but do not overstir.
6) Pour into a lined muffin tin. If you want to add the blackberries and marshmallows, half fill the cases, sprinkle over some of the fruit and marshmallows, then cover over with more batter. Sprinkle some of the marshmallows on top. I added a sprinkling of Cacao Nibs which add a delicious crunch and look gorgeous.
7) Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180c or until springy to the touch.
The baked muffins will have a slight sheen to them but they will be cooked through.
Enjoy but in moderation and remembering Apicius’ five recipes…