To many people, beetroot is represented by vinegary crinkle-cut slices added on to a plate of uninspiring salad. Yet fresh beetroot has much to recommend it and, because of its relatively high sugar content, is suitable for use in baking.
Originally, the tap root was similar to a carrot and just the leaves were eaten, but in the 16th century, the rounded root variety was developed and it became more popular. It is widely used in Eastern European, Russian and Scandinavian cuisine. It can be used peeled and grated when still raw or cooked and puréed. Like carrot it helps to keep the cake moist.
When using the melting method of cake making try adding grated beetroot and parsnip together with spices such as ginger and cinnamon and bake in a loaf tin. It will also mix with grated carrot or potato. By using spices and brown sugar, the colour of the beetroot in the cake is toned down. Or use puréed beetroot with oil and eggs added to the dry ingredients of a chocolate cake. Puréed beetroot can also be made into a savoury roulade.
A filling of herb cream cheese with added horseradish goes particularly well with the beetroot.
In season: July-January
By Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine