This is the time of year when you feel like it really ought to be warm already. The calendar may have turned to spring, but the weather is still unreliable. And if you like to bake, then in addition to the cold, you’ve had enough of chocolate and nuts over the past few months; you’re ready for fresh fruits and berries!
But we can often get ahead of ourselves. “Seasonal” restaurants put asparagus on the menu, even though it’s likely traveled from a farm in California to our New York tables. Pints of berries in the supermarket taunt and tempt, but be honest with yourself: they don’t taste like much before June. And no matter how tired you are of your winter coat, those fair weather clothes really aren’t comfortable yet, are they?
Despite our impatience for spring, there are still ways to create bright flavors and colorful desserts during this seasonal limbo. Evoke sunshine with the tart pastels of lemons, grapefruits and oranges. Open jars of jam and bags of frozen berries to find summer, preserved. Embellish quick breads and cakes with jewel tones and earthy sweetness by using beets and carrots. And don’t overlook the radiant hues of teas and spices like hibiscus, green tea or saffron.
We’re partnering with Sweets & Bitters to celebrate honest early spring desserts that defy our usual cool weather ho-hum. Over the next week, stay tuned for recipes on both their website and our own that celebrate the here and now.
First up, we’ve got a lucious crimson cake without a drop of food coloring. Keeping beets red in a cake is tricky — oxygen, alkalinity and heat alter the pigment. But the acidity of blood oranges (with a little vinegar as backup) can preserve their rosy hue.
Also, this cake is not as earthy as you might fear; it is also bright and has a fine, tender crumb. The taste and texture improve after a day, and it will keep for a week, so it’s a great dessert to make in advance of any occasion, even if you’re the only one celebrating.
Stay tuned for even more early spring recipes from Sweets & Bitters, including these green tea rice macarons.
Blood orange and beet cake with goat cheese icing
Butter for greasing pans
2 ½ cups flour, more for dusting pans
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 medium beet (about 4 ounces)
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
Juice of 2 blood oranges, about 1/3 cup
4 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 2 blood oranges
4 ounces (1 small log) goat cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) stick butter, room temperature
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
To make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch pans, or three 8-inch pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with circles of parchment paper. Grease again, and dust with flour.
2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda using a whisk or fork. Set aside. Zest the oranges, and reserve the zest for the icing. Juice the oranges; you’ll want about 1/3 cup juice. Finely grate the beet to yield about ¾ cup. Immediately mix the grated beet with the vinegar. Add the orange juice, and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes smooth and pale and increases in volume (about 10 minutes). With the mixer running on medium speed, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil. If the olive oil is pooling, you’re pouring too fast. Allow it to incorporate before adding more. Make frequent stops to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. When the olive oil has fully incorporated, add half of the beet mixture. By hand or with the mixer, slowly stir it in. Stir in half of the flour, and then the rest of the beet mixture and the vanilla, and finally the rest of the flour.
5. Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes, then turn them out of the pans. Cool completely before icing.
To make the icing:
1. The butter and goat cheese must be at room temperature. Combine them with the orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment and beat them together.
2. Add the salt, and about ½ cup powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Mix in the lemon juice. Continue adding the powdered sugar, about ½ cup at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Mix until smooth. If the icing is too loose, refrigerate it for about 15 minutes, or until it is thick enough to spread on the cake.
To ice the cake:
1. Put a very thin layer of icing on the top and sides of one cake layer; this is your crumb coat. Place the next layer on top, and put a crumb coat on that layer too (proceed the same way with the third layer if you have one). Put the cake in the freezer for 5 minutes, or refrigerator for 20 minutes, until the icing feels firm. This firm crumb coat will keep crumbs from muddying your icing.
2. Use the remaining icing to frost the cake. This cake keeps well at cool room temperature for a day, or refrigerated for a week. If you plan to transport the cake, refrigerating it for at least 30 minutes before traveling will help it stay pretty.
Photo credit: Lauren Colchamiro