Valentine’s Day is approaching faster than Cupid’s arrow shot from a compound bow, and you may be sweating under the pressure of preparing a sweet something for your sweetheart. You want your creation to be as full of significance as flavor, as surprising as it is sweet and sexy. For the ultimate culinary embodiment of your feelings, you could do a lot worse than bake a chocolate mayonnaise beet cake.
If there is any truth to the notion that opposites attract, then mayonnaise is metaphorical proof, representing the union and long-term relationship of opposites. Shakespeare is surely kicking himself in the grave for not thinking of it himself. In mayo we have oil: refined and pure, an aristocrat among foods. And we have egg: the shit-smeared menstrual product of a chicken, that most clueless of fowl. When egg and oil meet, they quickly separate, as if intuitively aware that they don’t belong together. Not every true match begins as love at first sight.
Little do they know that something exists in the heart of the egg, a yellow-brownish fatty substance that belongs to the broad category of plant and animal extracts known as lecithin, and which goes by the oh-so-sexy name of phosphatidylcholine. It has the ability to bond egg and oil in blissful mayomony. Cynics will surely liken the emulsifier to a pair of handcuffs binding two disinterested substances against their will, but true romantics will recognize this bonding force as love.
It’s not for such metaphorical reasons alone that mayo deserves its place in the mixing bowl. Those who balk, incredulous, at the addition of love crème obviously haven’t read the recipes for too many chocolate cakes, because they all contain oil and eggs.
While glancing at an ingredient list can help overcome an aversion to mayo in cake, including earthy beet takes more of a leap of faith. Yet, there is also a strong metaphorical basis for adding beet to your chocolate Valentine’s Day cake. Beet is the color of the blood that courses through our hearts and veins, the color of lipstick, sports cars, and cherries. Like love, the beet stains our insides. Like love, the beet is bitter and sweet.
And as is the case with love crème, there is also a solid culinary basis for including the beet in our cake. Sugar is derived from beets because beets are full of sugar. And sugar never hurt a cake. Meanwhile, the texture of shredded beets gives the cake body, much like the lift carrots bring to a carrot cake. While the beet’s color can be off-putting in some contexts, in this cake it hides behind the darker color of chocolate, and the beet’s bitter side blends with the bitter chocolate, adding subtle complexity.
Start by grating 2 cups of red beets. Simmer the shards in four cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain the beets and save the red water, pouring it into a saucepan to simmer at low heat until less than a quarter cup remains — just don’t let it dry out and burn the pan. Set aside the reduced beet water.
Combine the following ingredients in a mixing bowl: 2 cups flour; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 cup cocoa powder; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Stir the dry ingredients together and add 1 teaspoon vanilla; 3/4 cup half-and-half, 1 cup mayo, and the 2 cups shredded beets. Bake in a greased pan, or separate pans for a layer cake, at 350 degrees until a plunged fork comes out clean (about 1/2 hour per two inches).
Let it cool completely, and frost it with pink whipped cream, prepared as follows: chill a mixing bowl and one pint heavy cream, and then whip the cream with a hand or electric mixer. When stiff peaks form, stir in that red beet concentrate you reduced after steaming the beets.
I have made this cake with all kinds of mayo, including my favorite, Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise, which isn’t a true mayo as it contains no eggs. Even my fake mayo works fine, as do all the others I’ve tried. So use your favorite version of love crème and she’ll thank you. Or he’ll thank you. Or they’ll thank you.
And if he or she or they ask what you put in the cake to make it taste so good, you may want to consider that an answer like “mayo, beets, and a touch of phosphatidylcholine” might kill the moment. If you were to simply answer, “love,” that would be truth enough. Shakespeare, eat your heart out. •