April 11, 2021
Come see our garden at 11001 Midway Road. Nestle carefully in front of our bluebonnets for photos!
Pictures by Starla Willis
April 11, 2021
Come see our garden at 11001 Midway Road. Nestle carefully in front of our bluebonnets for photos!
Pictures by Starla Willis
February 10, 2021
Better get out more of those covers for your plants. This arctic blast is lasting through mid-week next week and temperatures are forecast to drop way down into the single digits. I have checked the weather app on my phone much more than I ever checked instagram or any other media platform and my level of anxiety was rising until I talked to Jeff Raska.
Jeff Raska, our county horticultural agent, gave some advice.
Cover all bedding plants even pansies and kale, cover all soft tissue plants and perennials that have broken bud. Shrubs that are marginally cold tolerant may also need a cover. That would include Pittosporum, Indian Hawthorn, and Loropetalum. Boxwood may get frost damage so consider covering them.
Just like us, our plants are not used to this cold weather snap so protection is in order. Fortunately, we may get rain first and Jeff says that will help a ton!
As far as frost cloth versus using bed sheets, Jeff says he has saved many plants with bedsheets. Frost cloth or frost blankets are better and will give better protection, but if you run out of those, empty out your linen closet and put those bed linens over your plants.
Looking out at my yard, I am deciding which plants are my favorites and prioritizing them. My relatively new bed of pittosporum, my giant kale, and the fall planted ShiShi Gashira camellias in front are getting the frost cloth and I may even double it. The huge Indian Hawthorns that flank my front yard beds will also get special treatment. I wish there was a way to help by Chinese Snowball Viburnums that are already blooming. For them, I will have to say a prayer.
In closing, Jeff reminded me that nature happens, Things will grow back, as long as they don’t get root damage. The sun will shine again.
It was just over one year ago that a quick trip to a local garden center had surprising results. After visiting with the owner for a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing would be statelier in front of our greenhouse than a five-foot-tall arbequina olive tree. Ruth, the owner, was already growing olive trees at her house just minutes away. She assured me that all twelve trees had been thriving in her garden for over eight years.
An on-the-spot decision was made, and Ruth helped me select a nicely shaped olive tree that just fit into my vehicle. Back at the garden, one of our strong and capable male volunteers dug the hole and lifted our arbequina olive tree in place. Carefully staked and secured with rubber tubing, our tree was ready for late fall and winter weather in its new sunny location.
We were so pleased to watch as it continued to grow through a mild winter and into spring. But the real thrill for us happened this summer when the tiny little green olives started popping out on some of the lower branches.
Now, at the end of September, it is exciting to see the olive harvest multiplying. As we arrive at the garden each Tuesday to tend to our chores, we’ve noticed that the olives are slowly transitioning from green to rose and then a deep, dark purple. By mid-November the olives should have ripened enough to be harvested and ready for the next step.
After searching through various internet sources, we’ve decided to experiment with two different methods for enjoying our olives.
#1 – Curing and Brining (Water Method)
#2 – Curing and Brining (Salt Method)
If you’re interested in growing an olive tree in your garden, here are some helpful facts that we learned about the Arbequina variety:
*It is one of the most extensively planted olive cultivars in the world (USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11).
*The name comes from the village of Arbeca (Spain) where it was first introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century.
*Arbequina olive trees are hardier than other varieties and are resistant to drought and pests.
*Arbequina olive trees prefer four to eight hours of full to partial sunlight. They are adaptable to different conditions of climate and soil but do best in alkaline soils.
*Arbequina’s are often described as a small olive that packs big flavor. They have a rich and flavorful fruity, buttery taste with a texture that is meaty and firm.
Corn, the golden essence of summer and okra, a garden giant, were the two features at last week’s ‘Grow and Graze’ event. A panel discussion led by master gardener, Linda Alexander also included Dorothy Shockley, master gardener and vegetable specialist, along with Jeff Raska, Horticulture Program Assistant, Dallas County.
Starting with an historical look into the recorded beginnings of both crops, our panelists shared helpful suggestions and tips for growing them in our home gardens.
Some sources say that corn’s true origins date back 10,000 years ago to the pre-Columbian civilization. It is native to southern Mexico.
There are 5 main classes of corn:
Dent – called dent because of the small dent in top of the kernel. Used for livestock, the dinner table when harvested early enough, cornmeal and oil.
Flint – or Indian corn, this the colorful corn used for fall décor.
Flour – used for starches, flour, cornmeal and masa harina.
Popcorn – for popping, also can be colorful. Interestingly, any dried corn will “pop”.
Sweet – open pollinated and hybrid. The hybrid sweet corn is what we find in our markets today.
Growing corn requires full sun, well prepped soil and varieties recommended for our area:
Kandy Korn, Silver Queen, How Sweet it Is, Merit, G90.
Plant corn seed 8” to a foot apart and always in a square or rectangle to help with pollination. Dorothy recommends putting two seeds in each hole and then thinning out the smaller one. Pollination should start in about two months.
Corn takes about 70 to 80 days to maturity. The tassel starts to emerge about 20 days before maturity. In that 20-day period, the most interesting part of the pollination takes place. The tassel, the male part of the plant appears. The tassel has anthers that will open up and spray the pollen. As this is happening, the silks, the female part of the plant emerges from the ear. The silks will be sticky on the ends, which allows the pollen to stick. The leaves will also be collecting some pollen. Along comes the wind blowing that pollen around your corn patch which connects with the silks. This is the main reason for planting corn in a square or rectangle
and not a single row.
Each one of those silks run down that ear, inside the shuck to a kernel. This pollinates the kernel and it starts to swell or fatten and develop.
Remember, when purchasing corn at the grocery or farmer’s market always buy corn with husks still in place. Look for ears that are full, filled out at the base and fresh silks that are not dried out. And, don’t forget to do the “peel back” test to check for freshness and plump, full
kernels. Ideally, fresh corn should be prepared either the same day or within two days.
*Each corn stalk has two ears. Most ears have exactly 16 rows of kernels. Cut an ear of corn crosswise to see the formation. The number of lines may vary but, generally, every ear of corn
has 400 to 600 kernels.
*The average American eats 25 pounds of corn a year. This include everything from corn-on-the-cob, to cornbread, corn syrup, corn starch and, of course, tortillas.
Enjoy these delicious corn recipes from our picnic-style lunch and you might be well on your way to consuming the yearly average of 25 pounds per person.
Santa Fe Corn Soup
3 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (8 to 12 ears), or frozen corn
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup butter
2 cups milk (or 1 cup evaporated milk and 1 cup water)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons canned chiles, rinsed and diced
1 cup cubed cooked chicken
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
Garnish: Fresh oregano and fried tortilla triangles
Combine corn and chicken broth in blender or food processor and puree.
In 3-quart saucepan combine butter and corn mixture and simmer slowly 5 minutes, stirring to keep corn from sticking to bottom of pan. Add milk, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Reduce heat and add chiles and chicken. Simmer 5 minutes.
Remove soup from heat and add cheese and baking soda (to prevent curdling). Stir until melted. To serve, ladle soup into 6 bowls. Top with tomatoes and garnish with tortilla triangles and a sprig of fresh oregano.
Yield: Serve 6
Fresh Corn Cakes with Heirloom Tomato Relish and Tarragon Crème Fraiche
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
¾ cup whole milk
1 large egg
2 cups fresh corn kernels
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Tarragon Crème Fraiche (recipe follows)
Heirloom Tomato Relish (recipe follows)
In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, dill, parsley and tarragon.
In a small bowl, whisk together milk and egg until smooth. Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture, stirring just until combined. Stir in corn kernels.
In a large skillet, pour oil to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat over medium heat. Drop cornmeal mixture by one-fourth cupfuls into hot oil, and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Let drain on paper towels. Serve corn cakes topped with Tarragon Crème Fraiche and Heirloom Tomato Relish. Garnish with herbs, if desired.
Yield: Makes approximately 18
Tarragon Crème Fraiche
1 (8-ounce) container crème fraiche
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
In a medium bowl, stir together crème fraiche, tarragon and mustard. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Yield: Makes approximately 1 cup
Heirloom Tomato Relish
3 large multicolor heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes, olive oil, basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper just before serving.
Yield: Makes approximately 2 cups
Corn and Jalapeno Jelly Muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn kernels, defrosted
¼ cup jalapeno pepper jelly
Preheat the oven to 373˚F. Generously butter 12 muffin cups; each 2 ½ inches in diameter.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and pepper flakes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and corn. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir lightly, using no more than 15 to 20 strokes, to combine.
Fill each muffin cup about half full with batter; reserve ⅓ of the batter. With the back of a teaspoon, make a small depression in the center of each muffin and drop in
1 teaspoon of jalapeno jelly. Divide the reserved batter over the tops to cover the jelly (do not spread the batter).
Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes, or until light golden on top. Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 2 minutes. Using a blunt knife, ease the muffins out onto a wire rack and let cool for about 20 minutes.
Yield: Makes 12 muffins
Esquites: Mexican Street Corn Salad
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed, (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 ounces feta or Cotija cheese, finely crumbled
½ cup finely sliced scallions, green parts only
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped
1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced on a Microplane grater (about 1 to 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lime
Chili powder or hot chili flakes, to taste
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels, season to taste with salt, toss once or twice, and cook without moving until charred on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Continue tossing and charring until corn is well charred all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add mayonnaise, cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, and chili powder and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more chili powder to taste. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4
Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake
2 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup coarsely ground cornmeal
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Shredded zest of ½ large orange
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
Powdered sugar for dusting
In a 2-quart saucepan bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the cornmeal, ½ cup sugar and the salt in a medium metal bowl. Whisk in the hot milk until smooth.
Wash out the saucepan, fill it two thirds full of water, and bring it to a simmer. Cover the bowl with foil, set it over the water and cook 40 minutes; the polenta will be thick and stiff. Stir three or four times as it cooks and add water to the pan if necessary.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan. Finely chop three quarters of the chocolate and cut the rest into generous 1-inch pieces.
When the polenta is cooked, remove the bowl (or pan) from the water. Blend in the finely chopped chocolate, the orange zest, cinnamon, pepper, yolks, and vanilla. Place 1 cup of this mixture in another bowl and stir the cream into it. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Beat in the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and then whip to soft peaks. Fold a quarter of the whites into the non-cream chocolate-polenta mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the rest, leaving a few white streaks. Fold in the chocolate chunks with one or two strokes. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon, hollow out the center of the batter so the polenta-cream mixture will sit in a pocket. Add the cream mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter. Sift the cocoa over the top, the sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 1 hour, or until a knife inserted at the edge of the pudding comes out with moist crumbs on it, but when put into the center, comes out with creamy streaks. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
Release the sides of the pan and set the cake on a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.
Yield: 1 8” cake (8 servings)
Recipe adapted from “The Italian Country Table”
Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blackberry Lemon Verbena Sauce
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 ½ cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
6 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup sour cream
2 sprigs lemon verbena or ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 ½ cups blackberries (about 6 ounces)
Using a large knife, slice the kernels off the corn cobs and place in a large saucepan. Break cobs in half and add to the pot along with milk, cream and ½ cup sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring, then remove from heat. Let stand to infuse for 1 hour, the discard corn cobs.
Using an immersion or regular blender, puree kernel mixture. Return mixture to a simmer, then turn off heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, ⅛ teaspoon salt and another ¼ cup sugar. Add a cup of hot cream mixture to yolks, stirring constantly so they don’t curdle. Add yolk mixture to saucepan, stirring. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pass custard through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the solids. Discard solids. Whisk in sour cream until smooth. Let custard cool in an ice bath, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon verbena sprigs (or zest) and ¼ cup water and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts and syrup thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Add blackberries and cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer, until fruit just softens, but doesn’t fall apart. Let cool, then discard verbena.
Freeze corn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve with blackberries and syrup on top. Recipes makes 1 ½ pints.
More recipes to follow later this week.
August 10, 2019
Pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, birds, and wasps are the basis of a healthy ecosystem. They allow plants to reproduce and those plants provide us with countless varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I have read that one in every three bites of food lands on your plate because of the work of these pollinators.
With that in mind, look at your garden in a new way. How are you providing for the pollinators who make your life happen?
Here are some of the plants we are growing with that purpose.
On the right side of the page under Raincatcher’s Resources, take a look at the list of butterfly and hummingbird plants for more information.
I’m infatuated with this new basil, so I asked Linda to write about it-Ann.
Our first encounter with Balsamic Blooms Basil was in April of 2018. While the designation Texas Superstar® caught our attention, it was the beautiful deep purple blooms that we found most intriguing. We were smitten. Thankfully, we were able to locate six plants at a local garden center and then used them to create a border for our newly established hügelkultur bed.
People couldn’t stop talking about the “new plants” in our garden. As they continued to grow throughout the spring and into summer, everyone became more intrigued. A quick explanation convinced them that this was a plant worthy of adding to the home garden.
Balsamic Blooms Basil was named a 2017 Texas Superstar plant by AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturalists after three years of field trials around the state. To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not only be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state. Texas Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.
Balsamic Blooms is truly is a game changer. It is the first basil to have flowers and leaves growing at the same time. You’ll be tempted not to harvest those long-lasting, gorgeous purple blooms, content just to admire their beauty. But you shouldn’t miss the delightful mint flavor of the tender young flowers chopped and sprinkled over a summer salad. The sweet flavor of the foliage may be used for a delicious pesto or other culinary uses.
We were so pleased with last year’s performance that for 2019, Balsamic Blooms took center stage in our ombre basil bed at Raincatcher’s Garden. Once again, it has thrilled visitors to the garden who don’t leave without asking about this lovely herb.
As with most basils, plant in a sunny area in well drained soil. It has a mounding growth habit reaching 18-24” and is a great addition for either the edible garden or landscape.
July 20, 2019
To protect your fig trees from hungry birds, cover the tree canopy with bird netting. The netting operation needs to be completed before the fruit begins to ripen. Timing is critical. Generally the birds leave unripened fruit alone but once the fig or grape shows color they are all in for their feast and little will be left for you.
This was our project last week at Raincatcher’s. We were lucky enough to have Captain in the US Army and Dallas County Master Gardener, Jon Maxwell, leading us.
Netting for the fig was from Lowes; netting for the grapes was purchased on line as it needed to be larger, 28′ x 28′ vs 14′ x 14′ from box stores.
Jon’s tips for bird netting application-have a lot of help and keep your fig tree pruned short.
Above you see Jim Miller, Jon Maxwell and one of our Dallas County Master Gardeners interns at work.
Annette Latham is a steady help with the net in the top picture.
The netting was large enough to basically hang to the ground, so heavy objects were placed at the bottom to help hold it in place. Mockingbirds, who love figs and grapes, have been quite furious!!
Written by Ann Lamb as explained by Jon Maxwell
Pictures by Starla Willis
Looking forward to fig harvest? Here’s few fig recipes from last year’s Grow and Graze event
Don’t forget Grilled Figs with Thyme Honey and Gorgonzola Toasts.
By the way, if you are interested in the Dallas County Master Gardener program, call our help desk at 214- 904 -3053 or go to our website here. Classes start in January when it’s cool!
May 4, 2019
Ana and Linda enthusiastically took center stage last week to proclaim the spring and summer plans for the Raincatcher’s Edible Landscape. The purpose of our edible landscape is to create a stylish and appealing outdoor space using vegetable, fruit, and herb plant materials. On top of that, think partial shade and an area formerly used as a children’s playground. Add in budget constraints and the lack of an irrigation system..
Without the fervor of Ana and Linda and their band of Master Gardeners, I doubt this garden would have flourished. But with its second birthday round the corner, the edible landscape is ready to take off its training pants and mature into a beautiful and thoughtful garden full of edible delights.
In the next few weeks, look for articles giving more detail about the 2019 design plan. The basil bed has just been planted with many different colors of basil. Hint: research the ombré look and we’ll explain later how it’s being used in the edible landscape.
PIctures by Linda Alexander
Open this link for a list of the all the plants and a plot plan of The Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden.
April 30, 2019
The idea of a food guild or food forest is interesting because it is a less labor intensive way to grow food and more sustainable. Everyone likes the idea of low maintenance and more crops, so watch this video to see the food guild we are creating to in our Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden.
The food guild utilizes layers of different types of plants. We are fortunate to have towering oak trees for our tall tree layer and also fortunate to have tasted acorn muffins made from acorn flour. So yes, our tall tree layer, the live oak tree is a food source. Next we will have a short tree, a vine will grow up that tree, then a shrub layer, an herb layer, ground cover and a root crop like horseradish or carrots. As you read this, you should be getting the idea of plants growing together and utilizing each other’s strengths to create this sustainable food guild.
It’s a fascinating concept and you will get to hear of it’s successes and trials, as we watch it over the next few years.
Ana has given us a list of the plants we will be considering for The Raincatcher’s Food Guild. I’m excited about the mandarin orange tree.
video by Starla Willis
For more information about planting a food guild click here.
“Kick Up the Heat” Spread
¼ cup Wasabi Arugula, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, optional
Dash of sea salt
In a medium bowl, whip all ingredients together until smooth. Spread over crackers. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few days.
6 ounces young dandelion leaves, tough stems and base ends removed*
2 tablespoons blanched hazelnuts (filberts), coarsely chopped (optional)
3 ounces thick-cut sliced slab bacon, cut crosswise into pieces ½ inch wide
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground coarse pepper to taste
Pick over the dandelion leaves, tearing the larger ones in half. Place in a wooden salad bowl. Add the hazelnuts, if using.
In a small frying pan over high heat, fry the bacon until crisp and its fat has been rendered, about 1 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the bowl holding the dandelions, leaving the fat in the pan.
Return the pan to high heat, add the vinegar, and swirl the pan or stir with a wooden spoon to pick up the sediment on the bottom.
Pour in as much additional oil as will be necessary to dress the salad, swirl once to heat a little, and then pour the contents of the pan over the salad. Season with salt and pepper, toss, and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 6
*If dandelion leaves are not available, the outer dark green leaves of curly endive or spinach may be substituted.
After tasting a smorgasbord of color, flavors, shapes and textures, attendees indulged their sweet tooth with a few garden-inspired desserts:
Blue Ribbon Carrot Cake and Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
Blue Ribbon Carrot Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs, well beaten
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup buttermilk
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups grated carrots
1 (3 ½-ounce) can flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting
Combine flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.
Combine eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar, and vanilla; beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture, pineapple, carrots, coconut, and chopped walnuts. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.
Bake at 350˚F for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately spread Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers. Cool in pans 15 minutes; remove from pans, and let cool completely.
Spread Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and side of cake. Store cake in refrigerator.
Yield: One 2-layer cake
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon soda
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine sugar, soda, buttermilk, butter, and corn syrup in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; cook 4 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Yield: about 1 ½ cups.
Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon orange juice
Combine butter and cream cheese, beating until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, powdered sugar, rind, and juice; beat until smooth. Yield: enough for one 2-layer cake.
Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake
2 medium beets, unpeeled but trimmed of their greens
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
6 ounces (¾ cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
⅔ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
For the frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces 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
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375˚F.
Thoroughly wash beets under running water, and trim their leaves, leaving about ½ 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 ¾ cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting. Set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚. 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 to 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 cake easier to slice). Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.
Yield: Makes one 8 or 9-inch layer cake
Pictures by Starla Willis and Linda Alexander