(Not quite) carbon copy: Beetroot, walnut and hazelnut cake

We are really lucky in London to have a fantastic network of farmers' markets. And I am doubly lucky because one of them happens to run every Sunday in the little London village where I live.

Because of the market, Sunday mornings are my favourite time in our neighbourhood – the village centre is bustling with shoppers, bringing to mind a time when people shopped at the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker, not at soulless big box supermarkets. It’s such a nice feeling that I can even put up with the yummy mummies and daddies clogging up the narrow sidewalks with their expensive all-terrain prams and designer babies!

At the market you can buy all manner of veg, fish, meat and poultry, plants, baking and dairy, from the finest cream you’ve ever tasted to the most exotic mushroom varieties. (For an overview of what’s on offer, there’s a weekly market round-up at Kitchenist.) There’s one stall that I consistently drool over but rarely buy from, though. See, it’s a cake stall. And if I bought cakes to eat in addition to eating the ones I make… well, the situation would not be pretty.

This stall is beautiful, though. It’s the same stall that inspired one of my very favourites, the lemon, almond and polenta drizzle cake. The cakes are all homemade-looking, a little rough around the edges, not too perfect – they’re so lovely that I consistently feel compelled to recreate them!

This time it was the Barbie Beetroot and Hazelnut Cake that I wanted to bake chez moi. It’s probably the signature at this stall, standing tall and proud and pink, the cake of every little girl’s dreams. And it’s delicious, like a carrot cake, with an appealing nuttiness and a thick lemony frosting:

While my version didn’t turn out quite as similar to the inspiration as I had wanted or expected, it was still delicious enough in its own way that I decided to post it here. While the original is fairly light in colour and texture, mine is a heavier cake, much like a dense, moist carrot cake. (If you want a slightly lighter version, whisk the egg whites separately and gently fold them into the batter at the very end. I suspect this would give a lightness that’s a bit closer to the market version.)

The other main difference is colour. Anyone who has even a passing relationship with beets knows that they stain instantly – so the second the grated beets went into the batter I had what looked like a bowl of pink lava. I can’t figure out how the original cake stays so pristine, the only presence of beet being the jewelled red flecks throughout the sandy-coloured cake. I wonder if they squeeze the juice out of the grated beetroot and then add it gently at the very end. Thoughts, anyone?

I may yet have another attempt at recreating that market cake, but for now I’m happy with my own not-quite-the-same version. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but surely there’s room for a little creativity in imitation, don’t you think?

Beetroot, Walnut and Hazelnut Cake

200 ml vegetable oil
200 g golden caster sugar or light brown sugar
3 large eggs
200 g all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
150 g raw beetroot, grated
100 g walnuts, finely chopped and lightly toasted
100 g hazelnuts, finely chopped and lightly toasted

Icing:
125 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
360 g (3 cups) icing sugar
juice of 1 small lemon

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 400F. Butter and flour two 8 x 2 inch (20 x 5 cm) cake pans.

To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar and eggs iand whisk very well, until the mixture is thick and pale, at least three minutes. Gently fold in the flour mixture. When the flour is almost all incorporated mix in the beetroot and the nuts, folding just to combine.

Scrape the batter into the pans and smooth down the tops with a spatula. Bake in the centre rack of the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when pressed.

Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 15 minutes before turning out of the pans and leaving to cool completely.

To make the icing: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft. Sift in two cups of the icing sugar, and with the mixer on low, beat until combined. It’s a good idea to cover the bowl with a tea towel to contain the cloud of icing sugar dust. Squeeze in the lemon juice and beat well. Sift in the third cup of icing sugar and beat until you have a creamy, workable icing. Adjust the consistency as desired with a little more lemon juice or a splash of milk, or a bit more icing sugar.

Ice the cake once the layers are completely cool.