The brief for this challenge had three components. It had to be completely dairy-free, it had to be a vegetable-based cake (think carrot or zucchini) and it had to be in a 3D novelty shape. To refresh your memory, the bakers in the Great White Tent made a sweet potato cake in the shape of a guitar (Christine), a butternut squash cake shaped like a cheese wheel (Beca), a butternut squash “toadstool house” cake (Kimberley), a carrot cake garden plot with a chocolate shed (Ruby), and a beetroot “hidden carrot” cake in the shape of a flowerpot (Frances).
I borrowed the beetroot idea from Frances and decided to make a red velvet beet cake in the shape of a coconut cocktail on a sandy beach. The frosting, which also had to be dairy-free, would be made of whipped coconut cream and a chocolate-coconut ganache.
While I’ve always liked the concept of red velvet cake, I never found the idea of using a whole bottle of red food coloring in a cake very appetizing. The beauty of a red velvet beet cake is that the beets lend their natural scarlet hue to the batter, as well as additional moistness and a healthy serving of vegetables. They also add a deeper, slightly earthy flavor to the chocolate, similar to that of a zucchini chocolate cake.
I found this recipe on SouthernLiving.com. One of the keys to retaining the bright color is adding a little lemon juice to the beets when pureeing them. Because the recipe calls for buttermilk, I made a simple substitution of coconut milk with a little lemon juice, the directions for which are found here.
The original recipe made 24 cupcakes. To make sure I had enough batter, I doubled it. For the sandy beach base cake I used a 10-inch springform pan. For the coconut cocktail cake I used two Pyrex bowls that were 5 inches in diameter, plus a 6-inch round cake pan. There was enough batter left over for another 6-inch round cake, which I froze for later use.
Once the cakes were baked and cooled, I leveled off the domed tops. (The scraps were devoured by my husband and daughter, who is home from grad school for a month.) I made a coconut cream frosting using this recipe, and a vegan chocolate ganache recipe made with coconut cream that I found here. (Note: While the frosting and ganache are vegan, the cake is not, as it contains eggs.)
To make the coconut-shaped cake, I roughly followed the instructions here. However, the bowls I used were smaller, and I only used one 6-inch layer cake in between, which I trimmed to fit the diameter of the bowl cakes. I sandwiched the layers with the coconut cream frosting and, after chilling, trimmed the cake into more of a coconut shape with a flat top. I cut a cardboard cake base to fit the bottom of the coconut and then frosted the sides with the chilled, whipped ganache. I frosted the flat top with more of the coconut cream frosting and sprinkled grated coconut on top.
For the sandy beach base, I frosted the 10-inch cake with coconut cream frosting and then covered it with graham cracker crumb “sand.” I used a plastic dowel rod cut into two 1½-inch pieces to support the coconut cake, which I then placed on top of the “sandy” base.
To create the coconut “hairs,” I melted and tempered a small amount of chocolate, transferred it to a disposable piping bag, and piped thin zigzags onto parchment paper. After they hardened, I used a dough scraper to scrape the chocolate off of the paper. This resulted in long, thin pieces of chocolate that I then transferred to the sides of the coconut. (Note: In future, I would do this before placing the coconut on top of the base, as some of the chocolate shards fell off of the coconut, and it’s hard to pick them up off the “sand.”)
To finish the cake’s decorations, I made a pair of sunglasses and a drinking straw out of fondant and added a skewer of fresh fruit to garnish the “cocktail.”
As for flavor, the red velvet cake was moist and chocolatey, but not too chocolatey, just as a red velvet cake should be. The coconut frosting added a nice complement to the flavor profile, and the ganache provided a smooth chocolate finish. Judging by my family’s response, I would make this again for a birthday or any occasion that calls for a special cake.
Red Velvet Beet “Coconut Cocktail” Cake
- Cake recipe adapted from SouthernLiving.com
- Coconut cream frosting credit: CotterCrunch.com
- Vegan chocolate-coconut ganache credit: BeamingBaker.com
- Coconut cocktail cake design inspired by CakesStepByStep.com
For the cake:
- Wrap beets in parchment paper and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, until tender. Cool until just warm to the touch. Meanwhile, combine 1½ tablespoon lemon juice with coconut milk and set aside for 10 minutes. It should curdle or thicken slightly.
- Peel and coarsely chop beets. Process beets and remaining 4 tablespoons lemon juice in food processor or blender until pureed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl or blender pitcher as needed.
- Transfer pureed beets to a large mixer bowl. Add oil and curdled coconut milk and mix until smooth. Add eggs and mix until completely combined. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add beet mixture and whisk just until combined.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 5-inch diameter, oven-proof bowls; a 10-inch springform pan; and two 6-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms of the three round cake pans with parchment paper. (NOTE: To grease and flour the cake pans, I used Nancy Birtwhistle’s lining paste, instructions for which you can find here: https://twitter.com/nancybbakes/status/954971937234673664?lang=en.)
- Fill each of the bowls about 2/3 full of batter. Pour enough batter into the 10-inch pan so that it is about 1-inch deep. Divide the remaining batter between the two 6-inch pans. Bake in preheated oven for 20-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. (NOTE: The smaller cakes will be done sooner than the larger, thicker ones.) Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes before inverting pans onto cooling racks to remove cakes. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting and assembling.
For the coconut cream frosting:
- The night before you plan to make the frosting, refrigerate the unopened can of coconut cream. When you’re ready to make the frosting, open the can and scoop out the hardened cream into a mixer bowl. Discard the watery juice left in the can, or save it for another use. Add sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Pulse the coconut in a food processor or blender until fine. Stir in to cream. Chill until ready for use. (It will harden up a bit in the fridge, which makes it easier to spread, so it’s best kept cold.)
For the ganache:
- The night before you plan to make the ganache, refrigerate the unopened can of coconut cream. When you’re ready to make the ganache, open the can and scoop out the hardened cream into a microwave-safe bowl. Discard the watery juice left in the can, or save it for another use.
- Stir the chocolate chips into the coconut cream and heat in microwave for 30-second increments, stirring after each one, until the chocolate is melted. Whisk or stir thoroughly until smooth. Transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. It should be slightly firm to the touch but leave an indentation when pressed with your finger.
- After chilling, transfer the ganache to a large mixer bowl. If it’s too hard to whip, let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the ganache until fluffy. It will lighten in color and become the consistency of frosting.
For assembly and decoration:
- To make the fondant sunglasses, draw a pair of sunglasses on a piece of paper, or trace around a pair, making two temple pieces and one frame piece. Cut out the pieces, and cut out the lenses from the frame. Divide the fondant into two pieces, one about twice as large as the other. Color the larger piece with pink gel and the smaller piece with black, kneading to incorporate the color until uniform. Roll out each piece to about 1/8 inch thick. From the pink fondant, cut out two temple pieces and the frame piece with a sharp knife, cutting the lenses out of the frame. From the black fondant, cut out just the frame piece, leaving the lenses intact. With a small food-safe brush, brush the underside of the pink frame with water, then place the pink frame on top of the black frame to form the sunglasses. Take the rest of the pink fondant and roll it into a long cylinder, about the thickness of a straw. Cut a piece about 2-3 inches long and bend it slightly in the middle. Stick the toothpick up through the center of one end, leaving half the toothpick sticking out. Leave all the pieces out to dry, preferably overnight.
- After the cakes are cooled, cut off the domed tops to level them. Lay one bowl cake on top of one of the 6-inch round cakes and cut the 6-inch cake so it’s the same diameter as the bowl cake. Spread coconut cream frosting onto the flat side of each bowl cake. Then sandwich the round layer in between the bowl cakes to form an oval-shaped cake. This will be your coconut. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.
- Frost the 10-inch cake with coconut cream frosting. Sprinkle generously with graham cracker crumbs. Measure the depth of the cake, and cut two pieces of the plastic dowel rod the same height as the cake. Insert them into the cake, off center but close to each other (about ½ inch apart).
- Melt three-quarters of the chocolate in the microwave at 50% power for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until mostly melted. Add the rest of the chocolate and stir until fully melted, microwaving for 5 seconds at a time if needed. Transfer to a piping bag with a fine tip or a ziplock bag with a small hole cut in one corner. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe the chocolate onto the parchment paper in a tight zigzag pattern, about 3-4 inches wide, making about three rows per sheet. Continue until all the chocolate is piped. Let harden.
- Remove the coconut-shaped cake from the fridge and cut the cardboard cake round to the same size as the bottom of the cake. (If you need to flatten the bottom of the cake slightly so that it sits sturdily, cut off a small portion of the bottom to make it flat.) Place the cake on the cardboard, and trim it if needed to smooth the sides and make it more coconut-shaped. Slice a small piece off the top to make it flat. Frost the sides of the cake with the chocolate ganache. Frost the top with the coconut cream frosting. Sprinkle the shredded coconut on top.
- When the piped chocolate has hardened, take a dough scraper and scrape the chocolate off the parchment paper, resulting in thin sticks of chocolate. Lay them in small piles so they’re all facing the same direction. Taking one pile at a time, press the sticks into the sides of the coconut-shaped cake so they are vertical. Don’t worry if some break; it should look natural, not perfect. Some will fall off, so pick them up and put them back on, if possible. You may need to break some off at the top so they don’t stick up over the top of the coconut too far.
- Place the coconut cake on top of the dowel rods in the sandy base cake. Add more graham cracker crumbs to the base cake, if desired. Place the fondant sunglasses pieces next to the coconut so they look like they are folded up. Insert the fondant straw into the top of the coconut cake on one side. Slide the pineapple, lime and cherry onto the bamboo skewer and stick that into the other side of the top of the coconut. Chill until ready to serve.