First things first, happy New Year. I trust that everyone’s risen from bed and had their hair of the dog by now. For those who’ve been up longer, I hope that your New Year’s Day dessert experience went better than mine. Or perhaps the word would be more “fruitful” than mine. Because my first culinary lesson of 2008 is that beets and sweets are not exactly interchangeable.
Just because I’ve gotten cozier with beets this winter and fall does not mean that they belong in desserts. After all, I’m not standing on “kitchen stadium” of The Iron Chef, and we aren’t suffering any shortage of apples or other winter ingredients usually associated with desserts. But my good fortune with other beet applications inspired a mad streak of confidence. An ice cream flavor sounded plausible — perhaps “red velvet” with beets for coloring as well as prominent flavor. But I didn’t think frozen desserts could highlight the luscious texture of cooked beets, one of my favorite of its traits.
So I got all worked up over the idea of making panna cotta, the rich Italian custardlike dessert which translates to “cooked cream.” After flipping through the cookbooks, I quickly found out that it’s set not by eggs or egg yolks, but unflavored gelatin. Well, I didn’t have any on hand. Then I remembered another Italian dessert, budino, or simply “pudding” in Italian. This variety more resembled a traditional egg custard, and is often baked in the oven before chilling. I went to work on a creamy version with juicy cubes of beets suspended within.
Remember my blogging event all about cooking the ugliest, yet most delicious food? It seems that I’ve done just the opposite tonight. Yes, it looks pretty spectacular, but this beet custard couldn’t have tasted more distinctly disgusting, purely puerile. I mean, I like beets. I like eggy custards, too. It doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, but it’s true. After one spoonful, a taste of the chopped beets alone, and another taste of just the custard, I could barely force another bite. The combined flavor was incredibly bland — no trace of the lemon juice could be detected — but faintly called to mind cabbage that’s been cooked to death and smothered in whipped cream. Or something like that. I sense it’s going to take a long time before I eat a custard, budino or otherwise, without remembering this terrible taste. And if you’re wondering whether the upturned cup in the photo at top managed to produce a beautifully plated little custard, the answer is no. That stuff wasn’t going anywhere. (Thank god I only made two little ramekins of it, which are sadly going to waste.)
So for any of you seasonally-minded dessert chefs out there thinking of confections starring beets, don’t do it! Let me assure you of its foolishness with this sorry story, and this would-be recipe which I naively jotted down while it was chilling in the fridge. (Don’t do it!)
just before baking
(makes 2 individual budinos)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon sugar, plus more for lining the ramekins
1/2 cup cooked beets, peeled and chopped to a 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons flour
Beat the egg white with an electric beater until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat the milk with the sugar until dissolved. Add the egg yolk, and lightly beat until mixture is smooth. Add the lemon juice, cream and flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Fold in the egg white. Finally, fold in the cubed beets.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and sugar two individual baking ramekins. Pour custard mixture evenly amongst them. Place ramekins in a baking pan or casserole with water in the bottom so that when the ramekins are in the pan, the water comes to about half of their height. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top has become frothy and mixture just begins to pull away from the sides. Let cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.