Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beets - They're the New Spinach, You Know

On August 4, 2008, the New York Times published an article glorifying beets (check it out!). I couldn't have been more excited. You see, I absolutely love beets. My obsession began in Australia during Spring 2008 while I was studying abroad in Sydney. The Australians absolutely love beets (or, as they say, "beetroot") - on their burgers, in their salads, everywhere. It was fabulous.

I was a little upset to return home to the US in May only to find that beets were not everywhere I turned. The only thing worse that summer was my internship. 

[Long story short, I'm not meant to be an investment banker.]

Enough about me, let's talk about BEETS! They're the new spinach, after all. That fact is something that Sar and I like to remind each other of often. Here's why:

- Beets are a fantastic source of folate (a b vitamin), potassium, magnesium, and iron.
- Not only does their red hue make them beautiful, the pigment contains powerful antioxidant compounds called betalains.

Aside from being extremely nutritious, beets also contribute to the world's sweet tooth.  1/3 of sugar globally comes from sugar beets, which have a particularly high sugar content.
The idea to bake Beet Bread came to me on Valentine's Day when Dennis and I were discussing good Valentine's lunch options. We settled on Beet Risotto, but found a recipe for Beet Bread that I knew I would try in the future. The future came on Wednesday evening and Dennis was kind enough to come over and help out with the process. Beets are a totally romantic vegetable.

Beet Bread 
(adapted from this recipe from

1/4 tsp yeast (Active Dry)
1 cup bread flour
1 cup warm water

Mix these together in a large bowl and allow to sit at room temperature, tightly covered, for 12-16 hours. If you're planning on making the bread in the evening after work, it's a great idea to wake up at 6am, stir together the flour, water, and yeast, and then go back to bed for another hour. That's what I did. It was magical.  It's also why I don't have any pictures; 6 am is far too early to be a photographer.

The Rest of the Ingredients (for lack of a better word):
1 cup roasted, peeled, and pureed beets 
***I took care of this the night before.  Here's how to roast beets:
- cut large beets in half
- place beets on aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper
- optional: roast 1 or 2 whole cloves of garlic along with the beets
- wrap the beets in the foil and place in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes
- peel cooked beets after allowing to cool
- place beets in a blender and give 'em a whirl

If you don't need all of your beets to make the 1 cup of puree, eat the rest on salads drizzled with olive oil and vinegar ***

1/2 cup 8 grain cereal mix (we use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/3 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour *as needed
3/4 tsp yeast (the same type used in the starter)
1 3/4 teaspoon salt

When you're home from work, uncover the starter and take a look at it.  It will be nice a bubbly.  Dump the beets in and stir it up until it's all combined.  In a small bowl, combine the 8 grain cereal and water.  Stir it up and let it sit for 10 minutes to hydrate the grains.  

Meanwhile, add the yeast and whole wheat flour to the beet mixture and stir until completely combined.  To the left, you will see that Dennis took on this task.  Stir in the multigrain mix and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.  These 10 minutes give the yeast some time to munch on the sugars in the beets and flour before the salt is added.

This resting period is the perfect time to clean off the surface where you'll knead the dough. It's also a good time to get started on dinner because you haven't eaten since lunch and you're hungry. So get going on that - no one likes a grumpy bread baker (especially not Dennis).

Once everyone, including the dough, has had time to settle down, start stirring in the bread flour one cup at a time.   When you can no longer stir the dough with a spoon (after adding the first cup), dump the entire contents onto your kneading surface and knead the flour into the dough.  You'll think it will never happen, but the dough will get sticky again and you'll need to add at least a half cup of the remaining flour.  I didn't need the full 2 cups, so you should just go based on the texture of the dough.  Mine remained sticky, but relatively easy to handle.  I kneaded it for about 7 minutes or so, until everything was evenly incorporated.

Oil a bowl and roll the dough around in the bowl to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until doubled - about 1 1/2 hours.  Continue eating dinner, watching Jeopardy, etc.

Once the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and cut it in half.  
[Sidenote:  When I make the bread again, which I will, I'm not going to do this part.  I'm going to punch the dough down, let it rise again, and then bake it at high heat in a covered pot in the oven.  I'll let you know how that goes.]
Shape each half into a ball and place on a piece of parchment paper dusted with cornmeal or semolina flour.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another 1 1/2 hours, or so.

The dough will look like boobs.  Embrace it.  It's okay to giggle.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a baking sheet into the oven to heat it along with the oven.  Additionally, place a cast iron pan on the bottom of the oven - we're going to use this to create steam so that the bread is nice and chewy.  Boil some water on the stove while the oven pre-heats.

When the bread is ready to bake, slide the parchment onto the baking sheet and pour about 1 cup of the boiled water into the cast iron pan.  Close the oven door and allow the bread to bake for 30-35 minutes.  If you have an instant-read thermometer, check that the center of the bread has reached 180 degrees F.

The crust will still be beautiful and pink and inside of the bread becomes a warm carmel color with specks of beets running through. 

It's absolutely delicious toasted with PB for breakfast.  I also suggest using it to make a grilled cheese sandwich with sharp cheddar and maybe a bit of apricot jam, just to shake things up a bit.  Go bake some - even the most hardcore beet-haters wont be able to resist this bread.

- Lil

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