I love digging my hands into butter and sugar just as much as groping around in the earth. For me, baking and gardening are inseparable; but I took the long way home to make this connection.
I started Sticky Fingers Bakery when the cupcake craze hit the world. A self-taught baker, I threw myself in the deep end, baking tiny cakes full of punchy attitude and big flavours. Blending traditional baked goods with offbeat ingredients made my menus a bit of a hit around town and as my client list grew so did the scale and scope of my cakes.
Even though there was magic to these decorated cakes – piled high with fluorescent, store-bought ingredients – this style of baking never really satisfied me. I wanted to hunt down wholesome, unconventional flavours far away from the supermarket shelves.
A breakthrough came when I realised that everything else I ate, and everything I believed in about good food, was based around real ingredients. I cared about where I shopped, the produce I bought and who I bought it from, but my cakes lacked this connection to local suppliers and natural ingredients. My baking shifted when I switched on to local growers and farmers’ markets and, most importantly, to edible gardens.
By tuning into the plant world I eventually arrived where I belonged: baking sweets that tasted of nature. Where the ingredients were familiar, the colourings genuine and the flavours unmasked.
Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers gave me vivid flavours to explore and offered a savoury–sweet balance that satisfied without overwhelming. Soulful, earthy and seasonal baking became my true direction and, ultimately, my signature style.
Beetroot and rose truffle cake
This recipe will become your secret weapon chocolate cake. Earthy baby beetroots are roasted until juicy to lend a dense, fudge-like texture to an already deep, dark chocolate base. The real highlight, though, is the addictive beetroot and rose truffles dusted in cocoa, which happen to be a cinch to make. Just try not to scoff them before you decorate your cake.
10 baby beetroot (beets) (about 1.5 kg)
60ml (¼ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
340g unsalted butter
370g (2 cups) soft brown sugar
340g (1½ cups) caster (superfine) sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
a few drops of rosewater, to taste
600g (1 lb 5 oz/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
160g (5½ oz/1 cups) Dutch (unsweetened) cocoa powder
4 teaspoons salt
625g (1 lb 6 oz/2½ cups) sour cream
Beetroot and rose truffles
3 beetroot (about 150 g/5½ oz)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
400g good-quality dark chocolate (approx. 60% cocoa solids), broken into chunks
400 ml thick (double/heavy) cream
40g (1 cup) edible dried rose petals, plus extra to decorate
a few drops of rosewater
100g Dutch (unsweetened) cocoa powder
3 tbsp finely grated roast beetroot (see method)
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g cream cheese, softened
500–625g (4–5 cups) icing (confectioners’) suga
½ tsp vanilla extract
This recipe makes one tier with two layers. To pump up the tiers and recreate the cake tower pictured, as a guide you’ll need to quadruple the ingredients; as well as a 20cm cake tin, you’ll need one 23cm and one 25cm cake tin.
Preheat the oven to 175C. Lightly grease and line two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper.
Toss the whole beetroot in the oil. Wrap each one separately in aluminium foil. Roast one hour or until soft, then remove from the oven and cool. Once cool, peel off the skin and finely grate. Set aside.
To make the truffles, cook the beetroot as per the method above, then add to a blender or food processor and blitz to a fine puree. Transfer to a saucepan set over a low heat for 2–3 minutes (this will dry up any excess moisture and help bring out the flavour, so don’t skip this step).
Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the chocolate pieces in a heatproof dish. Bring the cream to the boil in a heavy-based saucepan, reduce the heat to a simmer, add half the dried rose petals and cook gently for 15 minutes, or until the flavour of the rose petals has fully infused into the cream. Strain the cream over the chocolate pieces and stir slowly until melted and glossy, then add 110g (¾ cup) of the beetroot puree and the rosewater and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour until firm. Once set, take teaspoons of the mixture and shape them into bite-sized balls, then roll them in the cocoa powder and the remaining dried rose petals to coat. Transfer to the refrigerator and leave to chill until needed.
Cream the butter and sugars together in a bowl using a hand-held mixer, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, vanilla and rosewater and mix in half the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in the sour cream, then mix in the remainder of the dry ingredients before gently folding in 300g (1½ cups) of the grated roast beetroot until well combined (save the rest for the icing).
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared tins and bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centres comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly in the tins for five minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
To make the icing, beat all the ingredients together in a bowl using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer until well combined.
Place one of the cooled cakes on a serving plate or stand and spread with half the icing. Place the second cake on top and spread with the remaining icing. To decorate, top with the truffles and scatter over a few more dried rose petals or team the truffles up with fresh garden roses.