Waiting, Christmas Eve

935 Manger

In countless churches this morning there’s a nativity tableau with an empty manger awaiting the baby. By the end of this Christmas night the gap will have been filled and the scene will be complete.

For hundreds of years craftsmen have offered painstaking examples of their humble wood and plaster work to their churches, dusted down each December and set on freshly gathered straw, to become an act of community prayer, understood by the smallest child, recognised by the forgetful elderly, soliciting memories in all of us of Christmases gone by, and lives gone by, and awakening hopeful beginnings and promises of what is to come.

A very special moment, that pause of reflection before the new baby on Christmas morning.

Peace + hope = joy …


Beetroot and Chocolate Cake (wheat-free)

932 Beetroot Cake

“Be true to me” my father would sing in a mock romantic tenor voice when welcoming the vivid root vegetable to the table. The bold duplicitousness of this cake might however cause the most ardent admirer’s trust in the cook to wobble: it simply doesn’t taste of beetroot, but it does possess a sophisticated and complex range of flavours which are most beguiling.

I started with a recipe from a health food store magazine (beetroot earning plaudits for antioxidants, potassium, folic acid and lots more), trawled through a number of other recipes for cakes and brownies, and, having experimented with a couple of ideas, am now pleased with the smooth and moist texture of this easy-to-make version. It is wheat-free and dairy-free.


  1. Pair of rubber gloves
  2. 200g grated raw beetroot – Some recipes propose boiling or roasting the beetroot first, and then grating it or making a puree. I put on the rubber gloves, peel the raw vegetable and cut it up to fit it into the food processor, with the fine grater attached. I poke about and discard any stringy or woody bits, not least because they would give the game away in the finished cake. I make sure I have 200g of grated product, and then I put it back in the food processor, having replaced the grater attachment with the mixing blade.

At this point I attempt to make the work surface look a little less like a forensic science investigation, and I remove the rubber gloves.

Now I add all of the remaining ingredients to the food processor. If I were to mix the cake by hand I would thoroughly mix items 3 to 6 together first, gently warm and stir the sugar and treacle together, whisk the eggs together, mix the oil, liqueur and zest together, and then combine everything.

  1. 175g flour – I have been using spelt flour but wheat flour will be fine when there are no tolerance concerns.
  2. 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  3. 50g cocoa powder – I like to use Fairtrade organic cocoa.
  4. 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  5. 75g sugar – The browner the sugar the deeper the flavour – I like Fairtade muscovado sugar, although it demands attentive mixing to achieve full amalgamation.
  6. 75g black treacle – Having recently borrowed, for a chocolate sponge cake, the whizzo idea from http://frugalfeeding.com/2014/10/29/chocolate-treacle-cake/ of substituting some treacle for some of the sugar, I am hooked on the treacle/chocolate combination, and here it seems both to mask and to complement the earthiness of the beetroot, in rather a cunning fashion.
  7. 3 eggs
  8. 200ml oil – Sunflower oil or rapeseed oil, for example.
  9. Grated zest of 1 orange – After scrubbing it to remove any preservatives.
  10. 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur

The combined mixture will look decidedly peculiar, but after about 45 minutes in a greased 20cm cake tin at about 170 degrees in a fan oven (you’ll need to rely on your experience with your own oven) something truly beetreautiful emerges. I invert it to get a nice level top, which can be dusted with icing sugar before serving. I feel that icing or frosting would interfere with the high-end bitter-chocolate vibe, but the cake would make a scrumptious dessert served warm, with good Madagascan vanilla ice cream, or with whipped cream flavoured with orange liqueur, or with creme fraiche, and then dusted with cocoa powder, or scattered with shavings of the darkest chocolate.

Another recipe I noted had coffee granules (which would replace the orange zest) and coffee (instead of orange) liqueur, which I will try, and I am further toying with the notion of chopped tea-soaked prunes or dates.