Yesterday was my church's annual Fall Festival, complete with rides, games, costumes, boatloads of candy, and funnel cakes. I didn't actually attend (I know, I know. I can't believe I passed up a funnel cake, either), but agreed to bake a cake for the cake walk.
Fall falling outside my window.
You remember cake walks, right? There are numbers painted or chalked onto the ground, and you walk on them as music plays. When the music stops a number is called, and the lucky person standing on that number takes home a homemade (one hopes) cake. It's the simplest game -- no skill required! -- with the best prize. There is a tad bit of strategy involved, though: you want the Good Cake. You know the one. You see it sitting on the side table waiting for it's turn to be auctioned off. While other cakes might look small, slouchy, dry, or plain, the Good Cake is gigantic -- maybe a sheet or layer cake -- with fluffy frosting piled high. The baker's loving effort is showcased with careful decorations and neat packaging. You time your turn to walk based on when the Good Cake is finally up to be won.
Remembering my own childhood cake walks, I knew I wanted whatever cake I baked to be the Good Cake. I wanted people to all jump in line for the cake walk when it was up on the podium, to shout with glee when they won, or perhaps to brawl a little for it as though it were the last musical chair. Okay, okay, I guess brawling at the church festival is out. Maybe they can just feel a little scrappy. With my Good Cake aspirations in mind, I set out searching for a cake that met these criteria: a moist layer cake that didn't require refrigeration and had fluffy frosting, decorating potential, and a widely popular flavor. I settled on Ina Garten's Carrot Pineapple Cake.
Carrot cake is Mike's absolute favorite, and that's part of what drew me to this gorgeous cake. On the first birthday I ever baked for him wayyyy back in high school, my mom helped me fashion a little round carrot cake that he adored. For the last decade, though, I haven't made him another -- instead, we only get it when we eat out. Of course I needed to rectify that! I decided I'd make one for us with Ina's decadent, thick cream cheese frosting while making one for the festival with a sturdier buttercream.
Two cakes and lovely fall foliage.
The cake turned out exceedingly moist, chunky, and dense. It's an adventure of walnuts, carrots, raisins, cream cheese, and spice cake in every mouthful. The pineapples don't really come through as a separate flavor, but serve more to moisten the cake. Each slice is a homey, thick, creamy, wonderful experience. Carrot cake isn't typically my favorite flavor, but if anything could change my mind, it'd be a thick hunk o' this baby. I'm going for full disclosure here: I definitely just ate piece #3. While I loved the cake, Mike was over the proverbial moon (and maybe even wound around it a few times). I hope the lucky cake walker was as well!
Decorating these cakes was my favorite part; how often do you get to try two presentations at once? For our version, I went with simple elegance: a cream cheese swoosh and some walnuts. For the cake walkers' version, I wanted to do something a little fancy. I'd seen this incredibly cute autumn tree decoration on a Taste of Home recipe:
Photo by Taste of Home
They created this with melted chocolate, raisins, golden raisins, and dried cranberries. Isn't it adorable?! But chocolate on a carrot pineapple cake didn't sound appealing, so I had to be resourceful. I decided to use cinnamon sprinkled over a tree stencil to create my "spice tree." I broke out my exacto knife and some poster board to cut out a tree stencil. This in itself was quite the feat: on my first try I painstakingly drew and cut out a tree only to realize it was too big for the cake! I had to sit down and start over. Anyone need a large tree stencil?
Attempt #1 at a tree stencil, with my inspiration on the left.
Attempts #1 and #2 for comparison.
I'm glad I took the time to fiddle with the poster board, because the cake decoration certainly turned out sweet. I can't wait to use this idea again with melted chocolate. I have a feeling it'll be a bit easier!
I hope you'll take some time to make a Good Cake sometime soon. This one's a great candidate -- two luxurious layers of fall flavors.
Carrot Pineapple Cake
Recipe by: Barefoot Contessa (adapted by me)
Yields: one two-layer, 8- or 9-inch cake
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 pound carrots, grated
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
Buttercream Frosting (if you prefer):
2/3 cup white shortening
2/3 cup butter
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. NOTE: You can also use 9-inch pans, but need to adjust the baking time.
For the cake: Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. Add to the batter and mix well.
Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. NOTE: For 9-inch pans, I baked around 40-45 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack.
For the frosting: Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. If you prefer buttercream, simply mix those ingredients together until they reach frosting consistency. NOTE: I'd use cream cheese frosting unless, like me, you needed a cake that did not require refrigeration.
Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with diced pineapple, chopped walnuts, or other technique.
Mixing up two cakes.
My cookin' buddy prepared for (in)action, and then more alert when she sees two cooling cakes!
All frosted and decorated!
Oh, have you seen Byrd's Halloween costume on the About Willow Bird Baking page? Disregard her pained expression, and please do not call Canine Protective Services! She wore the costume for a total of 10 seconds -- just long enough to endure a few photos!