Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice

I guess this is supposed to be a Thanksgiving post, but . . . it’s not. I had the best intentions! See, there was major pot luckage scheduled for tonight: a Thanksgiving potluck with my Sunday school class including all of the traditional turkey day fixins. I tried to sign up to bring a dessert, but wouldn’t you know, they started the sign-up sheet on the other end of the class and three people tackled dessert before it got to me. I signed up for sweet potatoes instead and started making great plans: I was going to make my mom’s marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and for anyone crazy enough not to love those, Ezra Pound Cake‘s Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes. I was prepared! And then . . . suddenly . . . I was sick. SICK. I could whine about this for paragraphs, but suffice it to say, I have been one sore-nosed, tickly-throated, marathon-sneezing unhappy camper. So . . . I raised the white flag and canceled my RSVP to the potluck.

Something did raise my spirits, though. Something decidedly un-Thanksgiving-dinneresque. Barbara Bakes posted a provocative picture of a cheesy, saucy enchilada that revved up such a strong craving that Barbara might have almost acquired a new roommate. Or at least nightly dinner guest. I started making new plans. While I may have been too sniffly for a large festive gathering, I could at least invite Mike over for a Mexican feast: Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice.

These enchiladas are pure comfort food. They’re gooey with a sumptuous, tangy, creamy, salsa verde-based sauce. Mike and I are thrilled to have over half a pan to devour as leftovers! They’re also so simple to make. I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken instead of roasting my own, cutting down on the cooking time (cut me some slack — or I’ll start whining again). These amazing enchiladas are definitely on the “make again” list.

The Mexican Sausage Rice was also good, though perhaps it needed a little spice punch. Right off the stove it seemed a bit mellow in flavor, but it did begin to taste bolder as the flavors were allowed to meld. I’m looking forward to eating some heaping scoops of it with lunch tomorrow after it’s been refrigerated overnight. The corn adds the perfect sweetness to contrast the sausage, chili powder, and chiles. You should also know that there’s a whole truckload of optional add-ons at the end of the recipe (see below) that I forgot to add — toasted pumpkin seeds, cheese, lime — all of which might’ve brightened the flavor. I’ll have to give them a try tomorrow.

Where’s the dessert, you ask? You’ll have to wait for that one! You see, I didn’t just lie in bed and whine this morning (that was only the first couple of hours). I also completed my November Daring Bakers challenge, which Mike and I enjoyed after our Mexican feast. Dessert definitely derailed the nationality of our meal, but I can’t say another word about it. Check back in soon to see! In the meantime, go assemble some of these simple, rich, comforting, cheesy enchiladas.

Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas

Recipe by: Dinners for a Year and Beyond
Yields: about 12 enchiladas

4 bone-in chicken breasts or purchased already cooked rotisserie chicken
olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup salsa verde
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
12 6-inch corn tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
3 cups shredded light Mexican blend cheese

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is about 170 degrees. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan to medium high and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions. Saute for 8 – 10 minutes or until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cumin and saute for an additional minute. Stir in the flour until blended and cook for a minute. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 – 4 minutes or until thickened. Add the salsa verde, sour cream, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season the creamy green chile sauce with salt and pepper.

Add about 1 cup of the creamy green chile sauce to the shredded chicken and stir to combine.To assemble enchiladas get a large baking dish and spray with cooking spray. Dip a tortilla into the creamy green chile sauce and put it on a cutting board. (You can also put tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds to make them easier to work with.) Put a big scoop of the chicken mixture in the center, sprinkle with a little of the cheese, and roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling. Place the enchilada in the baking dish. Continue to fill all of the tortillas and put them in the baking dish. Pour the remaining creamy green chile sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered for about 20 – 25 minutes until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Serve hot with sour cream.

Mexican Sausage Rice
Recipe By: Jimmy Dean
Yields: about 8 cups

1 pkg. Regular Flavor Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes & green chilies, with liquid
1-1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 oz.) cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
4 thinly sliced green onions (optional)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (optional)
sour cream or shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
1 lime, cut in eighths (optional)

Directions: In a 3 or 4-quart saucepan, cook sausage and onion over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until meat is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink. Add rice, corn, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes & green chiles, water or stock and salt; stir once to mix. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 25 minutes without stirring. Gently stir in black beans; add green onions if desired. Garnish with any or all optional ingredients.

Rice and enchiladas getting started!

Enchiladas in the oven and finished Mexican Sausage Rice.


Share Share this post with friends!

Freshly Baked Cheese Bread

Every now and then, I’ll stumble upon an opportunity to walk down a silent gravel road or drive through seemingly endless farmland. My heart always feels simultaneously full and a little desperate during these bits of quiet countryside — desperate for what, I’m not sure. Maybe just to spread out a blanket and stay awhile? To escape the scatter and pace of the indoor internet version of life? To hug as many fat farm animals as possible?

I’m pretty sure it’s all of those things rolled into one. My desires seem to be whispering to me: sloooooowww dowwwnnn. Every now and then I’ll whine a bit to Mike about wanting to live on a farm, and he’ll start in about how much work it is, how financially unstable it can be — but I still can’t help running through (tickless, snakeless) fields in my mind.

That’s what farmers do, right? Run through fields? Ah, well, anyway . . .

Another experience recently evoked that desperate/full heart feeling: the rustic, yeasty, floury, humbling, satisfying process of baking fresh bread. I don’t mean a quick-mix bread, though I love those as well; I mean honest-to-goodness yeast fermentation, mixing and kneading with ardor, proofing, baking, tearing, sopping, devouring bread. Cheese bread, to be exact.

My bread fanaticism began when publishers sent me a copy of Andrew Whitley’s new book, Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own. To be perfectly honest, I waffled for awhile about this book. Did the busy modern cook have time to pour over the 138 pages that precede the first recipe? At one point as I was reading, though, a thought struck me: perhaps I was viewing all of this with my fast-paced lens. Maybe ignoring that urge to slow down and — in this case — enjoy the process of crafting a loaf of bread was compounding the problem. Maybe the busy modern cook would feel a little less like the energizer bunny if he or she watched yeast ferment on the counter for a couple of days. Who knows?

It also became clear that bread is Andrew Whitley’s passion, and here I was, reading through a whole-hearted, sometimes playful, sometimes vehement opus! Within the pages, bread became political capital — something to fight for — as well as a connection to the past and a work of art. This wasn’t just a cookbook; it was a masterpiece of bread!

Politically speaking, Bread Matters is the namesake of Whitley’s organization, which is devoted to changing people’s mindset about bread. It’s a noble mission, considering the dirty economic battle being fought for our allegiance. Society is saturated with advertising offering more more more faster faster faster, as a stroll through any grocery store will confirm. Frozen meals, baking mixes, and preserved foods abound, and healthful foods are only offered insofar as they’re profitable and trendy. While I’m vehemently not a food snob and don’t mind a baking mix here and there, I am incensed by the idea that the food industry is pumping products full of corn and chemicals in order to turn a profit. Conscience has been consumed in capitalist lust. Whitley charges that you should be angry, too, and that, “One way of fighting back is to refuse to buy foods produced in ways we find unacceptable.”

Beyond the political, though, Whitley connected with some powerful inner urge of mine in a section entitled, “The simple life”:

[Artisans] gain satisfaction from intimate contact with the materials of their trade and from direct involvement in the whole process from flour to baked loaf. The feel of soft, warm dough under the hands, the sight of an oven well set with loaves, the beguiling smell of baking bread, the satisfying sound of crackling crusts — all these can be yours when you make your own bread.

While I may not be able to own a farm, I can pick up some pure, natural ingredients and set out to make freshly baked-from-scratch bread. I can be literally in touch with my product from start to finish, control every addition, and enjoy the fruits of my own labor. With this compelling inspiration, I grabbed up Bread Matters to search for my first recipe. The book is physically lovely and almost like a loaf itself, with a smooth cream cover and some heft to it. Two sections of plates show rustic images of various breads. I chose a savory, tangy bread to try first: Cheese Bread.

The process was just as Whitley described: a few minutes of work here and there (he calculates around 30-40 total) punctuated by periods of waiting. In this particular bread, I prepared a sponge that fermented for a couple of days, and then worked that sponge into a basic bread dough. This dough rested a couple of hours before the extra goodies were added to it and it was shaped. After a final proof for the better part of an hour, it was into the oven and out in a flash. I was frustrated at a few points by Whitley’s apparent vagueness (“Proof until well-risen”), and at other points by his apparent nit-pickiness (“bring the final dough to […] around 81°F”), but in the end, everything worked out perfectly. Incidentally, who knew kneading could be so much fun?! Mike snapped this blurry shot of me mid-laugh:

My freshly baked cheese bread was thick and hearty, with the subtle tang of fermentation and the warmth of chili powder and cumin. Mike and I enjoyed it with a pot of steaming chicken and dumplings (which, okay, turned out too salty due to over-reducing the broth — nothing some bread sopping can’t fix!)

Freshly baked cheese bread and steamy chicken and dumplings.

We devoured two entire loaves with dinner, but still had one loaf left over. What did I do with that last loaf after being so charmingly domestic and wholesome throughout the breadmaking process? That’s right, I sliced that baby down the middle, toasted it in some butter, and filled it up with eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, and some fresh chopped parsley (see? healthy!) Breakfast of champions! No matter what you’re, ahem, planning on doing with your delicious cheese bread, I do hope you’ll give this freshly baked bread a try.

A less wholesome use for baked-from-scratch cheese bread!

Now for the task of summarizing my review of Bread Matters. I wouldn’t have purchased this book had I seen it sitting on a shelf. I’ve never thought of myself as a “bread person,” and thus the subject wouldn’t have caught my eye. There are also only two small selections of plates in the book — a drawback for me, since I love cookbooks with tons of images. That being said, I’m so glad publishers sent it to me for free — so I could review it and tell you that I would’ve been missing out. It’s certainly worth the $23 it’s currently selling for on Amazon, since it’s done much more than provide me with a few bread recipes. It’s really changed my mindset and been a lovely introduction into the bread craft. Because of the thoughtfulness and care with which the book was written, and because of the connection I feel with Whitley’s perspective on baking, I do wholeheartedly recommend Bread Matters.

Book Stats: 373 pages, $34 list price ($23 on Amazon), indexed.
Accessibility: Enough information for a beginning baker; includes sections describing materials required for breadmaking, techniques used in breadmaking, etc.
Examples of Recipes: Olive and Pumpkin Seed Bread, brioche, pains au chocolat, various European festival breads, sourdoughs, ciabatta, crumpets, etc.
Overall Impression: Very thorough and provocative, but I would’ve preferred more photos.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Other Notes: Whitley has a sweet and rather quirky conversational tone, sometimes winding through his recipes with a few tangents here and there (see the recipe below). Throughout the whole book, he passionately demonstrates the depth of knowledge he’s gained in his 25 year breadmaking career.

Same as above, but with the bread torn open so you can see its lovely innards.

Cheese Bread

Recipe from: Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
Yields: 3 medium rounds of cheese bread (about 12 servings)

Sponge Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast*
2/3 cup water (around 68°)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
*Note: book also includes measurements for fresh yeast.

Basic Bread Dough Ingredients:
1 cup sponge (from above)
1 cup plus 2.5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
scant 1.2 cup water

Cheese Bread Additions:
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded cheese
2.5 cups basic savory bread dough (from above)
beaten egg, to glaze
2/3 grated cheese for topping

To make the sponge: Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flours and mix to a soft sponge. There is no need to mix this vigorously: gluten development by physical means is irrelevant in dough that is allowed such a long time to ferment because naturally occurring enzymes and acids transform it anyway.

Put the sponge in a bowl with plenty of room for expansion (up to 2 times its volume) and cover with a lid or plastic bag to conserve moisture. Leave it at room temperature to ferment for 16-48 hours. During this time, the sponge will rise up and collapse. The yeast cells will multiply and lactic and acetic acids will begin to develop.

To make basic bread dough from sponge: If the sponge has been in a cool place, you will need to use fairly warm water to bring the final dough to a reasonable temperature of around 81°F (27°C). To work out how hot the water should be, follow the formula on page 68 [of Bread Matters]. For the purposes of this calculation, treat the sponge as part of the flour. Since they are equal weights, you can add their temperatures together and divide by 2 to arrive at an average. NOTE: I thought this would be the undoing of my bread, because all of this temperature business sounds so complicated. I estimated my sponge’s temperature based on room temperature, and estimated the temperature of the water (a little warmer than lukewarm). It worked out fine.

Mix all ingredients together and knead until the dough is stretchy and “silky” (not so easy to detect if you are using a high proportion of whole-wheat flour). Cover and allow to rise for an hour or so.

To make basic bread dough into cheese bread: Stir the spices into the grated cheese and add this to the prepared Basic Savory Bread Dough. Fold the cheese through the dough until it is fairly evenly distributed. You may need to add water if the dough shows signs of tightening. NOTE: I did add a bit.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and mold them into round balls. Give them a minute or two to relax and then, with the palm of your hand, press them down so that they roughly double in diameter. Put these flat disks on a baking sheet lined with nonstick baking parchment, placing them far enough apart so that they will not touch.

With a plastic scraper or the back of a knife, mark the cheese breads with 2 cuts at right angles to make a cross. Simply press down on the dough aiming to cut through almost to the baking sheet but not quite. (If you press too hard and the dough breaks in 2 [or 4], do not worry: it will probably join up again during proofing or baking.)

Brush the visible surface of each bread with a little beaten egg. Divide the remaining shredded cheese and place it as evenly as possible on top of each bread, but do not put it too near the edge. The cheese will partially obscure the cuts made by the scraper, but this does not matter. As the dough proofs, it will spread the cheese out a little.

Proof until well-risen, then bake in a moderate oven (375°F [190°C]) for 15-20 minutes. These breads are small and flat, so the heat will penetrate fairly quickly to the center of the dough. Take care not to let the cheese topping get overcooked; it can change from softly melted to dried and “foxy” in a few minutes.

The deep cross you pressed into the dough should be just visible after baking and the cheese breads should break easily into 4 wedges, which make good soup rolls. NOTE: I’ll say! If you plan to fill a cheese bread, it is best to keep it as one, divide it horizontally, insert the filling and then cut the whole thing into halves or quarters.

Chicken and Dumplings on the stove and bread kneading!

Bread proofing and then baking.

Leftover cheese bread toasting and bacon sizzling in preparation for the breakfast sandwich of all time.

Bake bread! This loaf is getting submitted to YeastSpotting!

Share Share this post with friends!

Gâteau aux Noix

Am I the only one who’s already drowning in holiday plans? I’ve got so many things up my sleeve that there’s no room for my arm in there. Warm, comforting things like grandmothers’ pies, flaky croissants, and freshly baked bread. Fun, festive things like visiting the Southern Christmas Show, trimming the tree, and popping the orange Chipmunks’ Christmas cassette tape into the player. Laborious, time-consuming things like catching up on grading my Mt. Everest of student work. My calendar is full of a variety of things, but what it comes down to is one word: BUSY.

Or maybe three words: BUSY BUSY BUSY.

All that BUSYness coming up is partly why this past weekend was so wonderful. Mike and I enjoyed our trip to Greensboro in our favorite way: with food! We hastily devoured McGriddles and Krispy Kremes, a delicious Thai lunch, and even a fancy dinner in downtown Greensboro. Obviously, we’re professionally trained to handle major consumption. Please don’t try this at home.

Hot doughnuts now! Two hot glazed originals, two raspberry filled, a pumpkin spice, and a chocolate custard-filled.

Sweet Mike before his test, and Thai food afterward!

We also got a chance to just relax. Well, okay, I relaxed. Mike practiced math, was tested on math, and then reflected/brooded about math. I felt a little guilty leisurely browsing the poetry section of a Borders bookstore while he took his math GRE a few blocks away! Thankfully, the test is over, and Mike can finally rest — until he gets his scores back and has to finish up grad school applications, that is. Eek, I’m getting stressed out again — back to this past weekend . . .

I browsed high and low to find the perfect cake for Mike and I to enjoy together on our trip. I wanted something hearty and rustic that could travel without much fuss. I also wanted something homey and special — something we’d remember a few months from now. When a friend sent me Molly of Orangette’s post about Gâteau aux Noix, it sounded perfect.

In fact, this very cake had made a warm home in Molly’s own travel memories — in her case, of visiting Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in southwestern France. The hotel baked these cakes and packaged slices in cellophane for them to eat during a long day outdoors. Since that trip, she’d been looking for a recipe to recreate the memory. After reading her recollections, I couldn’t wait to bake the “brown, humble, nutty” cake she described.

Indeed, she had described the gâteau aux noix perfectly. The cake retains the subtle, sophisticated flavor of dry white wine, while the nuts taste homey and familiar. It’s a simple cake that you can wrap up and cart about until you’re ready to enjoy it. I can also see this being an ideal pantry staple from which to swipe a hunk after each meal.

Mike and I first tried the cake with cinnamon whipped cream, but I decided that accompaniment eclipsed the gentle wine flavor. We then popped open a jar of pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s) to slice up with our cake instead. The flavors were perfect together. If you’re dying for creaminess, though, feel free to add a small dollop of whipped cream — just be sure it’s not heavy on the vanilla.

If you need a bit of simplicity in your life, then from my home to yours, here’s the cake for you!

Gâteau aux Noix, or French Walnut Cake

Recipe by: Orangette, adapted slightly from Saveur Cooks Authentic French
Yields: 1, 9-inch cake.

½ cup chopped walnuts, or a touch more
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place walnuts in a small dry saucepan and toast over medium heat, shaking pan, until nuts are fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Add walnut oil and wine and mix well.

Generously grease a 9” cake pan (I used an 8-inch with no problem, by the way; your cake will just be a bit thicker). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in walnuts, and then pour batter into prepared pan. NOTE: Mixing a touch of the flour with the walnuts before folding them in may help evenly distribute them.

Bake cake until a toothpick can be inserted and pulled out clean, about 40 minutes (mine took only 30-35, however, and required a bit of tenting with foil for the last five). Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and serve in wedges. Loosely whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, if possible.

NOTE: We served this with cinnamon whipped cream, which may have proven too bold a flavor for this subtle cake. We then switched to serving it with jarred pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s), which was a perfect complement!

Mixing up the batter.

Baking and fresh out of the oven!

Share Share this post with friends!

Memories, Tests, and Cakes

I’m bustling around like Mother Hen this evening, clucking over the laundry, packing, and planning last minute details. Tomorrow I drop Byrd off at her grandma’s house and pick Mike up to drive to Greensboro, NC. In G-boro, he’ll take the test he’s spent months preparing for: the math GRE.

The sunset Mike and I watched after the Christmas Show in 2008.

Being with him during his culminating assessment is such a blessing, having seen him working passionately to reach this moment. Mike actually withdrew from college over a decade ago after struggling with boredom and frustration in high school. School wasn’t meeting his needs, and he wasn’t sure what path to take.

Mike helps a not-so-enthusiastic Byrd stand next to our pitiful snowman for a picture.

Even if I take off my girlfriend glasses, I can honestly say he’s a stunningly brilliant person. He’s one of those people who can weave tapestries with collections of thoughts — whose shining, meticulously crafted gears are always whirring in sync (in contrast, every now and then I feel like one of my gears needs an oilcan . . .). Eventually, he realized he needed to cart this intelligence back to school and earn it a certificate of legitimacy. Thus, in just 3 short years, he has rocketed through his undergraduate degree in Mathematics. In December, I’m going to be absolutely beside myself with pride and tears as he walks the stage and receives the college degree — with honors and lots of laudes! — he so deserves.

Mike ate his first funnel cake during our trip to Gatlinburg, TN in December 2008.

Back to the point at hand: this weekend, and this test. This weekend probably doesn’t feel like a celebration to him, but it is to me. First, it’s a celebration of how hard he’s worked to prepare himself for a test that’s really a harbinger of a new life (graduate school) on the horizon. But it’s also a celebration of us. As long as I’ve known Mike, I’ve known he was capable of great things. I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to watch as he’s taken each step of of his journey: from a retail job, to work in a dental lab, to college, and soon off to grad school. Tonight I’m sifting through those steps, thinking about the people we were, have become, and will become. I’m brimming with memories of our eleven years together — which perhaps finally explains why I’m scattering photographic artifacts of those years throughout this entry.

Blurry Photobooth Photo of us in our element: Mike and Byrd work on math while I grade papers in my snuggie.

It’s in this splushy state of reminiscence that I’m baking a sweet, modest cake and wrapping it up for the trip. Last December we shared a special moment sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate. Tomorrow I hope to recreate that special feeling, but in the place of hot chocolate, I’ll substitute hearty hunks of cake and a pluff of cinnamon whipped cream. And really, who knows? I might manage to smuggle some cocoa and a couple of mugs into my travel bag along with the mounds of papers I have to grade.

The lovely fireplace where Mike and I enjoyed hot chocolate on a frosty evening in the mountains.

To Mike, I wish you clear thinking, quick reasoning, and accurate arithmetic on your test. You’ve already impressed so many people, from family to scholars, and I emphatically believe that you’re about to knock the academic socks off of some graduate admissions committees. I can’t wait to celebrate this rite of passage with you, and I’m so glad to join you on your journey.

Share Share this post with friends!

Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake

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

Cake Ingredients:
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!

Share Share this post with friends!

1 110 111 112 113 114 119