Pumpkin takes the cake! (plus, my Baked adventure)

Happy Baked Birthday to me!

Happy Sunday morning and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

I typically begin my weekly blog mid-way through the week, putting the finishing touches to it, adding the photos, and posting on Sunday when it’s ‘due’.  Well… as you can tell from the above photo, as well as my short blog previous to this, I’ve been rather busy – all with rather exciting Baked-centric things – so I am writing this blog on the fly at 9 a.m. today – Sunday morning!

Before I elaborate further on the photo above (I’m sure you’re all dying to know), I wanted to jump into this week’s recipe and share my thoughts on it.  I’m a huge pumpkin fan, as you all know by now, and this week’s recipe – the Pumpkin Almond Cake with Almond Butter Frosting – caught my eye immediately when I first paged through Baked Elements.  I traditionally make my own birthday cake – usually a yummy pumpkin layer cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting from an older copy of Everyday Food magazine.  However, as I celebrated my birthday last Monday in NYC (and at Baked!  Yay! …oops, jumping ahead again!), I wasn’t able to bake my cake this year, and making this one for Thanksgiving seemed an apt substitute.  I also scrapped the notion of making an apple or pumpkin pie in favor of using this recipe for our mini-Thanksgiving celebration on Friday after arriving back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

This is a fairly simple cake to mix together for company – or, if you’re a pumpkin fanatic like yours truly, maybe to satiate that craving you occasionally may have for anything spicy and  pumpkin.  A wonderful blend of fall spices are sifted together with flour and almond flour (I used the almond meal at Trader Joe’s – fairly cheap and perfect for this recipe), which are then gradually added, with buttermilk, to a creamed mixture of butter, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin, and eggs.  Once all ingredients are fairly well-incorporated, the cake is baked in a standard 9-inch cake pan.  I could easily see this being made as a two-layer cake, but it could be rather ‘heavy’ with the addition of the almond meal.

One of the best things about pumpkin is that it is a sturdy enough ‘workhorse’ of an ingredient which keeps baked goods dense and moist, but not too fragile.  Faced with the dilemma of getting this cake made before our trip, I thankfully was able to freeze it for a week, and it held together extremely well.  All that remained was for me to whip up the almond butter frosting in my food processor.  I used whole milk instead of the almond milk listed in the frosting recipe – I’m usually pretty faithful to every word and suggestion the Baked boys make, but I really couldn’t see the point of buying a huge container of almond milk for a couple of tablespoons.  Vanilla bean paste is also recommended for the frosting, but nowhere in the recipe is it mentioned where to add it.  Though vanilla bean paste is on my list of unique ingredients to ‘someday’ acquire, I currently have none, so I just followed my instinct and added a small splash of regular vanilla extract to the ingredients before whizzing it all up.  I liked the frosting on the thicker side, and so opted for adding just a touch more milk to keep it spreadable before turning it out onto the top of the cake.

The cake was nothing short of wonderful.  The pumpkin cake was dense, moist and nutty with the flecks of almond meal, and the almond butter frosting was deliciously gooey and not too sweet (I only added the 1-1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar).  It was a terrific and pleasing substitution to pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving – should you ever want to shake things up in your family tradition – and best of all, as I mentioned before, it was incredibly easy to put together.  I wasn’t too sure about the pairing of pumpkin with almond, but one taste of this cake banished my skepticism.  I still favor a cream cheese frosting with pumpkin, but the almond butter frosting was a fun and tasty diversion, complementing the almond baked into the cake.  The only downside to the frosting on this cake was that I found it didn’t hold up well.  It became a little bit runny after a day or two, and slid, rather unattractively, off the cut cake.  It’s still delicious, however, so do not be deterred by this!

Can’t get enough pumpkin this fall?  Try this cake: http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2012/11/19/in-the-oven-pumpkin-almond-cake-with-almond-butter-frosting/. And be sure to visit the pages of my fellow bakers and see how they fared.  Trust me, brewing a pot of coffee and reading through all of our blogs every Sunday morning will have you itching to bake in no time!

Okay – the moment you (possibly) all been waiting for: my visit to Baked.  Let me preface this by saying that I will attempt to keep my story short, though my excitement may have me ranting like a giddy child!  I’ll actually begin with the previous Thursday, before we headed out to NYC.

On that Thursday, I had the great pleasure of driving, with my sister Donna, to the somewhat quaint little town of Woodstock, Illinois (many of you may recognize it as the filming site for the movie, Groundhog Day) to see our Baked Sunday Morning ‘heroes’, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, talk about “how NOT to open a bakery” at Woodstock’s famed opera house.  It was a wonderful presentation, and onstage the guys were just as congenial and fun as I always imagined them to be.  They discussed how Baked came about – all of the struggles, roadblocks, financial woes, and yes – eventual joys and rewards that came along the way.  Afterwards, a table was set up in a side room for the guys to sign their cookbooks, and I was thrilled to be about 8th in line to have my Baked Elements book signed – and most importantly, finally meet Matt and Renato.

Well, when they saw me, it was such an awesome feeling – they knew right away who I was and were welcoming and super-friendly.  I couldn’t have asked for more graciousness.  I have always said that they feel like baking brothers to me, and when I finally got the chance to meet them, this feeling was solidified.  They let me have my picture taken with them (they invited me to sit right with them behind the table for it!) and we chatted about the cheese grits BSM was making that week!  I could have sat and talked with them for hours, but there was a line behind me, so my sister and I sadly had to leave – however, I was told by Matt that he would be at Baked on Monday – my birthday – when I would make the trip out to NYC.  I felt like I had just met two major celebrities (at least, to me), so the prospect of chatting with one of them again in a few days was something you can imagine I looked very forward to – and at Baked, nonetheless!

My boyfriend Jake and I started the trip out terrifically – we enjoyed some wonderful time wining, dining, and touring with some of Jake’s friends in NYC.  When Monday and my birthday rolled around, we made the trek out to Baked in Red Hook.  And by ‘trek’, I mean just that – it’s out there!  We ended up getting off the subway, then walking several blocks through several neighborhoods before we entered Red Hook, which I was surprised to notice was quite an industrial part of town, with lots of warehouses and such.  There were still sad traces of Hurricane Sandy devastation, though clean-up efforts were certainly in full-swing.  It was a very sobering sight.

As we turned onto Van Brunt street, like a little kid, I kept pestering Jake – who had visited Baked before – ‘are we almost there?  Are we almost there?”.  It was several blocks before the unmistakable brown awning and orange door with round windows came into sight.  Thrilled, I opened the door and was HOME.  Baked was everything I imagined and more.  Warm, cozy, and quaint – but also very masculine in style and overall effect.  My mouth was watering just looking at all of the delicious treats in the bakery case, and I began to decide upon which desserts I would have to sample (namely, ones I had never made and did not have the recipe for).

Matt was also there! He came out to very warmly welcome us to Baked and wish me a Happy Birthday, and after giving us a little bag of cookies and marshmallows, we sat with him over coffee and sampled a piece of the outstanding wintermint cake.  It was a fabulous, dense, dark chocolate cake with thin layers of chocolate ganache and a light mint buttercream; perfect for the holidays.  We talked with Matt for nearly 45 minutes about baking and must-see places and restaurants to visit in NYC (we eventually took Matt up on a few of his suggestions).  It was such a fun time actually sitting there, across from a baker I big-time look up to, chatting as if we were old friends – I cherished every moment, before Matt finally had to take his leave for the day.

We hung around Baked for a while longer – I got some more coffee and tried a coffee crisp bar (yummy), and purchased a chocolate cloud cookie and salted caramel bar to go.  Reluctantly, we got up to go as the outside light was beginning to dim, and I wanted to have my photo taken outside Baked before it was dark.  As we were taking the photos, a man’s voice came from behind us, jokingly saying, “Hey! You can’t take photos here!”  It was Renato!  He had been running errands throughout the day for Baked, and was happy he was able to catch Jake and I before we headed back into the city.  Needless to say, I left Baked with a spring in my step (oh brother! Sorry – I can’t find better words to express it!) and a tremendous amount of warmth in my heart for such incredible and kind generosity.  I feel a strong kinship with not only Matt and Renato, but also Baked as a whole – and as corny as it sounds, I definitely feel at home there.  This feeling was only intensified by my visit, and it was a Happy Birthday indeed.  I already miss it – and NYC – deeply and am counting the days until I am back.

Thank you for indulging me by letting me shared my Baked story. I wish all of you Baked fans out there the same opportunity in time.  If you have the chance to visit Baked, DO IT.  You will not be disappointed.  They’ve got some pretty terrific things bakin’ out there in Red Hook – and they deserve all of their success.  I’m very proud of these guys, and humbled and honored to call them friends.

Until next time, dear readers and friends… bake on!

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16 thoughts on “Pumpkin takes the cake! (plus, my Baked adventure)

  1. Happy belated birthday. And I so need to hug you! Your story about meeting the Baked boys and going to Baked was fabulous!!! It makes me want to go there even more than I already did. Yet reading your post made me feel like I was there with you. Great writing.
    Oh and your cake looks scrumptious! :)

  2. Yay for the book signing AND a trip to Baked – what a way to celebrate your birthday in style! I met the Baked boys when they were here for the first book several years ago and they were great.

    Oh, and the cake looks good too. I loved this one as well.

  3. What a great post, Mark! I was not at all enamored by this recipe, but I’m actually tempted to try it after reading this. I just don’t care for almond ingredients, but it doesn’t sound like they are terribly imposing. Perhaps I’ll give it a whirl…

    BTW, I *highly* recommend trying vanilla bean paste– it’s fabulous and lends a little vanilla bean sophistication to light-colored baked goods. ;-)

    I have been SO looking forward to reading your blog about your trip, even though I have learned much already on Facebook. It warms my heart that you had the same feeling I did when visiting the bakery– there is something very, very homey and comfortable there. It’s a really special little place, indeed. And the fact that you got to spend so much time with Matt, in addition to the Woodstock event/book-signing, is so awesome!!! I’m so glad to hear what great guys they are, and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to meet them someday. I can’t think of a better way to spend your birthday. I mean, SERIOUSLY!! I’m so happy for you, and I hope these memories stay with you always. :) :) :)

  4. Oh, I’m so jealous! I went to NYC last summer but didn’t make it to Baked. I also missed them on their book tour recently when they visited nearby and I was out of town. Your post has me itching to go! Lucky boy!

  5. YESSS! So glad you had fun in NY…and I’m also glad someone else described spending time with Matt and Renato as “giddy child” ha ha. That’s EXACTLY how I felt, I had to remind myself how old I actually am. ;) Makes me long for my NYC trip in May, I can’t wait! I love this cake, your pics and post are great as always sir. Welcome back! :)

  6. i loved reading this post!!! i just recently met deb from smitten kitchen and it’s nice to see someone else get so excited about meeting their baking soulmates!

  7. What a fun post! Happy Birthday and also Happy Thanksgiving…it’s never to late to say. Glad you had a fun trip and your cake looks delish…nice work.

  8. Happy birthday, and I loved reading about your trip! Yes, the bakery is quite a trek (but worth it). And Matt is a treasure trove of information for places to eat in New York. I agree, he and Renato are just the nicest ever.

  9. Mark, I love, love, love reading your posts! Thanks for sharing the yummy recipes and your experiences with them. Happy birthday!!

  10. Oh, I forgot to mention… there’s a bus that drops you off RIGHT in front of BAKED– for future reference! I didn’t know that my first time either and ended up taking an expensive taxi!

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