Stroll into my parent’s pantry and you will be greeted by the scent of cinnamon, garlic and bay. In front of you will be jars of varying sizes and shapes with flours and sugars. Crackers, pasta, canned beans and other weekly necessities sit organized and waiting for use. To the left is the Tupperware, saran wrap and a bottle or two of whiskey (Kentucky still runs in my mother’s veins). To the right, just above the spices you will find the notebooks.
Holidays in the King family would not be complete without the corresponding notebook. For years my mother has been creating them. The Thanksgiving notebook for example is filled with newspaper clippings on the pilgrims, the mayflower, funny cartoons, quirky traditions and even a fall leaf or two. Thumb beyond and you will find the recipes. Some are weathered and stained while others are pristine, waiting patiently to be put in the game. Each recipe has a note, “good”, “very good!” and the heavily prized “excellent”. All written by my mother’s hand. Her writing a mix between calligraphy and doctor scrawl teetering on the beautiful edge of legibility.
Among the “Excellent” you will find a cranberry and walnut cake with cream cheese frosting. The cake is moist, fluffy and speckled with tart cranberries and earthy walnuts. The crimson of the cranberry slowly leaches into the cake resulting in light pink halos. Normally I don’t like icing but this cake without the rich cream cheese frosting is like Thanksgiving without turkey.
Whether you decide to add this to the menu this year or bench it for a following season, I hope this recipe at least earns a spot in the notebook.
Cranberry Walnut Cake
(Sadly I have no idea what magazine this is from but it has been in the line-up for about 20 years)
1 ½ cups chopped fresh cranberries
1 ¾ cups plus 2 T sugar
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
4 large eggs, room temp
2 t vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temp
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 packages cream cheese, room temp
¼ c unsalted butter, room temp
1 t vanilla extract
2 cups sifted powder sugar
Sugared cranberries and shaved white chocolate for garnish
For cake, heat oven to 350 and grease two 9” round cake pans. Dust lightly with flour.
In medium bowl stir together cranberries and 2 Tbs of sugar and set aside
In large bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In another large bowl with electric mixer on high speed beat butter and remaining 1 ¾ cup sugar about 2 minutes until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
With mixer on low speed, in three additions each, alternately beat in flour mixture and butter milk, scraping side of bowl if necessary. Beat until ingredients are just incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, stir in cranberry mixture and walnuts.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cook cakes in ban on wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully remove cakes from pans and cool completely.
For Icing: In large bowl with electric mixer on high beat cream cheese and butter just until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract. With mixer on low speed, beat in powder sugar until just combined and of spreading consistency.
Place one cake layer on serving platter. Spread with about ¾ cup frosting. Place second cake layer on top. Frost side, then top of cake. Refrigerate for at least ½ hour to allow frosting to set. Arrange sugared cranberries and shaved chocolate on top of cake before serving.