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Beatrice Ojakangas column: Favorite fall cakes, pie showcase fruit

Autumn makes me think of the tree-ripened apples, garden-fresh carrots, cranberries and even the spices that go along with my favorite cakes.

Slices of cake on plate with orange wedge
Orange Butter Cake.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas
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Maybe it is the spiciness of fallen leaves or the simple coziness of the aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, or maybe it is the aroma of coffee, but my mind in the autumn shifts toward baking cakes.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas

In the summertime, especially the extra warm one that we just experienced, I hesitated to turn the oven on. Autumn makes me think of the tree-ripened apples, garden-fresh carrots, cranberries, and even the spices that go along with my favorite cakes.

So looking ahead to fall and the season for indoor gatherings, I am turning to good-old favorites that are made with the fruits of the season.

Apple Date Nut Cake

If you have a food processor, it is okay to chop the apples using the steel blade — never mind that the end pieces might be irregular. Chopping can be one of the most tedious, time-consuming processes in the kitchen, not to mention the mess. I do this all the time with my 30-year-old Cuisinart.

  • 4 medium-sized apples, peel removed, and quartered (2 cups chopped)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (one stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup cold, strong coffee or 1 tablespoon instant coffee mixed with ½ cup water
  • ½ cup chopped dates or raisins
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Caramel Icing:

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  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup brown sugar, well-packed
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar if needed to thicken the mixture

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch rectangular pan and set aside.Cream the granulated sugar and butter until smooth and blended. Add the eggs and beat until light. (It is important that the butter be at room temperature.)

In a small bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and spices with the soda. Add two tablespoons of the flour mixture to the apples, dates and nuts. Toss to coat the pieces and then mix the remaining dry ingredients with the creamed mixture. Stir in the apple mixture until evenly blended.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the cake tests done.

Meanwhile, combine the cream, brown sugar and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook two to three minutes, stirring, and add the butter and vanilla. Spread over the partially cooled cake and cool completely.

Makes about 12 servings.

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Carrot Spice Cake

We have a friend who just loves carrot cake and insists he could count it as a vegetable serving. Well, I love this cake, too — and it has become such a universal classic that mixes have been developed featuring dried, shredded carrots. If you haven’t tried this fresh version, you have missed out on the fresh flavor of this classic!

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups freshly shredded carrots
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Frosting:

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  • (1) 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup (one stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 3-3 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum or vanilla
  • For decoration (optional) toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and dust with flour three 9-inch round cake pans or one 9-by-13-inch rectangular cake pan.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until light and fluffy. Mix in the soda, cinnamon, salt, vanilla and flour. Stir in the carrots, dates, and pecans or walnuts.

Spread the batter equally into the cake pans or evenly into the rectangular pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes for the layers or 35-40 minutes in the rectangular pan or until the cake tests done.

For the frosting, mix the cream cheese and butter. Beat until fluffy and mix in the sugar and rum or vanilla. Use the mixture to frost the layers or the rectangular cake. Decorate with toasted pecans if desired.

Makes about 12 servings.

Orange Butter Cake

A hand uses a strainer to sift sugar onto a round Bundt cake
Beatrice Ojakangas sprinkles powdered sugar onto a Orange Butter Cake.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

Here’s an old-time favorite of our family. The original recipe came from my mother-in-law who always baked it in a Bundt pan. It is one that keeps well because it is drenched with an orange syrup. Actually, it never lasted a long time in our family because it was gobbled up!

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (two sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated rind of two oranges
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup buttermilk or ¾ cup sour cream plus ¼ cup milk

Orange syrup:

  • Juice of two oranges (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar

Butter a 9-by-13-inch cake pan or a 9 ½-to-10-inch Bundt pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter. Add the eggs and the grated orange zest.

Beat until fluffy. Mix the soda, baking powder and flour into the creamed ingredients. Mix in the dates and nuts alternately with the buttermilk (or a mixture of sour cream and milk).

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Turn the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes for the 9-by-13-inch pan or for 55-60 minutes for the Bundt pan, or until the cake tests done.

Meanwhile, combine the juice and sugar and bring to a boil in a saucepan; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Keep hot. When the cake is still hot from the oven, poke it several times with a wooden pick and pour the hot syrup over evenly. Let cool.

Unmold the Bundt cake onto a serving plate to serve. Serve the rectangular cake cut into squares.

Makes about 12 servings.

Holiday Cranberry Pie

Fresh cranberries show up on the shelves this time of year, and although I love to make boozy, glazed cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner, they are delicious just cooked with sugar or roasted with sugar and brandy, rum or another spirit (one 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, 4 cups sugar and about ½ cup your favorite booze). Roast at 350 degrees for one hour.

  • Pastry for one double-crust 9-inch pie, purchased or homemade
  • 4 cups fresh cranberries, washed and halved
  • 1 ¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out half the crust to line a 9-inch pie pan. In a bowl, gently combine the cranberries, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Turn mixture into the pastry-lined pan. Dot with butter.

Roll out the top crust and cut into half-inch strips. Arrange in a lattice pattern on top of the cranberry filling. Moisten edges with water, trim off strips and crimp edges to seal.

Bake 45-55 minutes until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden. Cool before serving. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Makes about eight servings.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at  beatrice-ojakangas.com.

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