Read about Mrs. Betty's Recipe Box here.
When I came across this cake in Mrs. Betty's Recipe Box, I knew I had to make it. I'm not exactly sure why it's called a Pine Cone Cake, but I'm guessing that it comes from the celestial combination of pineapple and coconut. Regardless what you call it, it deserves to be on your holiday table this year.
Our pines are currently dusted with snow here in Tennessee, which makes it a perfect time to do some holiday baking.
What kind of memories do pines bring to you? One of my favorite Christmas memories was each year when my dad (who is still the biggest kid at Christmas) would bring in the tree and remove the netting. There's the cold swoosh of air it had been holding in its branches and then the unmistakable smell that only comes from a freshly cut pine tree.
If you've read my Halloween-how-to on making a Steampunk Mummy, you might remember the mention of a Christmas tree farm. That's where our family got our trees for many years. Here we are at the tree farm when our son was about six weeks old and looking quite festive in his teeny red cable knit. He's a teenager now, so that was quite a few Christmases ago.
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We now have artificial trees in our home, and I do not apologize for that. They are non-sticky, less messy, and I can keep them up as long as I want! I also don't have to worry about the pets drinking or splashing the water. We're surrounded by acres of pines anyway, so I can look out most any window at a sea of trees. There's a backstory with that:
When I first met my husband in 1993, he was working at a paper mill located about 50 miles south of where we currently live. At that time, they were one of America's largest producers of newsprint and one of the largest land owners in Southeast Tennessee. We got married the following year and moved away. However, five years later, we found ourselves back in the area and both working at that same paper mill.
Fast forward seven years, when the newsprint industry was being greatly displaced by electronic media. The company had been selling off much of the land where they had their trees planted. After a strange set of circumstances (call it destiny, fate, etc.), we found ourselves with the opportunity to purchase some of that land in the area we wanted to live. We cleared enough to build a house, and there are still countless pines that were once destined to become someone's newspaper. They are now much taller than they were probably ever meant to be.
You know what comes with a ridge covered in pine trees? Many, many PINE CONES!
That gets us back to CAKE, which is why you're really here, right?
In Mrs. Betty's recipe, the cake is baked in a 13 x 9-inch pan and does not mention frosting. There's no way she made this cake without cream cheese frosting. It must be so obvious, it didn't need to be on the recipe card. I found a cream cheese frosting recipe of hers, which uses pecans. This worked out perfect, since the cake also has pecans.
I made the cake in two layers, because I wanted to top it with those edible pine cones. Those were not from Mrs. Betty; the idea came to me at the grocery store when I first eyed those gorgeous, shiny almonds in their skin sitting among the salad toppings in the produce section. They were so pretty and deserved better than being covered in Ranch dressing.
The recipes and instructions for the cake, frosting, and pine cone toppers are all explained separately below. Let's start with the cake.
Full recipes are at the bottom of this page.
MRS. BETTY'S PINE CONE CAKE
Whenever I'm at a bakery, even with all the choices, I am always drawn to carrot cake, especially when presented in cupcake form. If you are a carrot cake fan like me, you are going to love this cake. Even if it carrot cake isn't your thing, try this one...it might even become a favorite!
Gather all your cake ingredients and get them together for a family photo.
Beat the oil and sugar together, and then add the eggs one at a time.
Add the baking soda, flour, and cinnamon to the mixer. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; however, I use a Ceylon Cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon is plenty.
If you've never tried Ceylon, known as true cinnamon, I highly recommend it. It has the health benefits of cinnamon without the harmful effects of coumarin, which is a chemical found in cinnamon plants, except for Ceylon. Besides the health benefits, it has a sweet, exotic flavor that is excellent not only for desserts and coffees, but also your savory dishes.
With a wooden spoon or spurtle, fold in the crushed pineapple, grated carrots, coconut, and pecans. The recipe says to use two finely grated carrots; I had those cute little organic ones in the fridge, so I actually used four of those. They add so much moisture to the cake.
Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees. Mine were done in 30 minutes in the 9-inch pans, but may take around 35-45 minutes if using a 13x9-inch.
Allow to cool while making the cream cheese frosting.
Look how moist these cakes are!
MRS. BETTY'S CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (WITH PECANS)
Now for the frosting! This is a basic cream cheese frosting recipe with pecans added in.
Beat together the softened butter and cream cheese. Slowly add in the confectioners sugar and mix until creamy.
Then, gently fold in the pecans.
Warning: You will have a line of people, pets, wild animals, etc. in your kitchen waiting to lick this bowl clean! One less chore to do later, right?
Once the cake layers have cooled, start spreading the frosting. Sprinkle some of the shredded coconut on the top.
If you're taking this cake to a potluck or family gathering, I recommend sprinkling a few pecans across the top as well. This helps those with certain nut allergies to quickly identify what's in the cake without having to ask. I didn't for this cake, since I added the pine cones on the top and planned to serve it at home.
Before we dig in, I want to show you how I made the pine cones. Of course, these are optional, but they're quite easy to do.
ALMOND PINE CONE CAKE TOPPERS
I made the pine cones a day ahead to allow them to chill and set before placing on the cake.
As I mentioned earlier, I really hadn't planned on making pine cone toppers for this cake until seeing those lovely almonds. Then I had to think about what to do with them. Having watched many episodes of The Great British Baking Show, I decided to use marzipan for the center of my pine cones. They make it look so easy to make from scratch; however, l'll never be competing for Star Baker, so I opted for pre-made marzipan. The Odense company has been around since 1909, and I trust their marzipan will come out perfectly out of the box every time.
The preferable way to get the brown color would probably be to use cocoa powder or icing tint. As life would have it, I recently cleaned out my baking pantry and threw out not one, but two, unused cans of cocoa powder. What I did have was a can of chocolate frosting...
Cut the marzipan in half for two pine cones. The foil is pretty thick, so use a sharp knife. Cover one of the halves with plastic wrap and place in the fridge while working with the other. You can eat it just like that!
Marzipan is sweet like fondant, but molds much easier and doesn't dry out as quickly. It's made with almonds, where fondant is mostly sugar. Even though marzipan is made of sugar and almonds, it's not the same as almond paste. They are similar and often confused for one another. Almond paste has more almonds and less sugar than marzipan and not nearly as smooth or moldable. Almond paste is used as a baking ingredient, such as in Biscotti and cookies.
Sprinkle a little confectioners sugar to your work area. Add the frosting, cocoa, or tint and work into the marzipan to color all the way through. Roll into an egg (or pine cone) shape, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes.
Remove from fridge and start arranging the almonds from the bottom and work in circles toward the top. Place them pointed side down; they are not only easier to stick in that way, but also the opposite end sort of mimics the prickles of a pine cone.
If it starts to get too soft, place it back in the fridge for a few minutes. I kept a bowl of ice water to dip my fingers in while adding the almonds. These almonds were unsalted with the skins left on. You could also use almond slices. I'm pretty sure I once made a cheese ball like that years ago.
Once the pine cone is assembled, wrap it back up with the plastic wrap and gently shape, as needed. Keep refrigerated until needed for the cake. Repeat with the second one.