Carrie's Kitchen: A trio of dessert recipes with a twist

It’s the final days before Christmas, and along with counting my blessings, this month I’ve been savoring some of the little blessings of the food world, and writing about “a few of my favorite things.”

So far I’ve written about soup, ricotta, beef short ribs and this week, desserts with a twist. At first I was thinking the category would be desserts with a secret ingredient, but that felt too limiting. Because while often my cooking does have a sort of surprise ingredient (“that coleslaw didn’t have any cabbage, it was green apples”), there are all kinds of twists you can put on a dish beyond using an unexpected ingredient.


But first, I’ll share my secret ingredient recipe — beet cake. It’s been a few years since I made a beet cake, and if you tell people it’s a beet cake, they probably won’t try it. Just being honest here. But if your family loves beets, or if you label it “harvest cake” or something like that, you may lure people in and then they’ll admit how good it actually is. It’s funny that I even tried this cake because I hate carrot cake, but I’d rather have beets on my dinner plate than carrots any day. Carrots are not sweet — they’re really earthy. I guess beets are kind of earthy too, but I think they’re sweeter (does the term “sugar beets” ring any bells for you?) and they deserve their own cake. So give it a try.

Second, the magic cake, another one that I haven’t made in a while but now that I’ve come across the recipe again, I think I should make it with my 4-year-old son because he might enjoy the “magic” of it. Magic cake has a lot of eggs and milk in it, producing a very thin batter, but as it cooks, the top and the bottom solidify first, leaving a custardy layer in the middle that really looks like it was assembled as three different parts. But it’s so much easier than that. Magic indeed.

And finally, a recipe that I developed myself for a potluck Mexican party in November. My friends are really into monkey bread — the super easy dessert where you buy refrigerated biscuits, cut them up and dust them in cinnamon sugar, then put them in a Bundt pan with a buttery sugary sauce and it cooks into a gooey dessert that everyone can pull apart and eat with their fingers. Well, I wanted a monkey bread with the flavors of cinnamon, chocolate and chile powder, and I achieved 2 out of 3 with my first version of this cake. Because there is so much biscuit dough, my first attempt with a ½ teaspoon of chile powder was only noticeable in one out of five bites, so here I doubled it to 1 teaspoon. If you’re more adventurous, try 2 teaspoons. And the other “surprise” of this recipe was that the dark chocolate cocoa made it look burned, so none of the children tried to eat it, and then we adults got to eat it all. It was a big hit.

So I hope you enjoy these recipes, and may you have a very merry Christmas where you can enjoy family, friends, and some of YOUR favorite things!

Don’t knock it until you try it beet cake

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups shredded fresh beets

1 cup chopped walnuts


Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour 13- by 9-inch baking pan.

Beat eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add to egg mixture and mix well.

Add vanilla, beets and walnuts. Beat for 1 minute on medium speed.

Pour into pan, bake for 45 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean.

Magic cake

4 eggs at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk lukewarm (microwave for 1 minute if necessary)

Powdered sugar for dusting cake

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8- by 8-inch baking dish or line it with parchment paper so that it's easier to get the cake out.

Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add butter and vanilla extract and continue beating for another minute or two after which you can add the flour and mix it in until fully incorporated.

Slowly start adding the milk and beat until everything is well mixed together.

Add the egg whites to a mixer and mix until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the cake batter. Make sure you don't fold the egg whites in completely, you still want to see some of the white bits floating at the top.

Pour batter into baking dish and bake for 40 to 70 minutes or until the top is lightly golden. The baking time could vary greatly depending on the oven, so take a peek at around 40 minutes and see how it looks. The cake is done when it only jiggles slightly but feels firm to touch.

Sprinkle some powdered sugar after cake has cooled.


Mexican monkey ball cake

2 cans (8-count each) Pillsbury Grands Biscuits

1/3 cup granulated cinnamon sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne powder or Mexican chipotle chile powder

3 tablespoons unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder, divided

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup fluted Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Open the cans of biscuits and slice each biscuit into 6 pieces. Place the granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder in a large gallon size Ziploc bag. Add the biscuit pieces, seal the bag, and shake to coat.

Mix melted butter, brown sugar, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons of cocoa in a small bowl.

Place half the coated biscuit pieces in the prepared pan. Top with half the chocolate chips and half the butter mixture. Repeat a second layer of biscuits, chocolate chips, and butter mixture.

Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes until the top is very brown and the center isn’t too jiggly. The top will get crusty so you’ll want to take it out when it’s still a little jiggly in the center so the top doesn’t burn.

Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Place a serving plate over the pan and invert the pan, tap the top a few times and pray that the whole thing comes out in one piece. If it doesn’t, just stick the pieces back together. Note: do not let this cool completely in the pan or it becomes like a rock and it will be very hard to clean your pan.

Source: Carrie Ann Knauer