These pinecones are actually delicious holiday cakes. Really.

Holiday festivities are coming. There will be parties and potlucks—and Sweet Envy: Deceptively Easy Desserts, Designed to Steal the Show by Seton Rossini—has got you covered. Rossini was a graphic designer, and Design Director for Food and Wine before she became known for the treats she whips up. Her design know-how pays off in gorgeous desserts.

One of my favorite chapters is called Artistic Endeavors. There are cookies that look like a Rothko painting and Pollock Smores Pie—inspired by the painter Jackson Pollock.

The recipe I am sharing came from the chapter with the most challenging recipes, from the artistic point of view: Natural Curiosities. For instance, the Succulent Cupcakes require quite a bit of molding and shaping of fondant. At the heart of them they are chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream frosting. But cupcake comes in a fondant flowerpot and has pretty fondant succulents shaped on top. I might give those a whirl someday if I’m feeling feisty.

I was feeling functional enough to make the Spiced Pinecone Cakes. I mean, you could even skip the part where you stick sliced almonds into the cake to create a pinecone effect and eat them plain. To create them you bake a cake then crumble it up and stir in a cream cheese frosting. That mixture is molded into a cone you stud with sliced almonds. Candied rosemary makes adorable pine branch garnishes. Check out the recipe…

Spiced Pinecone Cakes adapted from Sweet Envy by Seton Rossini

For the cakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk (I actually only had powdered buttermilk on hand, if that is what you have use package instructions to figure out how much, mine had me use 2/3 cup water and 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. powder)
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar plus more for dusting
  • 1 Tbsp. milk (mine was almond)
  • 2 (6 oz. bags) sliced almonds
  • Candied rosemary

For rosemary:

  • 1 1/4 cups superfine granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cups water
  • 3-6 sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-by-13 inch pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Pro tip? I always use the residual butter on the wrapper to grease the pan. In a medium bowl sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg, and if you are using the powdered buttermilk add that now too. Whisk but if you are like me you want any flour lumps out. Take time to sift. Set that bowl aside.

In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. add the eggs one at a time, beating until just combined then add the vanilla.

Now add the flour, alternating with buttermilk (if you used powdered you are just adding water now) until it is all mixed and smooth.

Pour into the pan and bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool completely then crumble the entire cake into a bowl. Eat a crumb or too if you like (says me not the author).

Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a big bowl combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk and beat until smooth and creamy. I used my stand mixer again for this. Then add the crumbled cake and stir it all up! Mold into six pinecone shapes on the baking sheet. Chill about ten minutes to firm it up.

Now make the rosemary “branches”. Bring 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Put the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow dish. Add the rosemary to the sugar/water mix and boil about 3 minutes until the liquid is syrupy. Use tongs to remove the rosemary sprigs, tap off the syrup then dip in sugar. Set aside on a sheet of parchment to dry. And hold onto the syrup! You could use it in a cocktail or some such lovely notion.

After an hour, make the cones! Take the almonds and stick them pointy side in into the cakes in rows. Give a dusting of powdered sugar and garnish with the rosemary! Then grab a fork. It’s pretty but too delicious to only be looked at.

(Photo by Seton Rossini courtesy of The Countryman Press)