Alanna Connolly, a program examiner for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, lives in Coram.
When did you discover that you loved baking?
As a kid I liked to bake occasionally, but my first experiences weren’t great. Then I started making chocolate chip cookies about 20 years ago. And in 2001 my friend wanted me to do chocolate chip cookies for a wedding. I baked 140 cookies. People loved the recipe. Honestly, I’m not sure why. I make them thick and soft, maybe that was it.
What happened at the Riverhead Country Fair?
The first time I entered was 2010. I entered my chocolate chip cookies and I won third place. I thought that was pretty good for my first time out. Then I saw the Grand Prize purple ribbon. For six years, I went every year, entering different recipes, trying to get that ribbon. I placed first in pumpkin bread; I won ribbons for brownies, rainbow cookies, zucchini bread. This past year I had four entries. At the last minute I decided to do the pumpkin cake and it won first prize in frosted cakes. All first-prize winners compete for the grand prize, and this time my cake won. It was so exciting. I’m going to keep trying for more.
What do you think impressed the judges?
They told me they liked the cake itself. And they loved the frosting. The combination was perfect. The cake is actually a Paula Deen recipe, but hers has cream cheese frosting. This year, I saw a cake on Facebook called Magic Pumpkin Cake and I decided to try it. It has a layer of pumpkin cake, a layer of yellow cake, and then this frosting I had never seen before. I didn’t love the cake, but I loved the frosting. So at the last minute I decided to use that frosting on the old pumpkin cake recipe and that’s what won.
Tips for success?
It’s very easy. I sift all my dry ingredients in a separate bowl. My sifter is nothing but a big strainer. I remember watching Paula Deen saying it gets all the lumps out of the dry ingredients. And I just put a lot of love into it. I think that’s what shows.
To decorate, Connolly toasts chopped walnuts or almonds, puts them on top of the icing, and then lightly sprinkles the top of the cake with ground cinnamon. As an alternative to the Cool Whip frosting, Alanna will sometimes whip together 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1⁄2 cup of butter or margarine, 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
For the cake:
1 2⁄3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the frosting:
1 (4-serving size) box vanilla instant pudding mix
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup cold milk
8 ounces Cool Whip, thawed
1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 10- by 13-inch baking pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer at medium speed to combine the eggs (one at a time), sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
3. Sift and stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until the batter is thoroughly combined and smooth.
5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan.
6. Make the frosting: Place the vanilla pudding mix in a large bowl, add the pumpkin pie spice and pour in the cold milk. Whisk until combined and starting to thicken.
7. Gently fold in the Cool Whip until it’s completely combined.
8. Spread on top of the cooled cake. Makes 24 servings.