First Feast


My wife and I are planners, especially in regards to events and holidays. I’m not certain if it’s the years we spent working in the hospitality industry, or just who we are as people, but we do devote a modicum of time to thinking things through. Our best laid plans may not always pan out, of course, but we’ve found the odds for success are better if a blueprint is in place.



Naturally our thoughts turned to Thanksgiving awhile back. The evening hours after the children are tucked in is conducive to a good exchange of ideas. Invariably, while discussing menu options, a fond memory of when we hosted our first holiday surfaces. The year was 2000 and our guests were Bill & Clare with their two young children.



Bill is my buddy from college. We met in the dorms and shared an appreciation for beer. Bill studied aeronautical engineering, while I took classes in hotel and restaurant management. Willy, as I like to call him, is a good man who is perpetually on time. This is a good thing considering he now manages throngs of mechanics who maintain the aircraft fleet for FedEx. It’s no wonder then with all his travels across the nation that he met his charming bride during a flight one day.



Clare is a delight who excels in the art of conversation. I suspect her southern upbringing may have something to do with it. She can spark a conversation or move it along when it lulls, always adding her intellectual perspective where appropriate or posing questions when she finds intrigue in an unfamiliar topic. All in all, she’s smart, funny and genuine—an ideal counterpart to Willy.



As it goes, Mrs. W. and I were fixing to have our friends over for Thanksgiving. We had recently finished renovations on our home and it was primed for entertaining. We had a plan and a menu so game on. Our guests arrived on time and everything was going along swimmingly—until it became clear I had misjudged the timing for the roast turkey to be ready. But when you’re in the company of friends, the long gap between the first course and the entrée seems to be much less of a faux pas by the gracious understanding of the guests. The meal eventually did get back on track and played out to a delicious finish; an ending which by design broke from tradition. No pie!



Our menu included a pumpkin torte from a recipe I spotted in a special holiday issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Having a predisposition for cake I was boldly willing to give it a go. It was, after all, our first round at hosting Thanksgiving. Why not mirror the newness of the experience by trying something…new?



This year we’ll savor a holiday meal at home with our children. I’ve long since nailed the orchestration of timing the turkey. And wouldn’t you know while deciding what to prepare for the table, our thoughts turned to the fond memories of our first feast—blueprint, friends and all.


Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens


Yield: Makes one 8 to 9-inch round three-layer cake. Serves approximately 16.


All the flavors of autumn are represented here…it’s part pumpkin pie, part spice cake, and part cheesecake altogether in one sensational dessert. The fresh ginger shines, buffered by the cream cheese frosting with its dash of lemon juice. From the first bite, you and your guests will be thankful for this sweet ending!


  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup full-flavored molasses
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice


  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and lightly flour three 9×1-1/2-inch or 8×1-1/2-inch round baking pans; set aside.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, salt, and cloves; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter for 30 seconds; beat in brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until smooth.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. In a small bowl stir together milk, pumpkin, and ginger. Add dry ingredients and pumpkin mixture alternately to beaten mixture. Beat on low speed after each addition until combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake for 22 to 26 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. (If all three layers won’t fit in oven at the same time, or if you do not have 3 pans, cover one-third of the batter and chill up to 45 minutes before baking.) Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans. Cool thoroughly on wire racks.
  • Meanwhile, make the frosting. In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating well. Add additional powdered sugar, beating well. If necessary, beat in additional powdered sugar or lemon juice until frosting reaches spreading consistency.
  • Assembly:
  • Place one cake layer on serving plate; spread with one-third of the Cream Cheese Frosting. Top with second layer cake; spread with one-third of the frosting. Top with third cake layer and remaining frosting.
  • Optional: If desired, sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans on top and garnish with a fresh lemon slice and some sugared cranberries.


If you choose the 8×1 1/2-inch round pan, the cake layers will be a bit taller. The cakes may be made ahead, cooled completely, wrapped in plastic and stored in freezer bags for several weeks. Thaw at room temperature until ready to use.



  1. Brooks,
    What a beautiful story, and cake with all my favorite flavors of Fall. I love the garnishes, as well as the cake. Great presentation.

  2. Brooks – you’ve excelled yourself as ever with this Torte. Gosh – what a shot! Enjoy Thanksgiving ‘en famille’ around this beauty!

  3. I love having good friends over for dinner. Any amount of mishaps or mistiming can happen and it doesn’t matter, does it.

    Your torte is gorgeous. I’m a huge fan of fresh ginger in baked goods so I was thrilled to see that pile of grated ginger sitting up there. The combination of spice cake, pumpkin pie and cheese cake? It makes me swoon.

  4. I love your pictures and I would love for you to join and share your pictures with us at

  5. OMG … That cake is absolutely gorgeous 🙂

  6. What a stupendous cake…I’d definitely choose that over a slice of pumpkin pie!!!

  7. Brooks, that’s just lovely! I just had to Pin it. Great job as usual.

  8. I love Thanksgiving with good friends. Regular pie can be boring…I’d much rather have this beauty!

  9. We cannot imagine that any number of hospitality classes could improve on the warmth that exudes from your heart, Brooks and can only imagine any holiday in your home would be an unforgettable experience. Not least because of that cruelly tempting torte! We both wish you and yours a delightfully warm and happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Who needs pie when you can have cake?! Especially with one as good looking as this! Great job, as always 🙂

  11. This torte is simply beautiful! It looks as if it should be the centerpiece at a meal before being devoured. It sounds as if it tastes amazing too :)!

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