The Staff of Life: My Blue Ribbon Carrot-Nut Bread

Not best in show, but pretty darn close


It all started like this. Twenty-five years ago, I had the crazy notion that I wanted to make a carrot cake. Back then I had no idea about how to bake anything, but I did have a deeply entrenched belief that if a little is good, a lot is better. I have to admit, I did use a lot of carrots.

When my wife, Emily, came in and saw the huge pile of carrots, she immediately accused me of profligacy in squandering all those groceries. Jaw set, I told her I was going to do it my way, and, guess what, the cake was flawless: moist, flavorful, with just the slightest crispiness to the top. Not only did she make an apology that would make a priest proud, she announced that she was going to enter my cake at the State Fair of Texas.

A few months later, we were in her parents' Dallas house, making multiple cakes, searching for perfection. We finally had two gorgeous layers, but we also had about a pound and a half of batter left over, just enough to make a loaf of carrot-nut bread. When we pulled it out of the oven, it was the embodiment of gorgeous perfection, so we made a last-minute decision to enter it in the bread category.

When we arrived early the next morning, the line for the baked goods judging was in the hundreds. And I was the only man! We wandered off for a cup of coffee. When we returned, my cake was up on a shelf, and my loaf was on a table. Emily asked one of the volunteers what was going on. "Well," he said, "the things on the shelves aren't in the running." We felt that sinking feeling you get when you lose. Emily asked the volunteer what it meant to be on the table. "Oh, those are Best in Class. Those things are all in the running for Best in Show."

Our screams scared the hell out of everyone within 100 yards. We were properly shushed and waited out the final judging. I didn't win Best in Show, but I did get the blue ribbon for Best Nut Bread. Sometimes a lot really is better. – Wes Marshall

Recipe:

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

3 ounces walnuts, chopped

3 ounces slivered almonds, chopped

1 pound carrots, peeled and grated

2/3 cup peanut oil

1 cup sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

Grate carrots. Blend flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and sugar. Mix in the oil and egg. Then blend in the nuts and carrots. Put mixture in a greased and floured bread pan. Bake at 325 degrees until a nail in the middle comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.

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