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Pound cake is one of those desserts that everyone has eaten at some point. If you haven’t made one yourself someone in your family probably has. No dessert table, picnic basket or bake sale is complete without some version of this baking basic. The original recipe is British in origin and dates back to at least the early 18th century. By the 19th century, pound cake recipes had appeared in American cookbooks. The question is, with all the ingredients and techniques available to us now, how has the humble pound cake defended its place amongst the gastronomic giants of the pastry world?
Sorry, no original photos today. Never got home to bake a cake especially for today. But I have made the one pictured above and it is fantastic. Check out the recipe at Epicurious.com.
One might also wonder, what makes a pound cake a pound cake? It’s a piece of genius really. The name is the recipe, as long as you can remember four ingredients that is. A traditional pound cake is a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. There are no artificial leaveners in the original. All the lift comes from the air whipped into the eggs. Of course, most modern recipes make use of baking powder to create a lighter cake. That said, the heavier and denser original has its merits and in some applications is the better cake. The other great thing about the basic recipe is that you can reduce or increase the recipe according to your needs without the typical disaster incurred by messing with the chemistry of other pastry recipes. Just remember to maintain the 1:1:1:1 ratio.
Here’s the basic recipe, the one I can give you since the copy right for a 300-year-old recipe has probably expired. As for variations, I’m afraid, I have to send you to consult the cookbook library.
- 1 pound butter, softened
- 1 pound sugar
- 1 pound eggs (about 10 large)
- 1 pound cake flour, sifted
- 2 tsp vanilla
- pinch of salt
With an electric mixer whip butter and sugar together until light in colour and very fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions. Stir in vanilla and salt. Turn mixer speed to low and add flour in three batches. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
How easy is that?! If you want to jazz things up a bit, add a couple teaspoons of lemon zest to the batter and drizzle a lemon glaze over the glazed cake.
The real beauty of pound cake, beyond how ridiculously easy it is to make (remember I am a confirmed non-baker) and how it lends itself to be the ingredient in other things. A big slab of pound cake, toasted on the grill with a slice of grilled pineapple and a drizzle of caramel sauce is a fantastic “barbeque” dessert. Cubes of pound cake are perfect for dipping in a chocolate fondue. For the fondue, I really do recommend the traditional recipe. You’ll need a nice dense cake for dipping. I like a heap of strawberries and nice dollop of sweetened whipped cream with mine, a sort of strawberry shortcake.
It’s easy to see why pound cake can still be found in modern cookery. Pound cake is one of those simple, versatile and delicious creations that needs little embellishment but can take anything you throw at it. All on it’s own or as a component of something much more grand pound cake deserves a place in your culinary repertoire.
So I have a new favorite dinner party dessert. Why is it my fave?
(1) it was easy, in that kinda-labour-intensive-but-ultimately-not-difficult way.
(2) if the dead silence which came over the room full of my friends was any indication, it was delicious.
(3) mini baked alaska’s are super cute.
But first, lets back this train up. What am I talking about?
Baked Alaska (also known as glace au four, omelette à la norvégienne, Norwegian omelette (!!) and omelette surprise) is a dessert made of ice cream placed in a pie dish lined with slices of cake or Christmas pudding and topped with meringue. The entire dessert is then placed in an extremely hot oven for just long enough to firm the meringue. The meringue is an effective insulator, and the short cooking time prevents the heat from getting through to the ice cream. I have to say, it’s cool to put ice cream in a 500 degree oven, and have it not melt.
I read a few baked alaska recipes, and cobbled together what follows. The beauty of baked alaska is that you can make any combo of flavours that takes your fancy – chocolate cake and pecan icecream, brownies and raspberry sorbet, vanilla cake and strawberry icecream… follow your bliss!
Mini baked alaska in 5 steps
(1) pick your fave cupcake or brownie recipe, and bake up some stumps. You want the baked cake to be only about an inch high, so only use a few generous spoons of batter in each muffin cup. Remember that these will cook faster than a whole cake, so just keep and eye on them. I made a basic fudgey brownie.
(2) once the stumps have cooled, invert them, and pop a small ball of the softened icecream of your choice on top. Make the ice cream slightly smaller than the cake, so that there is room to “stick” the meringue to the cake. Immediately pop into the freezer on a baking sheet.
(3) While the icecream is hardening again, make meringue. I chose to make a version where you heat the eggwhites and sugar together first before whipping, and this made a thick, rich meringue, though less airy than what you might use on a Lemon Meringue pie:
Combine 3/4 cup sugar and 3 egg whites in large metal bowl (you can also add a little vanilla if you like, and one teaspoon of cream of tartar if you have it). Set bowl over saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until mixture is very warm, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Using electric mixer, beat meringue at high speed until very thick and billowy, about 2 minutes.
(4) Pipe! Ok you don’t need to use an icing bag to pipe on the meringue, you could swirl in on with a spoon… but I think they are prettier with the icing tips. So take the cake and icecream out of the fridge, cover each completely with meringue, and then put them back in the freezer, until the meringue is frozen – about 2 hours, but they will keep for a few days.
(5) Bake! Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Take the BA out of the freezer, and pop them straight into the oven. Watch them carefully – the meringue will brown in 3-5 min. Serve immediately.
~Yours, from Mazatlan, Deanna
[ED.: Janelle – domestic queen of her own little patch of Saskatchewan – is back as a guest blogger with today’s post.]
Every cook, whether a domestic god or goddess or a professional chef, has those few sacred cookbooks they cannot live without. My love of cooking started in earnest when I learned to bake. I went through a period of time early in university learning to bake everything and would spend free time at Value Village scouring the shelves for vintage bake-ware. I bought every foodie magazine I could afford to buy. Soon I was baking cookies as gifts for Christmas. I cooked mostly from magazines, following the trends. There were a few cookbooks on my shelf. Now, I bake for a family and I rarely use a recipe for muffins, cookies and pancakes. When I do need a recipe, I turn to trusted cookbooks. Magazines are just for fun.
The one “baking thing” I still get really excited about is baking a cake. A really great cake. My heart still goes a flutter when an issue of Gourmet (RIP) or Bon Appetit shows up at the grocery store with a big, glossy, tall cake on the cover. This December issue of Fine Cooking is a great example. I love how the food stylists and photographers can make a cake look like a . . . work of art, a monument if you will. But – and there is a but – I have always disliked the perfection that I know I will never attain in my own kitchen. Its not that food porn has made me feel inadequate in the kitchen, I just do not like my food too perfect. The Canadian foodie read “Stanley Park” by Timothy Taylor explains my position perfectly:
” . . . in the world of food you could be a Crip or a Blood, but you had to choose sides. . . .Crip cooks were critical. They fused, they strove for innovation, they were post-national. They call themselves artists. They tended to stack things like mahi mahi and grilled eggplant in wobbly towers glued together with wasabi mayonnaise, and were frequently suspicious of butter. . . . Blood cooks were respectful of tradition, nostalgic even. Canonical, interested in the veracity of things culinary, linked to “local” by the inheritance or adoption of a culture, linked to a particular manner and place of being. Blood cooks liked sweetbreads and pot-au-feu. Bloods ate tacos, bratwurst, borscht. They used lard and as much foie gras as they could get their hands on. . . “
Oh, I’m a blood alright! [Ed: Wait until you see J’s post on roast sucking pig, coming up in a few weeks!]
Which brings me to my absolute favorite cook book. It is very tiny, red, hard cover and has absolutely no photographs. It is full of butter, eggs, chocolate, over-the-top recipe titles and exclamation points!!!! “The Birthday Cake Book” by Sylvia Thompson with Illustrations by Brooke Scudder is my little baking treasure.
How this little tome can be so thorough and helpful is truly amazing. Every single cake I have baked from this book has brought smiles to ganache smeared faces and made me new friends. ‘Tipsy Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Cake with Peach Sauce’, ‘ Dobos, Queen of Tortes’, and ‘Fresh Ginger Gingercake Frosted with Glossy Chocolate and Studded with Chocolate-Dipped Fruit for a Crowd’ are just a few. This weekend my “baby” Graeme turns three and I cannot wait to see his face when he bites into the ‘ Peanut Butter Cake with Scrumptious Chocolate-Peanut Butter Frosting’. I don’t care it will be the furthest thing from a magazine cake what with the tiny John Deere tractor and baler spitting out marshmallow bales on the top “field”. The best thing, no matter how you decorate a cake from this cook book, is it’s perfection. Perfect because you made it for someone with love.
I have never liked the fine crumb of rarely purchased bakery cakes. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible” is a great reference if you want to understand cake chemistry and basic ingredient ratios, but her cakes always turn out to be what I call a “Safeway Cake” with lots of icing and tiny crumbs all over your plate so now I use that cook book as a reference only. I like a cake with a moist, not too fine crumb. The kind of cake your Mom or Grandmother would make. Perhaps I grew up eating too many pound cakes! My family’s never fail “One Bowl Chocolate Cake” is one of those cakes. You can dress it up or dress it down. You can sprinkle or smother it with a liqueur of your choice, decorate it with some garden flowers and fresh fruit or turn it into a Black Forest extravaganza. And it does very well for decorated cakes that require cutting and shaping (like trains and butterflies). The recipe card for this one is bent, smudged and looking well loved.
One Bowl Chocolate Cake
**ALL INGREDIENTS MUST BE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE**
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup of soft butter
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then beat in the remaining ingredients with an electric mixer. Bake in two buttered and floured 9 inch cake pans at 350F for about 40 min.
PS – If I wasn’t sure of my Blood status, my recent purchase of 9 pounds of butter at Costco this morning should be proof enough. TIme to get started on the 500+ Christmas cookies – right after Graeme’s birthday/Grey Cup party. Go Riders!