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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Is My Blog Burning? The Cakewalk Edition - In Search of Pound Cake

I haven't been doing much in the kitchen at all this past week due to sheer exhaustion. No breads for breakfast, and after the Easter lamb leftovers ran out, I even bought lunches out. the horror, the horror

But on Monday I got some real Cornish clotted cream, lovingly transported across the Atlantic in a cooler bag by Ayse as a thank you for Animal Care during her Easter week trip. (I got a chocolate Nessie too and ate it in my PMS run-up on Tuesday.)

I plan to make some cream biscuits and have a hecka-good strawberry shortcake (the strawberries are VERY nice here right now) but, since we usually had strawberry shortcake made with slices of pound cake when I was a kid (cream and berries over the cake), I thought I'd get a pound cake too.

Well. Apparently a nice plain pound cake is a bit too declasse for the sophisticated bakery section of the fancy grocery in town. All sorts of fancy layered desserts, but no pound cake, unless you counted the Sara Lee in the frozen case. Which is good stuff, actually, but not what I had in mind for this special treat. I grumbled about the fattening of America (okay, so pound cake is not low calorie, but bear with me here) and the pretentiousness of some places in town and started mentally making lists of the places that were more likely to have a more old-fashioned selection of baked goods.

Then, of course, I had the brainstorm that I could make a pound cake. I am not a fancy baker but I could do that. I had been thinking of making the cocoa-buttermilk one-saucepan cake from my Seriously Simple cookbook as an alternative to the fancy creations I expected to see (it really is the simplest cake I have ever made, and looks and tastes wonderful), but Pound Cake it became.

An acquaintance of mine who is a devoted cook recently published this recipe:

Perfect Pound Cake

milk: 3 tablespoons/1.5 ounces/45 grams
3 large eggs: scant 5 fluid ounces/5.25 ounces/150 grams (weight without shells)
vanilla: 1-1/2 teaspoons/*/6 grams
sifted cake flour: 1-1/2 cups/5.25 ounces/150 grams
sugar: 1/4 cup/5.25 ounces/150 grams
baking powder: 1/4 teaspoon/*/3.7 grams
salt: 1/4 teaspoon/*/*
unsalted butter (must be softened): 13 tablespoons/6.5 ounces/184 grams

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixture) and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the cake's structure.

Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incoporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. The batter will be almost 1/2 inch from the top of a 4-cup loaf pan. (If your pan is slightly smaller, use any excess batter for cupcakes.) Bake 55 to 65 minutes (35 to 45 minutes in a fluted tube pan) or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

To get an attractive split down the middle of the crust, wait until the natural split is about to develop (about 20 minutes) and then with a lightly greased sharp knife or single-edged razor blade make a shallow mark about 6 inches long down the middle of the cake. This must be done quickly so that the oven door does not remain open very long or the cake will fall. When the cake splits, it will open along the mark.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and invert it onto a greased wire wrack. If baked in a loaf pan, to keep the bottom from splitting, reinvert so that the top is up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.

So that is what I did. And the cake is cooling as I type - I sneaked the piece off the end.

It is a very good texture and not very sweet (which befits a classic pound cake). The main problem I have is that I used a four-cup (8.5* 4.5) glass loaf pan (yes, I did get out my four cup Pyrex measure and fill it up) and the batter was nowhere near the top. Indeed, the finished product is about 2" high.

So I will need to check with my source as to pan sizes, or ask if I needed to beat the mixture more to aerate it (pound cakes use the eggs for leavening). My eggs had been sitting out in the kitchen for two hours, so they were room temperature, for sure. The Cook's Illustrated lemon pound cake recipe directs bakers to whizz the batter in the FP or the blender, which introduces air. And this particular recipe does NOT mix the batter for long.

So, from appearance, this is not something that would be selected on a cakewalk, but it tastes good and is to me worth a second try, although next time I will probably consult my cookbook library before trying something. And it should taste truly divine spread with clotted cream and topped with raspberries.

Then, of course, I had the brainstorm that I could make a pound cake. I am not a fancy baker but I could do that.
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