Posts Tagged bakewise

February Pound Cake Project Take One: The Frankenstein Pound Cake

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A pound cake recipe worthy of Dr. Frankenstein

As I explained last week, my February Baking Project will be devoted to pound cake. I predicted that pound cake’s simple, rustic and unpretentious soul would be particularly appealing in the recession. 

So it’s ironic that my first pound cake recipe is neither particularly simple nor rustic—in fact, it’s a fifteen-ingredient baking extravaganza that required a pilgrimage to Whole Foods for impossible-to-find ingredients (potato starch). Leave it to Shirley O’Corriher to take something as simple as the pound cake and turn it into a science project worthy of Dr. Frankenstein. 

I wrote about O’Corriher — the chemist turned food scientist turned cookbook author — when I used one of her recipes in the January Popover Project, and I explained that her highly detailed reicpes both thrill and terrify me. You can tell that O’Corriher is a food scientist as soon as you open her book—the pound cake recipe is preceded by ten pages that explain the techniques, theories, and other recipes she used to create the perfect pound cake.

The pound cake recipe is characteristically complex, requiring both butter (for the flavor), shortening (for the elmusifiers), canola oil (for the moisture), heavy cream (for the texture) and buttermilk (God only knows why). She even replaces a portion of the flour with potato starch, which helps create a lighter and moister cake. And instead of the traditional loaf pan, she instructs you to bake the pound cake in a tube pan, which turns out a perfectly rounded cake without a sunken center.

Given the complexity of the recipe, and the special shopping trips and purchases it required, I was ready to be blown away. But it was only okay.

Shirley O'Corriher Pound Cake

It's a pretty cake, but not earth shattering.

Texturally the pound cake was perfect – the crust was brown and crispy, the center was soft and tender – the cake practically melted in my mouth. But I usually only use butter in my baked goods, and the addition of shortening and oil was definitely off-putting. I could smell the oil in the cake, and I could taste the artificial flavoring of the shortening. Also, I thought that this pound cake was a little too sweet. I think a good pound cake balances the flavor of the sugar with the savoriness of the butter. With this cake, the sugar overwhelmed everything else.

Still, it was an interesting baking experience, and for those of you without my all-butter bias, it’s a recipe worth trying. I thought that following such a highly detailed and technical recipe was immensely fun and, even if the cake wasn’t perfect, it really did look beautiful when it came out of the pan.

The Frankenstein Pound Cake Recipe

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January Popover Experiment, Take Three: Wondra Flour v. Bread Flour

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 2

Nothing about these giant popovers went as planned.

Shirley O’Corriher frightens me. Her book, Bakewise is filled with such abundant detail, such specific instruction, and such extensive scientific knowledge that it fills me with a mixture of excitement and terror. In her extensively researched recipes, each ingredient is absolutely essential, chosen because of its specific chemical makeup.

This means that small substitutions that I’d usually make without batting an eyelash, like substituting two percent milk for whole milk, are out of the question. Don’t have bleached all-purpose flour on hand? Looks like I’m not making her apple cake. Is the store out of full-fat buttermilk? Then the pound cake recipe is out.

But during the January Popover experiment I went against my own better judgement and made a big substitution in Bakewise’s popover recipe. I had started making Saturday night dinner too late, and didn’t have an hour to let the batter sit. But I remembered that The Bread Bible’s Popover recipe uses Wondra flour—a highly processed, quick-mixing flour that allows the batter to be baked immediately. What if I made a teensy, tiny substitution?

O’Corriher’s original popover recipe calls for bread flour, which is the complete opposite  of Wondra flour. Bread flour is a high-protein flour, which makes it especially good at creating sheets of gluten that hold in steam, giving the popovers  a tremendous rise. Bread flour also absorbs more liquid than lower-protein flour, which helps the popovers stay crisp and light. Wondra flour is on the other end of the spectrum – it has a low protein content, creates less gluten than other flours, and absorbs much less liquid.

To top it all off, I was so frazzled in the kitchen that after I put the popovers in the oven to bake, I accidentally turned off the oven! It took me ten minutes to figure out my mistake. Considering that O’Corriher is adamant that the baker shouldn’t even open the oven during the baking process lest the temperature fall, I was convinced that my popovers were toast.

But the result was much stranger than that. The resulting popovers were huge – they rose to magificent heights over the top of my muffin pan. My personal non-scientific and therefore very dubious theory is that, with no gluten to tame the rise, the popover  shot up like a rocket. The popovers also had more of the springy, soft centers than my first two attempts, and the crust was very light and insubstantial.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 6

Popovers in the pan. They were huge! They expanded so much the tops touch each other.

Would I make this recipe again? Perhaps. But it’s best made by those who enjoy popover centers, more than the popover crust. Since I enjoy both, I’m still looking for my perfect popover recipe. Mostly, this should be inspiration for those cooks who are convinced that they’re not precise enough to bake. Even with my mistakes and risky substitutions, we still had a pretty great Saturday night dinner.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 5

You can see how much they rose over the side of the pan, despite the fact that I mistakenly turned off the oven when I put them in.

Mistaken Popovers (for reading only!)
Adapted from Bakewise
Note, I’m only putting in this recipe to illustrate my mishaps! For those of you looking for a real recipe, check out The Bread Bible or Joy of Cooking popover entries.

Ingredients
5 large eggs, in the shell
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups Wondra flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Warm the eggs by placing them in a bowl of hot tap water. Drain and refill the bowl at least once with fresh hot water.

Heat milk in a saucepan or microwave until just warm to touch. Place flour in a large bowl and slowly add in milk, stirring with a fork or whisk and making sure there are no lumps.

Separate three of the eggs, keeping the whites and storing or discarding the yolks. Beat the eggs whites with the remaining two whole eggs. Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture into the egg mixture to lighten. Then beat the egg mixture into the flour mixture.

Heat the cream in a saucepan (or microwave, but I find a saucepan leaves less of a chance of having the cream boil over) until almost boiling. Sprinkle salt over batter and whisk in hot cream.

While heating the cream, brush the popover or muffin pans with melted butter and heat in the oven until butter is hot and brown, but not burning, 3-5 minutes.

Remove the hot pan from oven. Pour batter into cups, until they are three quarters full. Place hot pan in the oven.

Mistakenly turn oven off for 10 minutes.

Discover this mistake. Scream and fuss a bunch. Then turn oven back on to 425 and bake for 12 minutes. Lower heat to 325 and bake for 25 minutes more.

Remove pan from oven. Be amazed when popovers are a little soft, but none the worse for wear. Accept Wonktheplank’s comforting that we learn the most from our mistakes, not our successes. Vow to properly make this recipe another time.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 4

A front view of a mistaken popover.

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