Posts Tagged february baking project

February Pound Cake Project, Take Four: 18th Century Pound Cake

Historic Pound Cake

A pound cake straight out of history.

I made this pound cake because one of my friends was horrified at the complexity of Shirley O’Corriher’s 15 ingredient Frankenstein-like pound cake. My friend hates fussy recipes, and was more interested in how a classic pound cake, made with a pound of sugar, flour, eggs and butter, would stand up against these modern scientific creations.

After some internet sleuthing, I came across a pound cake recipe in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse. Published in 1741, this book made Glasse into a Martha Stewart of the 18th century English-speaking world. Glasse pioneered a simple, straightforward instructional style in her recipes, and her extensive cookbook profoundly influenced the cooking of the United Kingdom and the American colonies.

You can see her characteristically friendly style in the pound cake recipe:

Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream, then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat it in, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.

As soon as I read it I decided to cut the recipe in half, since there was no way that a pound of butter, sugar, flour, and twelve eggs would fit in my loaf pan. I also omitted the “carraways” (caraway seeds, as far as I could tell), since I didn’t want to make a special trip to the store.

After relying so heavily on the Kitchen Aid mixer, making a cake entirely by hand was quite an experience. First of all, I don’t have a wooden spoon, and my silicone spatula was difficult to use to cream the butter, as the top kept on flopping around. Fortunately, I own a (rather crappy) kitchen scale, so I was able to weigh out the butter and flour without any problems.

As for the beating it for an hour? It was kind of fun. Granted, Hannah Glasse wasn’t able to sit and watch three episodes of The Office while she beat her pound cake batter, so I suppose that wasn’t the most historically appropriate choice. What I liked about beating the batter by hand is that it forced me to see the subtle changes in its consistency. When I first started mixing the batter was so thick that I could barely stir the stuff. By but the end the batter was thinner and glossier, looking much more like a cake batter than a cookie batter.

Historic Pound Cake Batter

The batter, half way through the hour of beating. Yes, my arm was really tired.

The cake itself was interesting from a research perspective, but not something I’d make again. First of all, there was something off about the batter, because the top part never quite baked through, even though I left it in the oven for an extra half an hour (the edges were slightly burned as a result, as you can see from the photo). The texture was odd – it was extremely crumbly and dry, with a very tight crumb that left my mouth feeling parched. And the taste was overwhelmingly, tooth-achingly sweet.

Historic Pound Cake Slice

As you can see, the batter didn't quite cook all the way through.

Still, it was a fun experiment, and made me appreciate the wonders of modern kitchen science. I would definitely make a historic recipe again, for nothing more than it gave my arms a great work out.

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February Pound Cake Project Take Three: Nigella’s Lemon Not Quite Pound Cake

Nigella Pound Cake 1

Nigella Lawson's lemon syrup loaf cake, with some changes.

My soul was flagging a little in the middle of the February Pound Cake Project. For all that I love highly tested, extremely scientific recipes, part of me wanted to bake something comforting and homey, without all those explanatory notes about the chemical reasons for using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour.

It was in this state of mind that I turned to Nigella Lawson, whose outrageously descriptive and soulful prose seemed like a perfect antidote to scientific overload. Also, seeing as the pound cake originated in England, it made a certain kind of sense to try the recipe of this British domestic.

But I ran into a road block, as Nigella doesn’t actually have a recipe for plain pound cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess. But many of her recipes are loaf cakes, which all look to be variations on the classic pound cake recipe. “Close enough,” I thought, happily bending the Project rules to suit my own will.

I chose to make her lemon-syrup loaf cake with a couple of changes, the biggest of which is that I omitted the syrup. I’ve never understood why some pound cakes are drenched in soaking syrup, transforming a perfect piece of cake into a dense, sickly sweet and sloppy creation that shouldn’t be allowed near a dessert tray. In lieu of the soaking syrup, I made my own lemon icing and drizzled it over the cake.

The recipe also calls for self-rising cake flour, which I didn’t have on hand, and which I doubt they even sell in my crappy Giant. So I used the substitution suggested in Wonktheplank’s Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, (add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of cake flour).

The result was perfection. This cake was definitely different than the first two pound cakes – those had a tender, close crumb, that melted in your mouth. This cake was lighter, without the close crumb, and much more crumbly. The lemon icing and the lemon zest in the batter also added greatly to its appeal – it’s amazing what a little citrus can do for a cake!

Nigella Pound Cake Slices

Mmmmm, lovely slices of pound cake.

The Recipe for Lemon (Sans Syrup) Loaf Cake

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February Pound Cake Project, Take Two: Perfect All-Butter Pound Cake

Beranbaum Pound Cake

It looks simple, but this all-butter pound cake was divine.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, the pound cake originated in England before traveling to France and, eventually, to America, where it became the basis for the American butter cake. The pound cake takes its name from the recipe, which originally called for a pound of eggs, a pound of flour, a pound of butter, and a pound of sugar.

Master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum used the pound cake as a starting point for developing her other cake recipes in The Cake Bible. When she created her pound cake recipe, she started with the traditional recipe and tweaked it to make the perfect, tender, buttery pound cake. Her pound cake recipe includes milk (for moisture), extra butter (for a tender crumb and excellent flavor), and baking powder (also for a tender crumb).

After making the Shirley O’Corriher pound cake, with fifteen ingredients and complicated multiple steps, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe was a breeze. And I actually liked this pound cake more – I loved the deep, rich, buttery flavor of the cake, which O’Corriher’s recipe lacked. While this cake wasn’t quite as “melt-in-your” mouth as O’Corriher’s texture-wise, it was also much less sweet, which was much more to my taste.

So far, this looks like it may become my go-to recipe for pound cake, although who knows what the rest of the Pound Cake Project has in store.

Perfect Pound Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
13 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 inch by 4 by 2.5 inch loaf pan, or any six cup loaf or fluted tube pan.

Lightly whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl.

Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended. Add the butter and half the egg mixture, and mix until dry ingredients are moistened. On medium speed, beat for one minute. This will aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down sides.

Add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds between each addition. Scrape down sides.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth surface with a spatula. Bake for 55-65 minutes (35-45 minutes if baking in a fluted tube pan), until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minuets before inverting onto a greased wire rack. If using a loaf pan, flip the cake over so the top is up.

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February Pound Cake Project Take One: The Frankenstein Pound Cake

IMG_2791

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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February Project: Pound Cake – The Recession’s “It” Dessert?

Pound Cake

Pound Cake Isn't Cool.

Pound cake is a deeply uncool member of the dessert family. It’s the homely cousin of the elegant multi-tiered genoise featured on the covers of wedding magazines. Even the name sounds clumsy and pedestrian, like it’s supposed to be exclusively served at your great aunt Edna’s birthday party, not at stylish and hip restaurants.

Even at its very best, pound cake has a simple, rustic soul, and one that isn’t well-suited to following the latest in-vogue flavors and styles on high-end dessert menus. Would you eat a chocolate pomegranate pound cake with chipotle-brown sugar glaze? What about a spiced carrot pound cake with rum and persimmon icing? Or a brown butter chestnut pound cake with shaved truffle streusel?

Those daring flavors are all wrong for pound cake.

Instead, pound cake is fabulously uncluttered. The best thing about it is its simplicity. But in a world of dessert menus run amuck, where a plate cannot be complete without a cake and a shooter and a sorbet and a foam, the pound cake is an antidote to fine-dining dessert overkill.

I suspect that now that everyone is paring back in the recession, and frugality and responsibility are trendy once more, pound cake is due for a major comeback. This unfashionable, homely dessert deserves our attention. Because at its best, pound cake is everything that a dessert should be. It’s simple, sweet, flavorful, and holds up equally well to a glass of dessert wine or a cup of coffee. And it embodies the new aesthetic of simplicity and humility, where we value the comforts of home.

So my February baking project will be devoted to the humble pound cake. As I did in January with the Popover Project, I’ll be trying out new recipes from different authors, and letting you know what works, what didn’t, and what I learned from each.

Who knows, maybe pound cake will be the “It Dessert” of  2009.

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