Friday, May 21, 2010

Pound Cake à la Scratch!

The Pound Cake. The ultimate in old fashioned baking simplicity, yet complicated by its very nature. One day it will turn out perfect and the next day it will fall flat. The trick? Air. See, there's very little leavening in a pound cake. It's just lots of butter and eggs (which are very heavy but taste so divine), sugar, vanilla, and flour, with a little bit of baking powder thrown in for good measure – just not enough to cause any significant rise in the other ingredients. So what makes a pound cake perfect? Beating it to death.

You'll need:

1c. butter
1c. sugar
1tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
2c. all purpose flour
1tsp. baking powder
Oven: 325 degrees

Prep Work:

For this cake to be absolutely wonderful, you'll have to remember to warm up your butter and eggs. They're kind of like me when I crawl out of bed first thing in the morning. I don't want to do anything until I'm good and awake. Give 'em overnight or at least half a day for all their rising potential to fully wake up. If you forget, then just zap the butter in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Do check on it frequently; you want soft butter, not dipping sauce. Put it in a glass bowl first, just in case. I'd hate for you to have to stop and clean up your microwave. Melted butter is not fun to clean up. While your zapping the butter, place the eggs in a bowl of hot tap water. That way they'll be toasty warm when you're ready for them. Oh, and go ahead and turn on the oven. If you're using a gas stove then you can take the temperature straight from the recipe - 325 degrees. If you're using an electric oven you'll want to drop back to about 300 degrees.

Phase 1: Fats & Sugars

Take 1 cup (2 sticks) of room temperature butter and toss into your mixer. Mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy; about a minute. Next, drizzle 2 tablespoons of sugar at a time into the butter as it mixes, until the whole 1 cup of sugar is gone. Let the mixer work on this for about 5 minutes or so. You're looking for fluffy butter. I know it sounds weird, but trust me on this.

Phase 2: Flavoring & Eggs

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Add your 4 room-temperature eggs, one at a time (that's very important), letting the mixer beat the tar out of each egg for about a minute each. You shouldn't see any traces of the egg at all.

Phase 3: Flour & Leavenings

Measure out 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder into a flour sifter. Gradually sift into the butter/egg mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, and mix just until combined. That means it's okay to leave a couple of lumps in the batter. Really.

Phase 4: Baking

And you're almost done! Just pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan and put it in the pre-heated oven. Pound cakes typically take an hour or so to bake, but set your timer and check the cake in 50 min, and then every 10 minutes, and then every 5 minutes the closer it gets to being done. Just take quick peeks, though. Opening the oven door too frequently will just make it take longer. Stick a toothpick or butter knife into the cake off to the side of the center crack. That part shouldn't leave any dough on the toothpick/knife. But you want to leave the crack across the top a bit gooey.

It will finish baking from the residual heat that's left in the cake and leave that moist top that everyone likes to save for last. If you allow the crack to cook all the way, you'll end up with a dry cake. However, if you're crowd is like mine, they'll still eat it; just give them a cup of milk to choke it down.

Phase 5: Cooling

Let the cake cool before you slice it. Set your loaf pan on some type of sturdy trivet; something that will let the air circulate under the pan so your cake doesn't get soggy. Plan for about 3 hours or so to give the flavors time to meld and blend. Personally, I can never have everyone wait that long. This is the hardest phase for me to explain to my guys. It's like the scent of a freshly baked cake just drives them wild and they thoughtlessly swoop in to devour it, even if it burns their tongues and fingers. We usually end up having a slice within 20 minutes - just to make sure it turned out right, ya know?



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