Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pound Cake

Pound cake is such an incredibly versatile cake. It can be used as a wedding cake, as a foundation for cake artists (its density lends stability to carving in bizarre shapes), and as a simple dessert. It can be made in a round pan, a bundt pan, a muffin tin, or a loaf pan. It can stand up to frosting or simple fruit. It can be grilled or frozen. And it's so, so easy to make.

Pound cake is one of those items that I can't believe people pay $8 for a gourmet boxed mix. (My "I can't believe you paid for that" list also includes beer bread, vinaigrette, and brownies.) This recipe probably cost that much for all the ingredients combined, and is homemade. It also makes much more cake than the boxed mix. This makes enough to fill a large bundt pan--or 5-6 mini loaf pans. Once you see how easy it is to make, you'll never go back to the just-add-water powdered mixes.

The recipe starts with a combination of cream cheese, sour cream, and butter. Make sure everything is room temperature.
Whoever called celery, peppers, and onions the holy trinity was wrong.
Cream everything together. Let the mixer go for a while, so that everything is fluffy and well-incorporated. And be sure to scrape the sides. Sometimes I get lazy and don't scrape, and then I end up with chunks of cream cheese throughout the dough. Which means you have to beat the mix for like a zillion years to get rid of the chunks.
To make this even more delicious, add close to a literal ton of sugar. Again, beat it for a long time to make sure everything is nice and smooth.
Have your eggs standing by. Make sure they're room temperature, too. Look how pretty they all are.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Just going for a spin.
Add some flour to your fat-and-sugar mixture. Add it gradually so it doesn't make a big, floury mess in your kitchen. I added it in one-cup increments.

Between one of the flour additions, measure out some baking powder and toss it in to the mix.

It's all coming together. It already smells so good!

And again, don't forget to scrape your bowl!

The final two ingredients will make your good-smelling batter smell even better.

The first one is is almond extract. A little of this will go a long way, so be sure to measure carefully.

The last ingredient is good vanilla. This picture is of some homemade vanilla I made. It's just alcohol and scraped vanilla pods. I combined them and left them alone in a dark place for a few months. Those little specks are the vanilla caviar.

The alcohol I used is a mix of half vodka and half Jeremiah Weed. It was supposed to be all vodka--but then I ran out of vodka. But really any alcohol you want to use will be fine, as long as it's at least 35% alcohol. I'd maybe steer away from tequila, though ... that's just trouble. ;)

You could use regular vanilla extract too. (Not imitation, please! That stuff smells like Play-Doh. If your extract contains vanillin, that means it's artificial. You want the real stuff. Trust me.)

When you buy vanilla--or really, anything--you want the one with the smallest amount of ingredients. All you want in a vanilla extract is vanilla, alcohol, and water. Sometimes they add sugar. Nielsson-Massey is one of my favorite vanilla companies to buy from. Wait until I post a recipe with their vanilla paste in it. Ooh, heavenly.

Scoop your sweet-smelling batter into some well-greased cake pans of your choice. I usually go with mini loaf pans when I make pound cake. They're the perfect size for our small family, as well as the perfect size for gifts and for our freezer. And they're cheap. I can get 6 disposable mini loaf pans for $1.

If I'm taking the cake somewhere, I like to use my fancy bundt pan. You could also use cake rounds and frost it, like you would a normal cake. This would be beautiful as a strawberry or blueberry shortcake, with berries in the middle and frosted with whipped cream.

Just mound up the dough until you're out of batter. I don't really care if the cake top overflows a little, so used 5 mini loaf pans. If you want a prettier top, then spread the dough to 6 pans.

The top looks pretty lumpy here. But we'll fix that in a sec.

The trick to flattening out the top of your cake is to pick up the pan, hold it over the counter a couple inches, and then drop it. Do that a couple more times. This both smooths out the top of the cake as well as gets rid of any air bubbles in the batter. Air bubbles could make your cake fall and look lumpy.
Here they all are, ready to go into the oven!
And here they are an hour and 15 minutes later, ready to come out of the oven. I wish you could smell what I'm smelling.

The cakes get a nice, crisp crust, while the inside is creamy and rich.
Allow your cakes to cool, then do with them what you will. They freeze wonderfully, and only get better with age. Or take one over to your neighbor. We took some to ours and now we come home to her mowing our lawn. (Okay, it wasn't just the pound cake...but I bet it didn't hurt!)

My favorite thing to do with this pound cake is eat it with jam. I heat up my favorite jam or jelly (raspberry is devine!) so it melts, and then pour it over a piece of cake. The tartness of the raspberries goes well with the creamy sweetness of the cake. Plus, you can pretend that jam counts as a fruit and trick yourself into thinking you're eating a healthy snack ;)

Recipe: Pound Cake
2 sticks (16 tbsp.) butter, room temperature
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream, room temperature

3 c. sugar
6 eggs

3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

Cream butter, sour cream, and cream cheese together for at least 5 minutes.

While mixer is running, add sugar in one cup at a time, beating for another 5 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour, one cup at a time. Also toss in the baking powder.

Add extracts.

Pour into well-greased baking mechanism of your choice (bundt, cake round, muffin, loaf, mini loaf, etc.) Bake with cookie sheet underneath.

Bake at 325 for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (bake time will depend on what shape your cake is baked in.) When nearing the end of baking, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, your cake is done. If there is cake stuck to it, it needs more time.

If you're baking in mini loaf pans or muffin tins, be sure to check the cakes in various parts of your oven. The cakes in the back might be done, but the cakes near the front might need a couple more minutes.

Cool completely and then dig in!

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