Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cookbook #20: I'm Just Here for More Food

Adapted from Cookbook #20:  I'm Just Here for More Food:  Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking

Recipe: Pound Cake*

*And yes, I did take a little bite off of the corner of the pound cake.  I was willing to sacrifice the picture in order to have a piping hot taste of pound cake fresh from the oven. 

This cookbook is rather clever in its setup.  Alton Brown teaches you the methods of mixing and then expects that you will begin to see the patterns of putting together a recipe.  So instead of listing in each recipe all of the steps for the Biscuit Method or the Creaming Method or Straight Dough Method or the Muffin Method, each chapter has an introduction to the method with all the science bells, whistles and gee-gaws we have come to love and expect from Alton Brown.  After you figure out the method, his recipes become more outlines than programs, and you get to have your own wiggle room.  He, of course, explains precisely why you want the Creaming Method here with a pound cake.  While it may be considered a pound cake, it should not feel brick-like in your belly.  Instead, you want to aerate your cake.   To do that, you need to rub together the fats with an abrasive.  This is where the butter and the sugar come in.  And the stand mixer.  Keep mixing until the fat changes in volume and texture.  So the most important take home message here is... pay attention to your mixing method.  Isn't science fun?

Pound cake has a long tradition, and everyone seems to have a recipe for it.  Back in the 1700s, the recipe was simpler--one pound each of flour, butter, sugar and eggs.  These days such a mass seems a bit, well, excessive.  Besides, now many include a leavener.  But you could leave the baking soda out, that is if you want to whip even more air into the eggs.  That's a lot of whipping, but it's possible (and even what the fine folks over at Cooks Illustrated recommend).  To add to the sense of excitement, you can also add your own touches.  The British and the Mexicans often add nuts or dried fruits, while the French add chocolate or lemon juice.  The Colombians drench their pound cake in wine, while some just put crystallized ginger, coconut, pumpkin, or sour cream in theirs.  I like mine with fresh fruit.  Alton Brown suggests buttermilk in his recipe, and I have to say, it turned out tangy and light while still maintaining the dense moistness.  Yes, light and dense.  It sounds paradoxical, but this pound cake recipe will help you achieve paradox.



On a side note, pound cake holds a special place in this household.  We associate pound cake with the husband's grandparents--that and chocolate-covered orange peels, borscht, latkes, and overcooked hamburgers.  All in all, a sweet list of food, but pound cake, well, takes the cake.  The husband's grandfather died this past year.  About two and a half to three years ago, we decided to make a "Greatest Hits" dinner for the grandfather and the grandmother.  We said that we would come to their place and make whatever yummy things they liked.  The grandfather wanted brisket and pound cake.  We scoured the grandmother's recipe box for a brisket, and we whipped up our own pound cake.  We sat around their table and laughed until the grandmother got tired.  We cleaned up the dishes, wrapped up the leftovers, and then clicked the door shut quietly behind us.

We're glad we got the chance to do that with them.


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Yield:
1 Pound Cake (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

8 ounces (2 sticks) softened, unsalted butter
14 ounces (2 cups) sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
14.5 ounces (3 cups) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Grease or use parchment paper on a bundt pan or bread loaf pan

3.  Assemble batter using the Creaming Method:
     a.  Scale and measure all ingredients.  Fats should be pliable but solid (no sign of melting).  If the kitchen temperature is over 70 degrees, chill the mixing bowl.
    b.  Combine all the dry goods (except sugar) by pulsing in a food processor.
    c.  In a small bowl, beat eggs together with any extracts.
    d.  Using a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, on medium speed mix the fat(s) alone for a minute to spread them around the bowl.  Add sugar(s) slowly and beat until mixture lightens noticeably in texture and increases slightly in volume.
    e.  Reduce the speed to stir and add the eggs slowly, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
   f.   Work in the Dry Goods in three installments alternating with any additional liquids, such as milk.  Always start with the dry ingredients and finish with the wet for a smoother batter.

4.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for one hour, or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan.

5.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool 15 minutes in the pan, then turn onto a rack to cool thoroughly.

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