Thursday, May 13, 2010

Double Vanilla Pound Cake

Dear Devon,

13 May 2010
Jet lag is brutal. I'm going to bed at 9:30 PM and waking up at 6:30 AM. It is very unsettling. This morning, I actually exercised before going to work! Does that ever happen? I'm in the process of picking through my hundreds of France photos. I will try to send you some images soon. Until then, here is something I prepared before my trip which unfortunately I did not have time to send before leaving for France. Enjoy!

25 April 2010
I'm slowly falling into a routine where each Sunday I bake something to last for the week. Perhaps it is my sentimental side or maybe it's my desire to spoil myself with freshly baked treats? This week, I chose a simple double vanilla pound cake. Convenience was a major factor in the selection process. I had all the ingredients in the pantry, including a cup of heavy whipping cream that needs to be finished and plump vanilla beans. When the fates align, it would be foolish to ignore the signs.

The recipe comes from a marvelous cookbook called The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet. With some subtle hinting, I tipped the hands of fate and received the coveted book as a birthday present last year. I am really impressed with this cookbook. With its clear and concise writing and luscious photographs, the book is a constant source of inspiration. Ordinary pantry-found ingredients like flour, eggs, baking powder, butter are called for with a selection of exotic flavorings (kumquats, kiwis, coconut) but nothing too wild or difficult to locate. I, generally, steer clear from recipes that call for super exotic ingredients. It's always difficult to figure out what to do with your kafir lime leaves after you've made that one recipe you need them for (mine are still in the freezer, six months later).

Pound cakes are normally molded in a loaf pan. This works out well because currently the loaf pan is the only cake mold I have available. The recipe is the basic butter cake recipe with the added twist of two types of vanilla flavoring: vanilla extract and vanilla bean. On their own, both are potent flavoring techniques, so what happens when they are combined? The nicely browned cake smelled of a heady mix of butter and vanilla. The cake was dense and intensely flavored. I toasted a thick slice, creating a slightly burned edge and slathered the top with a generous mound of rich whipped cream. The intense vanilla flavor seemed to call for a cup of darkly brewed tea, if not a small snifter of brandy.

I like vanilla but a little can go a long way. For future double vanilla pound cakes, I am going to reduce the amount of vanilla extract to 3/4 tsp vanilla and throw in a bit of lemon or orange zest. The zest will brighten the flavor and cut some of the sweetness from the extract. The cake will definitely serve as a great base for trifles, baked Alaskas, or a compote of mixed berries.

Double Vanilla Pound Cake
The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet (p. 311-312)

6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 eggs, at room temp
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups cake flour
1/3 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch loaf pan. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together three eggs.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in sugar. Split open lengthwise one vanilla bean. Using the back of the knife (or a spoon), scrape out all the seeds. Add to sugar and whisk liberally. Beat in butter using an electric mixer, until pale yellow and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until eggs are thoroughly incorporated. Alternately mix in dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour batter into butter loaf pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a metal rack. Serve with a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream.

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