Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pound-Off

I remember its proud towering stature and thick golden mantle embedded with coarse sugar crystals. Moments before we sat in hushed silence as Rodney nudged and cajoled his family’s top secret pound cake slightly warm from the oven, successfully out of the Bundt pan and upright into distinguished position. I sat in combination awe and reverence; excitement tinged with yet named desire. Our small party of six had just polished off a dinner straight from the Silver Palate cookbook, some sort of chicken cordon bleu with an apple Calvados sauce. Newly graduated, this was the very first dinner gathering I attended in the fall of 91. Free from impoverished student life, I was easily impressed with the sophistication of a duplicated Pottery Barn interior. Following a recipe out of a gourmet cookbook seemed wildly urban and worldly. And then there was the pound cake. As I recall all of us kowtowed before Rodney’s baking achievement. Without yet tasting a crumb, we were seduced by its warm sultry perfume and craggy crunch crust that lifted away from the interior at various dramatic vistas. Rodney obviously pleased and playing up the attention for all its worth, cooed and fawned over the cake as much as the rest of us. Finally digging into a buttery yellow hunk, I had one of my big defining moments. I enjoyed pound cake, but all that I had previously encountered was commercially made and now dead to me. Upon partaking of that heavenly sweet-bread, my culinary standards and goals transcended to heights previously unknown.

My deep love of baking actually bloomed forth from the side of Rodney’s cake. Cookies and brownies seemed like no-brainers that I assumed could be easily mastered. A pie seemed hopelessly difficult. But the execution of a perfect homemade cake seemed difficult enough to be a skill worth honing, but not so formidable as to be absurd. Cake has gravitas; it is celebratory and can signify and magnify a party. Yet it is homey enough that it can comfort and mollify when needed. We were under cake seduction and I was powerless to step away from its spell. I knew henceforth that I would become a baker and for awhile I even dared to dream, a pastry chef. My usual curiosity turned on its edge becoming razor sharp attention. I was enraptured by definitive moist-itude, a moist crumb that commands respect and attention and contributes greatly to the overall balanced flavor. The contrast between the sugary crunch above and the dense velvety crumb within was complimented by a subtle combination of flavors. Rodney was onto me. He sensed the competitor within and suddenly his all-ease-to-answer became evasive and vague. With artless duplication at stake, he clung to his family recipe only parting with a few hints thrown my way. He led me on to believe that there was a trinity of extracts; vanilla, coconut and rum to commingle into one terrific taste. But without the actual map to this pleasure palace, I was on my own to find a worthy substitute.

For awhile I stumbled around in a land of castor sugar, pastry flour and butter, emboldened by my brief brush with greatness. With visions of grandeur I recklessly, naively attempted a complex Almond Génoise with Mocha Buttercream. I owned neither a mixer nor a whisk but instead was in possession of a trusty blender and fork. Somehow I had the belief that with enough will power and elbow grease I would be able to grind almonds into meal, aerate egg whites into meringue and manifest a billowy batter that would later become base for a feather light buttercream. The very same party of six from the dinner before would become unwitting witness to my cake-of-shame. Slavishly I brought forth two flattened discs slicked in a shabby coat of grey. This lump failed to elicit any festive feelings at all instead only receiving a hearty slap of ridicule. This temporary setback, this dose of dishonor helped steer me back on course and back to the basics.

Eventually I came to realize that I couldn’t expect to be a baker without the proper equipment and careful technique. Armed at last with a mixer, proper measuring cups and spoons and a copy of Rosie’s All Butter Fresh Cream Sugar Packed Baking Book, I set out to bake a dizzying number of cakes, pies, bars, tarts and fillings of all sorts. The recipes in my growing repertoire while fairly elementary still provided ample training in the art of baking and making. If I come to think of it now, it was this search to find the perfect pound cake, the miserable failure of the génoise, the determination to create wonderful baked goods, that launched me down the path of endless joy and sharing. Before the pound cake, I was an eater. I was an appreciator. I was an observer and a person who splashed about in the kitchen. But post pound cake I merged the sense and the passion, gained the skill and the confidence to turn out food which would nourish me and those that I love henceforth. As luck would have it, the good book also happened to have a pound cake recipe to rival the pound cake. It is now recognized as being my oldest recipe and probably the only one that I will ever scrupulously follow.


Cream Cheese Pound Cake from Rosie's All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar Packed Baking Book


INGREDIENTS:
3 Cups cake flour
1 1/2 Cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 8oz. package cream cheese at room temperature
3 Cups sugar
1 Tblsp vanilla
6 large eggs at room temperature

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 325. Lightly grease a 10 inch tube pan.
2. Sift the cake flour into a small bowl.
3. Cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with the mixer on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes until fluffy. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the eggs one at a time and mix after each addition for about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl each time. After the last egg mix 30 seconds more.
5. Add the flour and then mix on low for about 5 seconds. Scrape again and then blend another 10 seconds.
6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the center oven rack until tester inserted in the center comes out dry, approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes.
7. Cool completely before unmolding and serving.

10 comments:

Maritza said...

I love the "cake-of-shame"! Great recipe and you made me laugh out loud once again.

Lis said...

I love to read what you write.. I can really feel your passion once you've decided what needs to be done - and you make me laugh! Fabulous recipe =) Do you think you'll ever get Rodney's family recipe from him.. or have you given up asking? hehee

Callipygia said...

maritza, the "cake-of-shame" was an event that those friends had no problem reminding me about for years. We always wanted to do a "pound off"

lis, the answer is a definite "no" about Rodney's family secret. But it was priceless to see the look on his face the first time that I gave him this cake...He was threatened by this cake- and I must say that i have wanted to try adding coconut and rum extract except that i cannot find natural extracts!

miragee said...

I seem to have eaten pound cake before, but your description of it makes my mouth water!

J said...

hi callipygia, a pound cake enriched and made super moist with cream cheese sounds like a pure slice of heaven... thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

Callipygia said...

miragree, yes butter is good but in combo with the cream cheese- this pound cake is different.

j- yes it is. I hope you try it.

jbird said...

Having known you and your cooking for a million years, I find it incredulous that you were ever a lousy baker....and hard to believe you would ever produce anything other than a perfectly happy thing of sugary butter joy. You are a woman who can make spelt into a thing of yumminess. To all- I have had THAT pound cake, shipped cross country, and it is a thing of happiness ad delight. By all means, break out the loaf pan and hop to it.

Callipygia said...

jbird, Alas you are too kind. I have definitely had my share of failures, but that was the all-time worse. One must just eat the evidence, or try anyways.

woof said...

Interesting. You seem to have this "I can make this..." competitive streak built in. Almost as if it is genetically engrained. No doubt it has made you a better cook and appreciator of the culinary delights. Yet some how soooo....

Callipygia said...

woof, you are on to me as well. I do believe that this competiveness was a stronger trait when I was younger. Perhaps a naive arrogance, my ways are tempered now. I swear!