One of my favourite ways to spend a free(-ish) afternoon is to amble into the kitchen, switch on the radio, and play with my mixing bowls. A few weeks ago, when my afternoon/evening plans fell through and I didn’t want to clock any ‘over-time’, I decided to flip through my trusty copy of Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake in search of something to use up some soon-to-be out-of-date eggs—and lo, on page 280, I found his ‘Easy Pound Cake’. Named after its historic 1-1-1-1 ratio of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar (in pounds—hence the name), this cake is fairly common, but one I hadn’t made before. So I pulled over my apron, rolled up my sleeves, and got down to some serious hand-mixing.
A while later when the pound cake was tucked away in the oven, its delicious aroma wafting through the kitchen and into the dining room, I did some shoulder/neck stretches, sat down with a mug of tea, and brainstormed serving ideas for the pound cake. Malgieri’s excellent cookbook provides some very useful storage tips for all his recipes, including what is freezable and for how long, as well as some serving suggestions for the baked goods. His pound cake falls under the freezable category, to be served with ‘fruit compote, fruit salad, ice-cream, or sherbet’. Having none of those on hand (with strawberry jam being the closest approximation), I wasn’t particularly keen on having twelve slices of pound cake without much variation. And although I appreciate the simplicity of a moist, buttery pound cake, I wanted to try pairing it with something else. Besides, the simple taste of the humble pound cake makes it a perfect base for experimenting with many flavours, from subtle accompaniments to bolder statements. And so, with that in mind, I decided to embark on this new project: 12 Days and Ways with Pound Cake. (Not 12 consecutive days, mind you—thank goodness for the freezer!)
Here is the recipe for the basic pound cake [adapted slightly from Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake (NY: Harper Collins, 1995), pp. 280-1]:
- 2 sticks/225g butter (unsalted)
- 1 cup/250ml sugar (caster)
- 4 eggs
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup/62.5ml milk
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- 2 cups/250ml flour (minus 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons cornflour
- Ensure your butter and eggs are at room temperature. Preheat oven to 160C/325F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Prepare a rectangular loaf pan, sides buttered, bottom lined with parchment or baking paper.
- With a mixer or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until soft and light (or until your arm’s about to fall off). Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Beat in salt, nutmeg, and vanilla extract.
- In a separate, small bowl (or large mug), combine the remaining egg with the milk.
- In a third bowl, add the baking powder and the two flours. Stir and sift once.
- Beat a third of the flour into the butter/sugar/egg mixture (first bowl). Beat in half of the milk/egg mixture (second bowl), then the flour again (third bowl), then the milk/egg (second bowl), and finally the flour (third bowl). There should be five additions, beginning and ending with the flour.
- Pour mixture into the loaf pan. Bake at 160C/325F degrees for about 1 hour, or until a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake emerges clean. (My oven is a little tempera-ture-mental and needed about an extra 15 minutes on the lowest shelf.)
- Cool on a rack in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Unmold, remove the bottom paper, wrap the cake, and cut on the following day—unless you’ve made this in the morning, in which case you can cut in the evening. You want to wait until the cake has cooled entirely before cutting, otherwise it will crumble and fall apart easily.
- Cut with a sharp serrated or bread knife. Store in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for about a month.
Now for the days and ways!
Day/Way #1: Au naturel
Right after I’d cut and stored the cake accordingly, I had an end slice, in its natural state, with a massive mug of tea. The cake was moist and velvety on the inside, with a lovely, slightly crumbly crust. A delicious classic.
Day/Way #2: Jam and butter
I lightly toasted a slice under the grill/broiler for about a minute or so on each side, smothered it with a generous slab of unsalted butter, and added a few spoonfuls of strawberry jam. The complementary combination of jam and butter worked really well with the cake, and could be served as an indulgent breakfast, as well as for morning or afternoon tea.
Day/Way #3: Cinnamon ‘toast’
I only discovered cinnamon toast about a year ago (yeah, I’m a late-bloomer), and found it all sorts of wonderful. After doing a bit of research, I decided to adapt The Pioneer Woman’s (http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/04/the-right-way-and-the-wrong-way-to-make-cinnamon-toast/ ) way of making cinnamon toast for my third slice of pound cake. Using a teaspoon and a small bowl, I did the following to put together my mixture:
- Cream one tablespoon butter (room temperature) with one tablespoon caster sugar.
- Add about ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
- Add 2-3 drops vanilla essence.
- Add a pinch of nutmeg.
- Mix, mix, mix, then spread, spread, spread onto your lovely slice of cake.
Due to the crumbliness of the cake (as opposed to bread), the mixture can be a little difficult to spread. Adding the vanilla essence makes it a little wetter and helps make the spreading a bit easier.
My next few steps:
- Place slice on a non-stick baking sheet, and pop into the middle rack of the oven, pre-heated at 200C/290F. Heat for 5 minutes, till the mixture looks soft and a little runny.
- Change the heating to grilling/broiling, move the sheet to under the grill/broiler, and leave it for 1-2 minutes. You want the cinnamon mixture to bubble, but you don’t want to burn your noms.
And then you have a slice of cinnamon ‘toast’ pound cake that has a crunchy, caramelised top, but is warm and soft underneath. It was pretty glorious.
Day/Way #4: Amaretto
By now, I had used up my refrigerated slices of cake, and had moved on to the individually-wrapped slices I had popped into the freezer. I unwrapped, covered, and defrosted a slice overnight, then took it out in the morning, drenched it in Amaretto, covered it, and kept it at room temperature. A few hours later, when the Amaretto had been soaked up by the cake, I drizzled a bit more Amaretto, sat down with a spoon and the ever-present cup of tea, and gobbled up the deliciousness. I had this for afternoon tea on a Friday, but it would work marvellously after dinner—that way, you’d get your dessert and digestif in one. ;)
I have 8 more slices of cake left, and am looking forward to experimenting some more. There will definitely be a few variations including chocolate and ice-cream, but if you have any suggestions, please let me know. In the mean time, I hope you get a chance to make this beautiful pound cake, and perhaps even enjoy some of these variations!
(Well, I guess this is my first ‘proper’ food/recipe post… But it’s all grand, so long as my blog remains shiny and delicious and awesome, right? :D)