May 1, 2013

A Pound of Cake

Of course you’ve heard of pound cake—the dense, buttery cakes that are so different from lightweight sponge or chiffon cake.  Have you ever wondered why this rich yellow cake, originating in England, is called “pound cake?” The answer is very simple—the cake was made with one pound each of flour, butter, sugar and eggs, plus a flavoring like vanilla or lemon. Over the years, as ingredients and technique evolved, the recipe for a typical pound cake changed with additions such as leaveners like baking powder or baking soda. The cake's ingredients are frequently enhanced by sour cream, heavy cream and a variety of flavorings like coconut, nuts, raisins and dried fruit. Eventually they also became known by other names such as coffee cakes or butter cakes.  Only the technique has remained constant.  Alternating the wet and dry ingredients when mixing the batter ensures that you don’t end up with a cement door stop.  In addition, sifting the flour before measuring is beneficial when preparing pound cakes.
The original English pound cake was exactly that - a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour – combined and mixed in exactly that order.  Thinking about the quantity of ingredients and the fact that there were no electric mixers, you can just imagine the tremendous effort that must have been needed to incorporate enough air so the cake would rise. Converted to quantities we are familiar with, the typical recipe would read as follows:
1 pound butter = 2 cups or 4 sticks
1 pound sugar = about 2¼ cups
1 pound eggs = about 6-7 extra large
1 pound flour = 3 to 3 ½ cups
These proportions make for a dense, compact cake that packs a lot of flavor in every bite.  In fact, there are bakers who feel pound cakes taste better the day after its baked.
As these cakes evolved over generations, cooks added layers of nuts and chopped chocolate or cinnamon and spices to create personal favorites. But one thing remained constant—the use of butter or cream in the recipes.  Substituting margarine for the butter in these recipes will not give you the same results.  This brings us to the perfect opportunity to try them—especially if you are not a cheesecake lover.  Shavuos is the best time to bake milchig cakes for dessert and snacking. 

If you like cinnamon, this cake is a great way to load up on that warm spice. This sweet, moist cake is layered with a brown sugar and cinnamon crunch. FYI, coffee cake does not necessarily contain coffee—it refers to a cake eaten with your coffee!

2 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cinnamon chips (available at The Peppermill)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 10 cup Bundt pan with flour and oil spray.
 In your mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Mixture may appear curdled—not to worry, it will become smooth once the dry ingredients are added.
Sift dry ingredients together. Alternate adding dry ingredients and sour cream to the cake batter.  Mix briefly after each addition.
In a separate bowl, mix topping ingredients.  Sprinkle ¼ cup of the topping into the Bundt pan.  Spread half the batter into Bundt pan, add ½ cup of the topping, and then add remaining batter. Sprinkle the rest of topping mixture on top of the batter.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool. 

For the cake:
2 cups flour  
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces sour cream (1 cup)
For the topping:
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed (not brownulated)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, room temperature

Prepare the topping:
 Mix together flour, sugar, salt and chopped pecans. Cut butter into small pieces. Work butter in with your hands until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 10” tube pan—not a Bundt pan.             
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder and set aside.
In your mixer bowl cream butter with sugar until fluffy and light; add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add half of the dry ingredients, mixing just until flour is blended. Stir in sour cream then stir in remaining dry ingredients.
Spread half of batter into prepared tube pan. Sprinkle half of topping and spread with remaining batter. Sprinkle with remaining topping. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
If you are a purist and prefer your pound cake unadorned you’ll want to try this basic vanilla pound cake.  The addition of cream cheese makes it richer and moister.  In this recipe the eggs are alternated with the dry ingredients as no other moisture is added.

Vanilla Pound Cake
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
12 ounces cream cheese (1 ½ packages) at room temperature
3 cups flour
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10” tube pan or a 12 cup bundt pan. 
In your mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in cream cheese. Stir in vanilla. Add flour, alternating with the eggs, beginning and ending with flour. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the center. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then remove to a rack to cool completely. Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and some fresh fruit. 

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