Monday, September 12, 2005

Someone Left My Cake out in the Rain

Ok, not really (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a concept that my readers might justifiably feel I take way too seriously, I should note that I have never heard "MacArthur Park" all the way through; I came close once when I was driving, seven or eight years ago, up to Western Maryland, and the song started, but I needed gas, so I pulled in, turned the car off, pumped some gas, went to the rest room, looked around the mini-mart for a while, bought a soda, and came back to the car to find that it was still playing), but I did have my share of cake-related disappointments this evening. I had originally planned to entitle this post "Two-Cake Tuesday" because I was going to make two cakes and because alliteration is much more important than the calendar.

The second cake that I was going to make would have been my version of Redfox' The Prune Is Like a Cake Cake, except that I would have followed some of her suggestions and added a few of my own. More prunes, cocoa, some finely chopped candied orange peel, and one or more additional spices. And I was going to make it in a single, larger cake pan rather than in ramekins. All of this would no doubt have led to some trash talk between the two of us, culminating in a meeting at dawn on the field of honor with heat-resistant rubber scrapers at twenty paces. Name your seconds. Bring. It. On.

But, alas, I was undone by my (and I'm most extremely sorry if any of what I say is going to offend anyone, but sometimes unpleasant truths have to be discussed in plain language) Y-chromosome.

Just before six this evening, I had picked up my older daughter, A., from her mother's house, where she had gone after school to wait for me, and she was not in a good mood. She was wearing (as she always does) black jeans and (as she often does) a black knit shirt. The shirt comes down just to the top of her jeans with the result that when she stands up, she very briefly shows about three-quarters of an inch of her stomach. I had noticed it this morning, but I thought nothing of it, except to think that she's always been so worried about being covered up that it was probably a good thing that she wasn't freaking out when a tiny flash of stomach peaked out on occasion. But not everyone shares my opinion, apparently, which is why we had the following discussion.

Me: What's the matter?
A: Mom has a problem with my outfit.
Me: What's wrong with your outfit?
A: She says it shows too much skin.
Me: What, your arms?
A: No, my stomach.
Me: Well, we could get you a Burka.
A: She says that I'm teasing the boys by wearing this.
Me: Oh, geez. The next time she says that, remind her that she used to be a feminist.

(I mention the conversation only because it amused me, but you can pretend that it's relevant, if you like.)

A. wanted to get her hair cut (it was down to the small of her back), so we set off to the Hair Cuttery, where I read some strange sports magazine while she had about five inches trimmed. Then it was over to Safeway to do some shopping. This was where disaster struck. Try as I might, I could not find any prunes. You are, of course, to understand that "try as I might" means walking up and down the aisles, looking for any of the places where dried fruits are likely to be, alternating with getting other things on my list. Eventually, A. and I had the following discussion.

A: Just ask somebody where the prunes are!
Me: Well, they must be here somewhere. Maybe they're with the nuts, since they're not with the canned fruits or the baking supplies.
A: Or you could just ask somebody.
Me: There's no store directory in here. I should have gone to Giant like I usually do.
A: For God's sake. Is there some law that says if you have a penis, you can't ask somebody where something is?
Me: Well, yeah. It's just as well that you understand that now. It will save you a lot of grief when you get older if you know what to expect.
A: We're never getting out of here, are we?

Eventually, we left, without any prunes. I wanted them badly enough that if I'd seen a store employee around, I might have asked where they were. Ok, that's a complete lie. I would never have asked where prunes were. Prunes are kind of embarrassing under the best of circumstances. But if I'd seen a store employee, I might have said, pretty loudly, to A., "Where in the world are those raisins?" in the hope that someone would overhear me and take pity on me. But it was not to be.

I have a pretty good selection of non-prune dried fruits in the pantry, but making a prune cake without actual prunes seemed like missing the point a bit, so I decided to scale back to one cake. (I suppose I could have gone with "One-Cake Wednesday," but that didn't occur to me until just now. Be grateful.) A prune cake (despite its similarity to fruit cakes generally and to the Jamaican black cake particularly, both cakes that I have made many times) is somewhat out of the scope of my usual cake baking, so I decided to go with an old favorite for the other (and now only) cake.

There is nothing fancy about pound cake, but people seem to fear it for some reason. I once read a lengthy treatise on pound cake in Cook's Illustrated, and boy did it make pound cake sound complicated. Apparently, many people have a lot of problems getting the batter to mix together smoothly and bake up properly. I have made a lot of pound cakes in my day, and I have never encountered this problem, nor did I this evening. I did encounter some problem with cake pans, but after the whole prune incident, I wasn't really surprised. I made the trek down to the basement and rummaged through my boxes to try to find one of my tube pans, but I was unsuccessful. I did find my giant sixteen-inch loaf pan. I always feel that a pound cake should made in a tube pan because that's the way my mother made hers. It still tastes very good when made in a loaf pan, but it looks wrong to me.

The method I use for mixing the cake is taken from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible. If you do not have a good stand mixer, then use a more traditional cake mixing method (cream the butter with the sugar, add the eggs, yada, yada, yada). If you don't have the splash guard for your mixer (like I don't), either be careful or be prepared to wipe up a few tablespoons of dry ingredients.

This mixing method WILL NOT WORK if your butter is not soft. Let it come to room temperature before you start.

Pound Cake

1 pound butter1 AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
1 pound sugar2
1 pound flour3
1 pound eggs4
1 lemon5
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. mace

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour a tube pan or two 9x5 loaf pans, or one 16-inch loaf pan.

Zest and juice the lemon. You will use both the grated zest and the juice.

Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, then beat the vanilla in lightly. Reserve this mixture.

Put the whisk attachment on your mixer. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and mace in the bowl of the mixer, and whisk for two minutes to combine (RLB says that this aerates the dry ingredients, and presumably she knows what she's talking about, but she also recommends using cocoa instead of chocolate in chocolate cakes, so it's not like she's infallibleJulia Child.)

Put the softened butter in, about two tablespoons at a time. You don't have to wait for each bit to be incorporated before you add the next bit in. If you take about a minute to do the whole pound, you should be fine. Let the mixer run until the ingredients are well combined, in a big mass. Scrape down the bowl. Add the lemon rind and lemon juice, and turn the mixer back on.

With the mixer running (it should never get above low), beat the egg-and-vanilla mixture in, in three parts. If necessary, scrape down the bowl again, and mix until you have a smooth batter.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan, and smooth it out as well as possible. Bake for approximately one hour (longer for the tube pan), until it's done. If you don't know how to tell when a cake is done, drop me a line, and I'll give you the pros and cons of the major methods, but I'm sure you already know.

Remove the pan from the oven, and let it sit on a rack to cool for about twenty minutes. It should have pulled away from the side of the pan. Invert the cake onto a rack, set it back upright if you like, and let it cool completely.

1I almost always use plain old salted butter when I make cakes. If you want to use unsalted butter, add half a teaspoon of salt to the flour.
2I used Whey Low. I still had some on hand. Plain old granulated sugar tastes the same, and it's not like the recipe is healthy anyway.
3I used all purpose flour. You will get a somewhat finer crumb if you use cake flour instead, but you will likely only notice when you look at the slices. I think it tastes as good with AP flour.
4You can just use either eight or nine large eggs. This is not a finicky recipe, and one egg out of nine is not going to ruin anything either way.
5A second lemon (zest and juice) would be more of a good thing.


Anonymous lindy said...

1. Your daughter sounds pretty clever. In another few years she will just go ask someone herself where the prunes are, and drop them in your cart.
2. A double-length loaf pan? I never saw this. Where do they come from? Do they bake for any more or less time than the singles?
3. I love that cake book; all her recipes work. Haven't made that one, because I have a long time pound cake recipe. It sounds very good, and handy, too.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

mmmm pound cake ok i'm going to make this prehaps tonight mmm darn you for this darn you I'm on a diet you did this on purpose always with the good food talk ahhhhhhh. But still a good pound cake is more then enough to make up for it :-)

4:57 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

I'm pretty sure that I got the sixteen-inch loaf pan from a restaurant supply store. I used to live about two miles from a small industrial park that had a big restaurant supply store that I loved to visit. About three-quarters of the store was devoted to used equipment of various types, but I bought the loaf pan new, I believe. Cakes that I make in it take about as long to bake as in a standard loaf pan.
The mixing method in this recipe is from The Cake Bible, and there is a pound cake in TCB, and I'm sure that it's a perfectly good recipe, but I didn't use that one. Mine is closer to the one in Joy of Cooking, but it is just my own innovation on the traditional approach of using a pound each of the four main ingredients.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

Dave, you can always take some of the pound cake to work, or use two loaf pans and give one of the cakes away. Or you could just make half the recipe, but then you'd have to call it a half-pound cake, and that would confuse people.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hey I made the cake and I have to say OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU!!!! Will you marry me please?

4:58 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have a penis and I have no trouble asking for directions or the location of even the most embarrasing store items (read: enemas and hemorrhoid remedies), albeit in a hushed voice. I'm more frustrated when I can't find someone to ask for help. Am I actually a woman? That would explain a few things.

1:52 PM  
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