I promised you cake, and I keep my promises. Today, the cake is not a lie.
I got the recipe for today’s cake from Daisy, who blogs over at Daisy’s World. Daisy has a culinary degree and a prolific garden; much of the food she writes about is inspired by her freshest pickings. (As a young apartment-dweller, this makes me green with envy.) But on top of that, she’s also a fabulous photographer, who makes everything she posts look vibrant and bursting with flavor. For a taste of her mad skillz (yes, with a z), check out her year-end post and see what she has to say about her Santa hat brownies. It’s impressive, to say the least.
So when Sam asked me to make him a pound cake for Christmas, I knew just where to look.
(Stay tuned for a little rockstar interview goodness after the jump!)
It may not be the sexiest or most attention-hogging of desserts, but there are few things more satisfying to my sweet tooth than a really good pound cake. And this is a really good pound cake. It’s a sour cream cake, lighter and more tender than the traditional flour-eggs-sugar-butter confection, but still with the dense chewiness you expect from pound cake. It’s terrific enough as a simple vanilla cake, but as a canvas for experimentation it’s practically limitless: you could do what Daisy did and add lots of fragrant citrus, or soak it with a boozy glaze, or drizzle it with chocolate, or cut it up and turn it into a trifle, or even throw a slice or two in the toaster and eat it warm with fresh fruit.
The technique is a little unusual: you start the cake in a cold oven, and let it come up to temperature while the cake is still inside. According to something I found somewhere on the internet a while ago, this technique originated in the 1920’s, when gas ovens were beginning to be sold in the US. They were not the most economical choice, because gas was expensive. So the manufacturers had to come up with a marketing strategy that framed gas ovens as a cost-saver: you didn’t need to preheat them and waste all that energy! Recipes for things like pound cake were adapted to be started in a cold oven instead of a hot one, and then printed up in brochures and handed out to housewives. It was a fortuitous idea: the resulting cake is dense, even-textured, barely crumbly and utterly delightful. I’m a fan of the cold-oven pound cake.
And now, for something completely different.
I have been tagged to fill out a Bloggers Unplugged questionnaire. As my friends are well aware, I can’t resist a blog survey or meme. So here goes nothing.
1. What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?
I’ve always loved writing. After graduating from college, I had about a year and a half of complete writer’s block. I noticed that I was channeling my creative energy into cooking instead of writing. So I decided to try and merge the two, and give this food blogging business a whirl. Et voila!
2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
My parents are both very good cooks, so I grew up as kind of a foodie, I think. I also have a number of friends who are wonderfully talented cooks, and who challenge me all the time to get better in my own kitchen. And, honestly, Mark Bittman has been an inspiration to me since high school. I read every single one of his Minimalist columns in the New York Times, even when I didn’t have access to a kitchen. He cooks the way I do–a little of this, a little of that, not caring about appearance or presentation or anything but how it tastes–and I’ve always felt validated by that.
3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
I’ve only started amassing a cookbook collection since I moved into my current place a few months ago. My ambition is for at least one of my cookbooks to end up like my mother’s ancient edition of Joy of Cooking–yellowed and dog-eared, with the spine broken and falling open to a few well-loved pages.
4. Tell us about the best thing you have eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
When I was in high school, I did a summer-long volunteer project in a semi-rural barrio in Nicaragua. There was a woman who lived in the community who took a shine to me and my volunteer partner. She was a fabulous cook, and sold atol by the side of the road to pay for her son’s college education. On one of our last days there, we spent the afternoon with her in her smoky outdoor kitchen, and she made us lots of delicious little snacks that we grazed on for hours. Late in the afternoon, she put a giant metal cauldron over a wood fire in the backyard and boiled a dozen ears of corn, and we sat in cracked plastic chairs and ate corn on the cob while the sun slowly set over the hills. Of all the things we ate that day, I remember the corn–firmer and chewier than American corn, so sturdy that I could pull the kernels off the cob one by one with my teeth. It’s the kind of thing I’ll probably never eat again in my lifetime, and the memory is so perfect that I wouldn’t want to if I could.
5. Another food blogger’s table you’d like to eat at?
Since I’m featuring one of Daisy’s recipes, I’ll start with her. A culinary education, a prolific home garden and food that looks utterly gorgeous every time? I want to go to there. Veronika, of Eat the Roses, shares many of my sensibilities–culinary and otherwise–and I get the sense that she throws a rocking party. I’ve known Min, over at Food to Love, for years, but I don’t think we’ve ever eaten together outside a college cafeteria, and I would love to fix that someday. And, of course, if I were ever invited to eat with Mark Bittman, I might fangirl myself to pieces.
6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
The ubiquitous KitchenAid mixer. I know, everyone says that, but now that I’ve tried making cookie dough with a friend’s mixer, I want one baaaaaad. Failing that, I’d love one of those multi-cookers with a stockpot, pasta strainer and steamer basket. Or possibly a really fancy knife set.
7. Who taught you how to cook?
My dad taught me how to be creative in the kitchen, and my mom taught me how to pull together a meal. Almost all the actual cooking techniques I know, I learned from watching Food Network. (I am not ashamed.) Now, I learn new things constantly from food blogs and YouTube videos.
8. I’m coming to you for dinner, what is your signature dish?
Probably this chili. It’s the first dish I invented completely out of my own brain where people asked for the recipe afterward. It’s pretty freaking delicious, if I do say so myself.
9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
Artificial cheese flavoring. Cheez-its, Cheetos, Goldfish crackers, Doritos, American cheese, even that neon orange sludge they call “nacho cheese sauce”. If it’s got fake cheese in it, I’m a sucker for it. It’s my secret shame.
10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was in third grade. Before then, I was the weirdo asking my classmates to tie my shoes for me. Somehow this didn’t scar me for life.
And now, for the all-important finishing touch. Daisy–tag, you’re it!
“Cold Oven” Sour Cream Pound Cake (makes one 12-inch cake or two 9-inch loaves)
Adapted from Daisy’s World
3 cups cake flour, or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temp
Special equipment: a 12-inch tube/bundt pan OR two 9×5 inch loaf pans
Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. DO NOT preheat the oven.
Grease and flour your pan(s) of choice. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; in a separate, small bowl, stir together the sour cream and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined. Set both bowls aside until needed.
In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer or a lot of elbow grease to cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next. Add one-third of the dry ingredients, mixing just until the flour disappears; then add half the sour cream and mix again until just incorporated. Repeat with the next third of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the sour cream, then the last of the dry ingredients. Give the batter a final stir, just until the last little bits of flour are worked in and the batter is smooth and glossy. Don’t overmix, and don’t worry if there are some lumps in the batter; everything will smooth out in the oven.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Give the cake a gentle side-to-side shake to even the top, then tap the pan(s) firmly on the counter a few times to coax any air bubbles to the surface. Place in the cold oven, and turn on the heat to 325º F. Bake for 60 – 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool on a cooling rack for 45 minutes, then invert the pan(s) to remove. The cake will still be warm, so let it cool completely before slicing, or you’ll end up with floppy cake and lots of crumbs. Cooled pound cake also freezes beautifully; wrap individual slices or whole loaves tightly with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil, and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Variation: To turn your pound cake into a citrus cake, scale back to 1 tsp vanilla extract and add the juice and zest of 2 lemons or 1 orange to the sour cream-vanilla mixture. To really take the citrus flavor over the top, make a glaze by whisking 1 cup of powdered sugar with 1/3 cup orange or lemon juice until smooth; then, once the still-warm cake comes out of the pan(s), brush the glaze over the top and let the cake greedily soak it up as it finishes cooling. Yummmm.