Monday, 12 February 2007

Almost a Pound Cake

At age twelve, when my mother started to teach me how to bake, my first attempt was a pound cake. Well, sort of a pound cake as it did not contain a full pound of each ingredient. It is said this type of cake is to be the easiest one of all. I strongly disagree with that.

Apart from the fact that there are quite a few steps involved where you can screw things up, there are so many different techniques and ingredients: using whole eggs/egg yolks/beaten egg whites, using margarine/butter/melted butter/oil, using caster sugar/powdered sugar, and using flour/starch/flour-starch-mix. You know what I mean? Even if you follow the same recipe with the same amounts of every ingredient once you start swapping ingredients as well as techniques you will end up with slightly different results. Ok, I’m not totally desperate. Apart from one completely under baked cake all my attempts so far were perfectly edible and got usually wolfed down in no time.

However, there is something that nags on my baker’s conscience: I have never been able to produce a cake with long strands of dough which give the cake a certain fluffiness while still being very moist. No matter how I might beat, whisk, or cream – I never came close to my ideal. Sounds a bit exaggerated? Maybe, but this legendary cake really does exist. One of my oldest friends, Martina, used to make a red wine cake just this way. Of course, I asked her for the recipe and she walked me through each step. However, while being tasty it still wasn’t like hers. It still isn’t.

That’s the reason why I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. You’ll never know when you’ve got a winner… This time, I found at Fool for Food as well as What’s for Lunch, Honey? recipes containing no baking powder at all. I never tried that, always felt too scared. But this time, taking up Meeta’s challenge ;-) I thought I’d give it a go. Meeta’s version was a bit too rich so I opted for Claudia’s version which was more suited for two eaters. Originally, this recipe comes from the highly-decorated chef Lea Linster of Luxembourg. That said, I was still a bit sceptical. However, much to my surprise, it really worked.

You have to use equal ingredients, 230g of each: butter, sugar, eggs, and flour (hence almost a pound cake). You let them come to room temperature - I placed my ingredients on the kitchen table 1,5 hours before starting which was alright. Mix the ingredients in the above stated order. Make sure that every egg is fully incorporated before adding another one and that the mixture is not over mixed once the flour is added. A pinch of salt is all you need for flavour but adding some vanilla or lemon zest won’t hurt (I used vanilla sugar, substituted some flour with cocoa, and added some chopped dark chocolate). The resulting batter was so smooth that it resembled butter cream. Could be eaten straight from the mixing bowl...

Fan-bake the batter at 150 degrees Celsius for 50 to 60 minutes (my cake took its time: 70 minutes). Despite my doubts, the cake was rising beautifully. You see, there is no need to use baking powder any more! However, I’m still missing those wonderful long, flaky strands in my crumb…

The ingredients

230g butter (at room temperature)
230g sugar
(at room temperature)
pinch of salt (at room temperature)
230g eggs (usually 4, at room temperature)
230g flour
(at room temperature)

optional: vanilla sugar, lemon zest, cocoa, chopped chocolate...

Beat butter until pale and fluffy, add sugar, salt, and vanilla sugar. Beat thoroughly (sugar won't be fully dissolved yet).

Add one egg at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated.

Add flour and mix until properly combined but no longer. For the sake of completeness: Lea Linster lets her batter sit for 45 minutes at room temperature before baking but I don't have a clue why you should do so and skipped this step.

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (150 when fan-bake) 50-60 minutes (original recipe states only 45 minutes - use a skewer inserted in the middle to test doneness).

The source

Fool for Food respectively Lea Linster.

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