Let’s talk about pound cakes.
When I was younger, I thought that “pound cake” was just an ironic way of saying that “This dessert will make you fat.” I knew it was a category of cakes, much like layered or chiffon. But I never really stopped to ask why only one type of cake came with a caloric warning label built into its name. I don’t remember exactly when I discovered its true origins, but I know I read about it in a novel–probably a pioneer romance or historical fiction number. (Read books, my friends. Read books!) Nomenclature aside, I’ve always loved the versatility that the classic buttery, dense, moist pound cake provides. And, damn! When done right, it’s delicious.
Spoiler alert: Two of the following pound cakes were not done right.
My mother in law, who was a wonderful baker and cook, passed away in May. Since then, I’ve been working my way through some of her cookbooks and recipes. It’s a way of feeling connected to her. One of the books is a vintage cake collection that I keep returning to. I have no idea why–it’s been a complete flop. Every. Single. Recipe. Yet I keep trying, hoping that one of them will yield a cake so decadent that it will transcend our time-space-corporeal-existence and make its way back to Sharon and my Dad (Who had a crazy sweet tooth). No pressure or anything.
Pound Cake #1 Sweet Potato
This time I spotted a sweet potato pound cake which intrigued me and I had some leftovers. How could I not try it? As I pulled out the ingredients, my internal voice (Also called Reginald) started yakking at me. These proportions aren’t right–two eggs and a cup of sugar aren’t enough. I ignored my instincts and proceeded.
The very next thing I did was knock the bowl of dry ingredients on the floor. Flour, baking powder, and spices snowed down on me. Fortunately, at any given time I have 2 or 3 bags of flour in my pantry, so I had enough to start over. But it was an omen, my friends. I should have stopped right then. But I didn’t, because A) I’m stubborn, and B) I’m sharing the good, bad, and ugly on this blog.
As it mixed up, it wasn’t looking anything like a cake. It resembled a quick bread, and it tasted very much like pumpkin bread batter. But I was committed at this point so in the oven it went.
What a catastrophe the baking was! Glass pans heat more slowly than metal, but once it’s hot it retains its heat. This can cause unequal baking or browning in some cakes or brownies. And it did in my case because I wasn’t paying attention and selected the wrong loaf pan. Needless to say, the cake’s edges were charred waayy before the center was done. I knew in my gut that it was under-baked when I pulled it out of the oven, but I couldn’t stand to see the train wreck char any longer.
Of course, it tasted nothing like pound cake. As quick breads which are both burnt and under-baked go, it was tasty enough. The coconut and pecans were a different spin. But I was deeply disappointed with it, and I was deeply disappointed with myself. However, now I was on a mission to make a good one. Like, it absolutely had to happen.
Pound Cake #2 Double Chocolate Mocha
As much as I love chocolate, I’ve never been a huge fan of chocolate cake. I prefer the fudgy goodness of brownies. But I thought if I could wrangle a decent chocolate pound cake, perhaps I would change my mind. So, I gave it a whirl the next day.
The directions: grease and flour the pan. What do you think happened? I dumped the flour on the floor. I wanted to sit down and cry, but I persisted out of pure pound cake indignation. Putting it together wasn’t difficult, and the batter gave every indication of being the real thing. The recipe suggested testing doneness with a thermometer which I thought was positively brilliant. So, between my aluminum bunt pan and the precise 207 degrees, the cake was perfectly baked. But it didn’t release.
It’s not like it fell completely apart, but the top layer or “skin” was stuck to the pan. There was one divot about the size of a rounded tablespoon. I wasn’t planning on frosting it, I was only going to dust it with some powdered sugar. But now I wasn’t so sure. Finally, I decided on making a ganache, hoping it would cover my multitude of baking errors.
I’d purchased a bag of Nestles espresso morsels awhile back not knowing what I’d do with them. But somehow I managed to melt them in the bag, probably from leaving them on a hot stove top. But since they were now one solid chunk, it seemed like a good candidate for the ganache. A mocha twist. So I dribbled several layers until I felt the rough patches were covered. Then I sprinkled mini chocolate chips on top. I was underwhelmed with its appearance. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it looked like a cheap, grocery store bakery cake. Certainly not one to get excited about. I only snapped one picture, because I was running out of give-a-damns.
My thing this year, my resolution if you want to call it that, is to let stuff go. I have special talent for locking on to something, especially something I interpret as negative, and obsessing about it. I’d timed the making of this cake to coincide with a small get together I was hosting with some friends. The recipe said it was best on the second day. So, I had a full 24 hours to make something else and just toss the entire cake in the garbage. But then I thought about this year’s theme. I needed to let that shit go. So I did, and determined that if it was terrible, we’d all just have a good laugh over it. But….
Then it snowed and the roads got icky. One of the folks was Covid exposed. Someone else felt under the weather. We ended up having to cancel our group, and I now had giant pound cake and no one to eat it. I really did cry at that point.
Not really caring what it tasted like, I poured myself a glass of milk and cut a generous slice. Surprisingly, it was very tasty. It had all the elements that I was looking for, and the addition of the ganache leveled it up one notch. There was still no possible way for my husband and I to consume it, so I froze about half of it.
Pound Cake #3 The Classic
You’d think that I’d move on to another baked good this week and give the poor pound cakes a break. No, my dear readers. No. My soul needed to leave the pound cake platform on a good note. I needed to return to something known and true and fool-proof. I do love trying new recipes and sharing the chaos with you, but sometimes it’s nice to go back to the basics. So I did.
Yesterday I made my go-to pound cake. It’s worth noting that this recipe also came from my MIL. I tinker with it, sometimes making it a lemon, orange, or toasted almond loaf. But I wanted to do was sink my teeth into the original. I had some fresh blueberries in the fridge, so I made a lovely sauce to go with it. I was extraordinarily pleased with the results.
The Pound Cake Take Away
I wish I had some witty or insightful nugget to wrap this post up, but I don’t. I made three pound cakes in 10 days. I most assuredly will have put on a pound or two because of them. That’s okay. Sometimes a girl just has to bake, spill some flour, and move on to the next thing, and I did.
I’ll see you guys next time.
You might also be interested in this post: Peanut Butter Object Lessons: Pound Cake Style