Penny wise, pound fool
As you know, I like recipes that can be kept in my head. That is one of the things I learned when I worked in a bakery many years ago. The best way to keep a formula (recipe) handy is to know it in percentages and just memorize them. It also helps if that formula consists of a handful of ingredients.
In baking, almost all the basic products involve the same few ingredients. They are either lean, as in breads, or rich as in pastries and cakes. Cakes are the richest of baked products as they typically have flour, sugar, eggs and butter and some have dairy products such as milk or cream.
The easiest cake to make is also the secret to dozens and dozens of desserts: pound cake.
Pound cake gets its name from a very old formula:
- 1 lb of butter
- 1 lb of sugar
- 1 lb of eggs
- 1 pound of cake* flour
People armed with that simple, old fashioned recipe can make a cake anywhere. In fact you don’t even need to have a special pan. With that ratio of 1:1:1:1, you can beat a batter and pour it into any receptacle that you can bake.
If you look at that formula, you will notice that you would end up with a four pound end product – which would be quite a big and heavy, dense cake.
So, what you can do instead, is just turn it into a two-pound cake, by cutting it in half: 8 oz of each ingredient; or a one pound cake by cutting it into fours of 4 oz each ingredient. You can easily convert this into grams. Each pound is about 500 grams so, for metrics:
- 500 grams butter
- 500 grams sugar
- 500 grams eggs
- 500 grams cake* flour
Once you know this, and remember to use an oven at somewhere between 350F and 400F, and make sure you grease your pan or mold with butter or spray-on shortening (preferably purchased at Whole Foods, so you are not getting toxic hydrogenated aerosolized fats), you can start to have fun with this.
I would add vanilla to this recipe. *Also you can substitute almond, Gluten-free, or coconut flours or a mix of these so you can avoid wheat allergies altogether.
One of the best things to do with a basic pound cake that has been made from gluten-free wheat substitutes is infuse it with a flavored simple syrup (directions below) and top it with whipped cream beaten with fruit or a “fool”. Technically English “fool” is a custard mixed with fresh fruit. But you can skip the complication of making custard and just mix the fruit with whipped cream (make sure it is real whipped cream, not Cool Whip or emulsified hydrogenated oil). You could also make the fool with Greek yogurt or ricotta/farmer’s cheese.
So, for example, I like to make a one pound loaf cake, infused with lemon simple syrup and topped with raspberry fool. But the possibilities are endless. Another variation is plain pound cake, flavored with pumpkin pie spice or mace (the delicate outer skin of nutmeg), infused with orange syrup, topped with whipped cream beaten with raisins or chocolate shavings.
Something I like to do in the summer is find Pumelo, usually at Asian markets. Pumelo are an exotic citrus fruit with a flavor that cannot be compared to any other citrus. It is almost perfumy in a floral way and is both delicate and delicious. When I find them, I make a large jar of rosolio, or baking liqueur to use throughout the year; I will discuss these next Sunday.
This is an inexpensive dessert that looks far fancier and more complicated than it is. It is very dense and rich, so a little goes a long way.
Here are the general directions for a small, one pound loaf.
It is preferable to measure by weight not volume, if you can, with a scale, otherwise, use the measurements on a large Pyrex measuring cup.
Beth’s Holiday Poundcake
Ingredients: Everything at room temperature; you will need a long wood or bamboo skewer or other piercing instrument. Toothpicks will do in a pinch.
- 4 oz butter (salted or unsalted)
- 4 oz white sugar (if you can, use caster sugar; you can make your own by spinning cane sugar in a food processor with the blade for a few minutes to refine it)
- 4 oz whole grade A eggs (about 2 large eggs)
- 4 oz cake flour (or flour substitutes)
- 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice or mace
- 6-8 fluid ounces fresh orange juice, pulp free or strained
- several slices of orange
- 3-4 oz white sugar (caster or processed, if possible)
- Preheat the oven to 350F;
- Put a rack in the top third of the oven;
- Line a one pound glass or metal loaf pan (about 2 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 8 in.)with a strip of parchment paper or grease well with butter or brush with pure olive or canola oil;
- In a large bowl or mixer, beat the butter with the sugar until creamy and smooth;
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and when the first egg is in, put in a few tablespoons of the flour to keep the butter/sugar/egg mixture from curdling; beat in the vanilla extract, and continue beating until the mixture is smooth;
- Add the spice to the remaining flour and distribute with a fork, then beat into the liquid mixture just until smooth and even. Do not overbeat;
- Pour or spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and gently tap on the counter to remove bubbles and even the batter;
- Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, checking to see if a toothpick or wooden skewer in the center, comes out clean.
- Cool the cake in its pan for a minute on top of the stove and then pierce neatly and cleanly all over the surface of the cake.
- Dissolve the sugar in the orange juice in a small sauce pan over low heat and stir;
- Add the orange slices and simmer for 10 minutes;
- Remove the orange slices, and drain; hold them aside to cool;
- Once cool, cut each orange slice into wedges for garnishing the cake;
- Allow the syrup to cool slightly on the stove while you make the fool (the fool can be made in advance and refrigerated, covered);
- Fool: 2 cups cold whipped cream and one cup of golden or dark raisins+, softened in some hot brandy or some of the orange syrup and drained well. Refrigerate the raisins or pop them in the freezer for a few minutes to chill them quickly. Fold the raisins into the whipped cream just before serving.
+In baking, always soften raisins in hot water or some other hot liquid to reconstitute them before they are baked or served, to avoid them becoming too hard. Make sure they are drained well before adding them to the product.
- Pour the still warm syrup over the still hot pierced cake. It may seem like too much, but it will absorb into the cake. If there is excess liquid, you can add a bit of cream and powdered sugar to it, to make a quick glaze to decorate the plate.
- Unmold the cake from the loaf pan when it has cooled completely.
- Slice and serve with the fool heaped on top;
- Top each piece of cake with a candied orange wedge, standing up in the fool to finish the decoration.