Jan 26, 2011

Four Disasters and a Pound Cake!

Practice really does make perfect. Even though it has been proven time and again, I never seem to believe in this one enough. And so I was heartbroken when I put in effort to produce an oh-so yummy cake, but it fell short several times.

And fifth time's a charm! It worked at last after making so many modifications. At last a cake that everyone had to reach out for another piece of. At last the velvety, moist crumb that melts in the mouth. At last the perfect combination of aroma, texture and taste. At last!

My Perfect Pound Cake

I'll show you pictures of all the cakes I ruined and almost ruined as well. And then give you the recipe for this one. But before all that, a little background about Pound Cakes is in order!

The Pound Cake gets it's name from the way it was originally prepared. The four basic ingredients: flour, sugar, butter and eggs were used in equal proportions, 1:1:1:1. So they used a pound in weight of each of these materials. Hence, pound cake!

It did not have to be a pound all the time (because we all make different sizes), but any other weight of the ingredients in equal proportions did it. The most common way of preparing this cake, from what I have learnt, is to start by creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and mixing in the rest of the ingredients later. 

Today, there are several variations to a pound cake recipe that produce difference in texture and taste. Several recipes call for milk, buttermilk, cream cheese or sour cream to enhance the taste of the cake. The ingredients are also not often measured out in weight, but in volume (cups).

In some places in the world, such as here in India (I have noticed), the Pound Cake is actually famously called  Sponge Cake. So in many homes, when people refer to a vanilla sponge cake being made, it's the same as what is known as the pound cake in other parts of the world. 

In culinary terms, from what I understand, the difference between a pound cake and a sponge is the amount of shortening, or fat used in it. While the former uses a pretty large quantity, the latter has an unusually small amount, or sometimes even no fat at all. This causes the sponge to be light and airy, while the pound cake is rather dense in texture.

Well, enough of rambling now. On to my disasters. I give you, Exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Bad Texture

This is a plain vanilla cake I made, using a recipe I learnt at a baking class. It calls for equal measures in grams of flour, sugar and butter. So I made this with 200 g of each. Creamed the butter and sugar and mixed in the rest of the stuff. Problem was that I over mixed the batter after adding the flour. It was the first cake I baked myself so I guess I was a bit over zealous. The texture was dry and crumbly and the cake was basically falling apart when I cut it. Also I was getting used to my oven, and the temperature was too high for this one. The crust ended up too hard.

On, to the next!

Exhibit B: Bad Texture and Taste

I tried the same recipe once again, but a with smaller quantities (100 g). And I added milk powder as an extra ingredient. This one ended up looking more like wheat bread rather than cake. And I was over zealous again so I opened the oven before it was half-done to check on it. As a result, it sunk in the middle. You can make out from that dent in some of the pieces. The taste was rather buttery, maybe I made a mistake in measurement. All in all, not a delectable cake. 

By this time, I was desperate to make a cake that would be the ultimate treat to taste buds. And would be an easy recipe to recall, resize and reuse. And hence, I tried again.

Exhibit C: Bad Smell

This one is a buttermilk pound cake. The proportion of flour, sugar and butter was different here, owing to the addition of buttermilk. I must say that I had some high hopes for this one. The mixing process went on like a dream. Once again, I creamed the butter and sugar, and once the buttermilk was added, it reacted beautifully with the rest of the ingredients. I somehow felt like the batter came alive! It was beautifully fluffy. It behaved nicely in the oven. It rose wonderfully. I thought finally, that this is it. Sadly for me, when it came out of the oven, no one would go closer than a meter from it. It stank! No, not of eggs. This recipe asked for almond essence and I guess the one I found wasn't a very good one. It had a terrible chemical smell and I never even got around to finding out how this tasted. I had to toss it all out.

I put this recipe aside, since I was looking for a simple one, and buttermilk is not always a handy ingredient. Here's another one.

Exhibit D: Bad Smell, Texture and Taste!

I once again repeated the same equal ratio recipe, but very smartly tried salted butter this time. After all, some cakes call for salt, I thought. What's the big deal, I figured I'll used salted butter and omit salt. Big mistake. Also, I ditched my hand mixer and decided to go manual on this one like my mom used to. Big, big mistake. I over-estimated the strength of my arms. The creaming of the butter and sugar was easy. But once I added a couple of eggs, the batter got sort of curdly-like. The eggs simply wouldn't mix in properly. I guess I should have added in beaten eggs. Whatever. It was just a lost cause. After about a half hour of mixing, I gave up and gave in to the mixer. But I still think the eggs were not beaten well enough. The result, the cake was very eggy. In appearance as well as smell. Smelled very strongly of eggs. And the salted butter worked it's 'magic' as well. The cake ended up slightly salty. All in all, bad.

I began to have serious doubts about my baking skills at this point. Perhaps I was just a bad baker. It was truly heartbreaking. It was then that I chanced upon a recipe for a pound cake that called for a different method of mixing. 

This recipe is from a neat website, Joyofbaking.com. And it was what saved me. Blessed was the day I clicked the link to this page: http://joyofbaking.com/PoundCake.html. It uses a different mixing procedure than the creaming of butter and sugar. And I think that's what did the trick!

The original recipe calls for 150 g each of Cake Flour and Sugar and 185 g of unsalted butter. I reduced the amount of butter to 150 (equal to the flour and sugar), since I did not want a very buttery cake. I baked this cake twice. First a vanilla one using 150 g proportions. It turned out like this:

Vanilla Pound Cake: Almost There!

The texture was great, no smell of eggs, taste was really good. But I guess I messed up the temperature. My oven has a mind of it's own. It does not follow standard recipe instructions! The crust came out too hard again. 

However, enthused by the fact that I was finally getting somewhere, I tried this once more. This time I increased to 200 g proportions, used a pineapple essence instead of vanilla, used some yellow food coloring, and a round cake pan. The result, was beautiful. Exactly what I hoped for. Everything I wanted in a pound cake. I loved it. And so did everyone else. It's the cake that you saw in the very first picture. And I'll show you some more.

Fresh from the Oven!

Out of the Pan and Cooling

Sliced and Ready to Serve!

And I have said enough so now, I'll leave you with the recipe.

RECIPE ~ A Simple Pound Cake 

  • Sifted Cake Flour - 200 g
  • Granulated Sugar - 200 g
  • Unsalted Butter - 200 g
  • Large Eggs - 4
  • Milk - 4 Tbsp
  • Vanilla/Pineapple or other essence/extract of your choice - 2 tsp
  • Baking Powder - 1 + 1/2 Tsp
  • Salt - 1/2 Tsp
  • Yellow Food coloring - 1 drop (optional)
Note: A simple way to remember this cake is, for every 50 g ratio of flour, butter and sugar, you need 1 large egg, 1/2 Tsp essence/extract and 1 Tbsp Milk. So you can change ratios accordingly.
To learn how to prepare cake flour, please refer to my post on flour: here. Two cups came up to exactly 200 g for me.

Utensils & Bakeware
  • Mixing Bowls and Spoons/Fork
  • Hand Mixer/Stand Mixer
  • 8x2" Round Baking Pan or equivalent
  • OTG/Convection Oven - Regular or Microwave
  • Cooling Rack or Tray
  • Prepare all ingredients at room temperature.
  • Prepare the baking pan by generously greasing with butter and dusting with flour all over. Pat off excess flour. Set aside.
  • Powder the granulated sugar in a food processor/mixer-grinder if too grainy.
  • Bowl - 1: Dump in the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt)
  • Bowl - 2: Beat the eggs and add the milk and vanilla/other essence. Mix in lightly.
  • Cut the butter into pieces and soften with a fork.
  • Using hand/stand mixer on low speed, mix the dry ingredients for 30 seconds. Or just until they are well combined.
  • Add half of the liquid mixture and all of the butter to the dry mix.
  • On low speed mix until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  • Switch to medium speed and mix for 1 minute to aerate and develop the cake structure.
  • Stay at medium speed. Add the remaining liquid mix in 2 parts, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. 
  • Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth over the top with the back of a spoon. 
Note: Follow the mixing instructions exactly for best results.

Baking Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F for about 15 minutes. You can set this just before you start the mixing process.
  • Bake at same temperature for 55 to 65 minutes.
  • Check for done-ness. A toothpick inserted at the center should come out clean.
  • Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack.
  • Invert cake onto a plate and allow to cool completely before serving.
Note: My oven did well at 160C and 1hr + 25 minutes. So yours might be different. The temperature above is what is recommended in the original recipe.
The cake tastes better when left overnight in an air-tight container.

And that's the story of my pound cake. As always, I'm happy to hear from you!

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