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La Belle Cuisine - Pound Cake!

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Pound Cake

The Ultimate Comfort Cake
by Michele W. Gerhard

Have you ever stopped to think about your "irresistible list"? You know what I mean - things that always get your attention, make
your heart beat faster. At the top of my husband's list, for example,
is a Porsche 928. He doesn't own one yet, but he does have quite
a collection of pictures, and he can't resist reading an article about
one, or buying a magazine featuring his dream car on the cover.
Perhaps you've never taken the time to actually put your list in writing, but I'll bet your sub-conscious mind has one.

It's either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to look at it, that I've always leaned somewhat toward self-indulgence. Therefore, my list of irresistibles is rather long. Very close to the top is one of the simplest, most basic, yet most satisfying, comforting desserts in all the world: pound cake. I absolutely cannot resist a
new recipe for pound cake, despite the fact that my collection,
as of this writing, already includes an astounding 62, not including
the ones contained in an extensive cookbook collection! I make no
apologies for what may appear to the more stoical among you as
over-indulgence, perhaps bordering on gluttony. But what about
the pursuit of excellence?

Let's face it, if I had stopped looking after finding the first one,
how could I possibly have found the BEST? And after all, the
good, simple, basic pleasures of life speak to a part of us that
longs for warmth, stability, security. In today's rapidly changing, fast-paced world, our hearts cry out for simplicity. To me,
pound cake says, "Home".

Please don't misunderstand me. I appreciate a beautiful Būche
de Noel
or Charlotte Malakoff aux Framboises just as much as
the next foodaholic. In fact, I have seen Napoleons that I consider true works of art, if not actual architectural masterpieces. Kudos to each and every one of you out there on the cutting edge. My hat is off to you. I greatly admire and respect your Mousse d'Asperge sur Tuiles aux Amandes. I stand in awe of your Chocolate Rainforest Torte, really I do! But I'll bet even the greatest among you, the
most sophisticated, creative and innovative, has a secret place in
your heart of hearts that really longs for such simple, old-fashioned
pleasures as Mom's pound cake. Just the thought of pound cake in its humble, unpretentious elegance, with its buttery, mouthwatering fragrance, faintly redolent of citrus, conjures up images of hearth
and home like nothing else I know of - except perhaps freshly
baked bread.

Perhaps you are not yet aware of the significant power exerted on the sub-conscious mind by our sense of smell. The recent increasing popularity of aromatherapy bears witness to this elusive energy. Just imagine the carefree childhood memories evoked by the clean scent of freshly mown grass, or the romantic reveries aroused by our beloved's signature fragrance. There are clever real estate agents who place a dab of vanilla on light bulbs before showing a house
to prospective clients due to its ability to evoke feelings of warmth
and comfort. All of this, thanks to our olfactory nerve's ability to transport scent molecules to the limbic system. Well, do I ever
have a great idea! Just bake a pound cake right before showing
the house and watch your sales skyrocket. Who would be able
to resist?

So, how did this love affair with pound cake begin? I suppose
it's always had a special place in my heart, but the romance really started when our elder son (then called Kevin, now Keegan) was
three years old. As I recall he had chicken pox - not a severe case, but certainly enough to keep him in bed for a few days. He was quarantined to the house just long enough to stretch my creativity
to the limit in an effort to relieve his restlessness. No doubt the
mothers among you will have no difficulty relating to my dilemma.

Since I had recently added "Old Dominion Pound Cake" to my repertoire, I decided to bake it for him. We snuggled up together
on the sofa with comfy-cozy blankets and a very select assortment of stuffed animal guests, and had a truly memorable afternoon. I read aloud to him from his favorite books, and he absolutely de- voured an astonishing amount of pound cake. A lot of important bonding took place that day. I can't help believing that the cake played a significant role in what turned out to be a milestone in the development of one of the most significant relationships in my life.

"Old Dominion Pound Cake" has become a tradition in our family.
It is automatically included on our Christmas menu, even though
its appearance could not be described as particularly festive. But Christmas is, first and foremost, about love, and so is this cake. I
am always happy to bake it on demand when my son (or anyone
else near and dear to me) feels a special need for the kind of nurturing, the sort of soothing comfort, that few things other
than Mom's cooking can provide. Not to mention the delicate
flavor of this tender morsel, a truly delectable cake.

Old Dominion Pound Cake

8 large eggs
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter,
soft enough to be worked easily
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

On the day before serving, let the eggs stand at room temperature
at least 1 hour before using. Meanwhile, butter well, then flour a
large Bundt cake pan. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, soda
and 1 1/4 cups sugar. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large
bowl with mixer at high speed, cream butter well. Then, with the
mixer at low speed, just barely blend butter with flour mixture,
then with lemon juice and vanilla. With mixer still at low speed,
beat in egg yolks, one at a time, just until blended.
With mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until frothy. Add salt,
and gradually add 1 cup sugar with cream of tartar, beating well
after each addition. Continue to beat the mixture until soft peaks
form. Now gently fold the egg white mixture into the cake batter,
and turn batter into the prepared pan.
With a rubber spatula, gently cut through batter once or twice.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Do not open oven door during the first
hour. Turn the oven off and let the cake remain in the oven
for 15 minutes. Then remove cake from the oven and place
on a wire rack and allow it to cool 15 minutes longer. Invert
the cake onto the rack and allow it to finish cooling. Wrap
cake in foil or plastic wrap and store it in a cake saver until
the next day. Just before serving, dust top of cake with
confectioner's sugar.

Although the "Old Dominion" is our family's favorite, I've always wondered how authentic it is, as pound cakes go. So I did a little research. The 1913 edition of "The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt Farmer (which, by the way, was a recent gift from the very same cake-loving son) is probably about as authentic as they come:

"1 pound butter, 1 pound sugar, yolks of 10 eggs,
whites of 10 eggs, 1 pound flour, 1/2 teaspoon mace..."

I was delighted to find that

"The Williamsburg Art of Cookery or Accomplished
Gentlewoman's Companion:
Being a Collection of upwards of Five Hundred of the
most Ancient and Approv'd Recipes in Virginia Cookery"
by Mrs. Helen Bullock,

contains a similar recipe entitled, "Williamsburg Pound Cake":

"Cream one Pound of Butter and one Pound of Sugar together,
add the well beaten Yolks of Twelve Eggs..."

Or the "Mount Vernon Pound Cake":

"Wash all the Salt from a Pound of Butter, then pat it dry between
the Folds of a clean Cloth and set away in a cold Place. Sift one
Pound of Pastry Flour and separate the Yolks and Whites of
twelve Eggs..."

and from the James River Plantations Cookbook, the
"Virginia Pound Cake", with the notation:

"This is the real Virginia pound cake. For generations it has
been served with a glass of Sherry to afternoon guests."

Baking powder
Lemon extract

Weigh the number of eggs you want to use and then weigh that much
sugar and that amount of flour and not quite that much butter. (If you
have a pound of everything else, use a quarter of a pound less of
butter.) Beat the yolks and the whites of the eggs separately. Wash
the salt out of the butter. Cream it until it is very soft. Then begin
to mix the cake by putting a little sugar and then a little flour and
then a little butter, and then a little white of the eggs into the egg
yolks. (Put a level teaspoon of baking powder into the flour.) Con-
tinue to add a little of each until all ingredients are in, beating con-
stantly. After beating until smooth, add lemon. Bake in a tube pan
lined with brown paper in a 325-degree F. oven."

The above recipes bear a distinct similarity to what many consider
to be The Original: the French "quatre-quarts", or four-quarters pound cake, alluding to the one pound each of flour, butter, sugar and eggs in the mixture. (Actually, I always thought it meant that I would gain four pounds, which is probably true!) The difference
is primarily in the procedure, which is included in the recipes
below, to satisfy the purists among you.

An occasional well-meaning critic of my beloved "Old Dominion" would quip, "Well, of course it's perfectly delicious, dahlin', better than those heavy ol' authentic recipes..." And I would pout for just
a bit, thinking that my ideal was perhaps not the real thing after all, since it was "lightened " by the use of egg whites. Not so, not so!
If any of you pound cake fanatics out there have a more authentic pound cake recipe you'd like to share with me, please feel free to
do so. But I'll bet my eye teeth you won't be able to find one that
was ever baked with more love than the one I baked for my recuperating three-year-old. To this day, it remains his favorite comfort cake - this despite the fact that he is now Chef Keegan,
a pastry chef of considerable acclaim!
As a special treat for the fellow pound cake lovers among you, following are some other
special favorites from my collection:

Click below for MORE pound cake recipes:

Amaretto Pound Cake
Bananas Foster Pound Cake
Bill Neal's Chocolate Black Walnut Pound Cake
Bourbon Pecan Pound Cake
Brown-Sugar Poundcake with Walnut Glaze
German Chocolate Pound Cake
Mary Margaret's Sour Cream Pound Cake
Quatre-Quarts Pound Cake
Quatre-Quarts Pound Cake (Chocolate)

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