05 August 2010

A Paean to Pound Cake

Summer is not my season. The only word I can use to describe myself from June to August, to be brutally honest, is wilted. I feel listless, shiftless, useless for weeks on end. I can't even summon up the concept of cold, no matter how many lush cardigans or autumn serenades I sigh over.

But what this heat does bring is an ease. Shoulders relax, gaits slow; clothing is pared to an absolute minimum. And while I do tire of wearing the same stained wifebeater every single day (it's actually too hot to imagine any other outfit), there's something refreshing about feeling so simple and stripped down.

And though it's now that I enjoy experimenting with iced teas and infused herb and berry syrups, at this point in the summer, I tend towards straightforward cold brews (megami sencha is the standout this year) and more simple accompaniments- like a plum straight from the refrigerator, eaten over the kitchen sink. Or a single, plain slice of pound cake.

Pound cake is like the ancestor of all cakes. It stands proudly without frosting, filling or other decoration. It's perfect as soon as you turn it out of the pan; unadorned, it shines more deeply- and with more lasting intensity- than all those gilded, gussied-up confections.

I always love the classic, but this lightly spiced version, from one of the last issues of the venerable Gourmet magazine, is just as delicious. I initially made it back in early spring, and with the first bite, thought the flavors perfect for the burgeoning season.

And I can now verify the cake works just as well when it's 92°. The exotic, floral aroma of the cardamom and vanilla are even a little more intense every time I lift the cover to cut another slice- something, I will warn you, that may happen more than once a day.

Cardamom-Vanilla Pound Cake
Makes: 10 to 12 servings.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup milk, at room temperature

1. Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 12-cup bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

2. Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar in mixer at medium speed, scraping side of bowl occasionally, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife into butter mixture (reserve pods for vanilla sugar), and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in lemon juice until combined well. At low speed, add flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

3. Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top. Gently rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about 1 hour more.

White tea, iced- or hot, if you're a masochist- is the best accompaniment. Its faintly smooth, sweet notes well complement the same in the pound cake. And since we're simplifying, look for a bai mudan (white peony) white tea, not necessarily the higher-grade silver needles. Bai mudan is a newer, much less expensive variety, but cold brewed, it's just as lovely.


cha sen said...

Two of my favorite spices in your cake: vanilla and cardamon.I can certainly envision a slice of the cake with a cup of Silver Needles (brewed hot, as I'm of the masochistic variety. :-)

Unknown said...

Winter is my bad time of year. Sometimes its hard for me to muster the strength to even leave the house. I hate it.
Wonderful recipe. I love anything with cardamom.
*kisses* HH

ana dane said...

so glad you both share my cardamom love.

actually, hot silver needles isn't terribly punishing, since the water temperature is relatively low- especially if you have it in the gray light of dawn.

and i wish i could blame my general malaise on the season. it's definitely worst for me in summer, but then what excuse does that leave me with for the rest of the year?

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. Pound cake may be my very favorite food on the planet, and this one looks divine. Hmm . . . it's ONLY going to be 90 degrees here today . . . I may have to turn on the fan fire up the oven.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I enjoyed this blog almost as much as I enjoy the Summer heat, which in my case, actually, is a lot.

I have to agree with HH. Winter is my seasonal nemesis. But here's the upside: when winter comes, it will be cool enough to heat up the oven and try my hand at some of your incredibly tempting recipes. Yumm! Now, I have something to look forward to.

Marilyn Miller said...

Lovely cups and the pound cake looks good enough to eat.

GoodmorningNightmare said...

Oh my, looks delicious. Would love to taste it.