As I explained last week, my February Baking Project will be devoted to pound cake. I predicted that pound cake’s simple, rustic and unpretentious soul would be particularly appealing in the recession.
So it’s ironic that my first pound cake recipe is neither particularly simple nor rustic—in fact, it’s a fifteen-ingredient baking extravaganza that required a pilgrimage to Whole Foods for impossible-to-find ingredients (potato starch). Leave it to Shirley O’Corriher to take something as simple as the pound cake and turn it into a science project worthy of Dr. Frankenstein.
I wrote about O’Corriher — the chemist turned food scientist turned cookbook author — when I used one of her recipes in the January Popover Project, and I explained that her highly detailed reicpes both thrill and terrify me. You can tell that O’Corriher is a food scientist as soon as you open her book—the pound cake recipe is preceded by ten pages that explain the techniques, theories, and other recipes she used to create the perfect pound cake.
The pound cake recipe is characteristically complex, requiring both butter (for the flavor), shortening (for the elmusifiers), canola oil (for the moisture), heavy cream (for the texture) and buttermilk (God only knows why). She even replaces a portion of the flour with potato starch, which helps create a lighter and moister cake. And instead of the traditional loaf pan, she instructs you to bake the pound cake in a tube pan, which turns out a perfectly rounded cake without a sunken center.
Given the complexity of the recipe, and the special shopping trips and purchases it required, I was ready to be blown away. But it was only okay.
Texturally the pound cake was perfect – the crust was brown and crispy, the center was soft and tender – the cake practically melted in my mouth. But I usually only use butter in my baked goods, and the addition of shortening and oil was definitely off-putting. I could smell the oil in the cake, and I could taste the artificial flavoring of the shortening. Also, I thought that this pound cake was a little too sweet. I think a good pound cake balances the flavor of the sugar with the savoriness of the butter. With this cake, the sugar overwhelmed everything else.
Still, it was an interesting baking experience, and for those of you without my all-butter bias, it’s a recipe worth trying. I thought that following such a highly detailed and technical recipe was immensely fun and, even if the cake wasn’t perfect, it really did look beautiful when it came out of the pan.
Shirley O’Corriher’s Even Greater American Pound Cake
Adapted from Bakewise
12 tablespoons cool unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
8 tablespoons shortening
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large egg yolks
5 large eggs
2 2/3 cups bleached all-purpose flour (measured by spooning into the cup)
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Heat to the oven 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan.
2. Beat butter in a mixer on medium speed until soft. Add the shortening and mix until light and fluffy, approximately three minutes. Add the sugar. Cream the ingredients together until very pale, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once.
3. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly beat in oil until barely incorporated. Set the mixer to its lowest speed; beat in egg yolks and then the eggs one at a time.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, potato starch, baking powder and salt.
5. Put the mixer on the lowest speed. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and blend. Then mix in some of the buttermilk. Alternate adding the flour mixture with the buttermilk until everything is incorporated.
6. Place a mixing bowl, whisk and cream in the freezer to cool for five minutes. Whip the cream to the soft peak stage, and then whisk a little more. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten. Then fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter.
7. Pour batter into the buttered pan. Knock the pan on the counter to knock out any air bubbles, and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake one hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan on a rack for ten minutes before inverting on a rack to cool completely.
8. Invite some friends over to help eat. This pound cake is huge!