Pound cake, adapted: A celebration of place and space
Location is everything.
It has taken me many years of living in uninspiring and isolating places to fully grasp the truth of this statement. To not think of location as an addendum to be ignored and then forgotten, but rather as the first chapter in the book on how to achieve the charmed life.
Faced with another relocation, I was determined not to settle in a place or a space that did not fully resonate with my personality and my thoughts of the future. I had reached a point in my life where I longed to find a place where my creativity could take root and thrive.
My choices were of course limited to being within an acceptable commuting distance from where I worked. Having spent the majority of my life commuting via public transit and the last year and half living in a walkable city, I was convinced that commuting, even now with my own car, would be an undesirable characteristic of place.
The country changed all that.
Temporarily stationed with my mother for the month of January as I began my new job without yet having found a new apartment, I was required to commute between cities for work. Despising city driving and traffic, I quickly discovered a number of country backroads that could get me where I needed to go and would allow me to avoid the hassle of traffic lights and other drivers, as well as the lifeless grey industrial paysage that characterizes well-worn highways, the sight of which always induces a dull aching in my heart. Regardless of the time of day or my fatigue, my commute through the countryside left me inspired and rejuvenated. I was immediately convinced: I must find somewhere to live which will allow me to see and experience this everyday.
My search for a new place expanded beyond the city limits; however, my choices were limited, both in terms of availability and price, and I was left feeling hopeless and defeated. But hopelessness drives people to do things they wouldn’t usually do—to act on the basis of the exasperated exclamation: “What do I have to lose?”
There was a listing for an apartment that I had read and re-read in gulps—it sounded perfect, but the price was just too much. So I emailed the proprietor and inquired whether he’d be willing to lower the price. I could barely breathe when I received a response informing me he was willing to compromise. And that was it. The possibility had become too real and I agreed immediately. When I viewed the place in person, it was everything I had imagined. The space enveloped me in its nurturing ambience and I felt my ambition swell. This was it.
Before I had even signed the lease I had, for reasons unknown, a vision of myself perched on the balcony that overhangs the river (!) on a still summer morning, coffee freshly brewed and a slice of poundcake punctuated with summer fruit. Despite summer being months away, I knew one of the first things I baked in my new space would have to be pound cake. So I was happy to see that this month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was for a quick bread of your choice.
The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.
Pound cake is of course a cake, not a quick bread. Although the lines between cake and quick bread are routinely blurred, I felt compelled to adjust the recipe both to comply with the Challenge, as well as for my own tastes. Cakes usually have a much higher fat and sugar content than quick breads, making them sweeter, fluffier and moister. The fats and sugars are often creamed together, and the eggs are sometimes whipped, to provide a consistent, bouncy crumb. Quick bread ingredients, on the other hand, are usually mixed straight—dry into the wet—and are less sweet and more dense.
The traditional pound cake takes it name from the fact that all the main ingredients—butter, sugar, flour, eggs—are weighed in a ratio of 1:1:1:1, where 1 = 1 lb. If you understand the function each of these ingredients play within a batter, the traditional pound cake recipe can act as the launching point for numerous cake or quick bread variations.
The pound cake on the plate in my summer vision was dense and fragrant, but not too sweet. The fruit accompanying the cake was intended to provide added depth and sweetness. The version I whipped up fit this role perfectly. It has a spongy texture which demands the addition of a simple fruit syrup or a light runny jam, and it is moist and fragrant with the warm scent of honey and vanilla. I served mine with sliced cinnamon-stewed peaches that I put up last season, bringing a hint of summer into this mild winter morning.
(Makes 1 loaf)
8oz all-purpose flour (organic, stone milled if possible)
2oz light organic cane sugar
1/4oz (2 tsp) baking powder
A dash of salt for good measure
4oz butter, melted
4oz full-fat yogurt
4oz (4) large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Whisk together the butter, honey, eggs and yogurt. Add the vanilla extract. In another bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients being careful not to overmix, yet ensuring there are no clumps of flour (sifting first helps here). Pour the ingredients into a lightly oiled and floured loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes. A skewer should come out clean when inserted in the centre and the top will be a nice golden brown.
Enjoy with fruit or jam in a space and place you find inspiring.