Friday, February 18, 2011

BAKING MEMORIES

I admit that I’m not much of a cake baker. Growing up, my Mother and I learned the art of cake decorating so that meant that for the most part, the cakes had to LOOK pretty and taste was secondary. We always used boxed cake mixes and added some fillings for extra uumpf, but that was the extent of our cake baking with one major exception – my birthday cake. Every year I requested a German Chocolate Cake and each July Mom would trot out this luscious, tall, chocolatey and oooey goooey cake for its annual starring role.

One year I got TWO cakes!!!!!
For nearly my entire life, I’ve had this cake on my birthday (although sometimes it was months early or late due to the fact that my folks lived in Florida and I did not, or vice versa). Oddly enough, it was the disappearance of this annual cake tradition that triggered my realization that my Mother’s memory was not good. The first year that the cake came from a box and a can should have been my first inkling of trouble.

When she asked me a year or so ago if she could bake me something and I said “German Chocolate cake”, she looked at me and stated she didn’t know what that was, but she could try if I could find it in the store. I think I cried for an hour. With the realization that those memories were gone for my Mother, I’m not sure whether I was more upset for her or for me. In any case, my craving for German Chocolate cake has pretty much been squashed. Somehow I don’t imagine it would ever really taste the same again.

BAKING UP NEW MEMORIES
One of the hundreds of cakes
I did as a kid
So on a much better note…..if you know me at all you know that I do love to bake. Cakes, however, aren’t on the top of my list. Maybe it was that sweet icing I made for all those years of decorating that turned me off of the process. Recently, however, I’ve become a little more fascinated with cakes in all of their forms.

I’ve learned that cake baking can be a bit tricky. Not because of the process, but because of the fact that people have become accustomed to box-made cakes that are airy and fluffy and (to my mind) generally lacking in texture and taste. They really are nothing more than a vehicle for whatever frosting is on top.

Frankly, there is little more deflating that spending a couple of hours and money on good ingredients to turn out a wickedly delightful cake only to be greeted with tepid response because the cake isn’t what folks are used to. So I’ve given up on the idea of layer cakes and turned to the idea of baking types of cakes that not everyone has. Snack cakes are always a hit in the office and usually pretty manageable when it comes to dealing with the inevitable leftovers since they freeze quite well.

So, I was really intrigued this past month when my new KAF Baking Sheet arrived and there was a recipe for a pound cake that was shouting to be tried.

Again, I state – I’m not a cake baker and maybe, just maybe I’ve turned out a pound cake once upon a time after taking a class with Nick Malgieri. But I kid you not, there was something about this recipe that kept calling to me. So on Monday evening I stopped for a fresh carton of sour cream, grabbed some pecans from the pantry and got busy.

The result was over the top good! I made one major and one minor substitution in the process when I got to the pantry and found that the pecans I had were actually some sugar glazed pecans I’d made up a month or so ago for a party. Not to be stopped, I chopped them up and added them to the cake. Frankly, I think this was a clever addition due to the hint of salt on the nuts. The nuts were super crunchy, and slightly salty that lends an interesting texture to the cake. The other substitution was using maple flavoring since I don’t have pecan in the cupboard.

With permission from KAF, here is the recipe. If you only have boring old pecans in your pantry, I’m sure it will be good too :)

BOURBON PECAN POUNDCAKE

Pretty as a photo and twice as tasty!
Bourbon Pecan Poundcake
3 cups KAF all purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted, softened butter
2 ½ cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temp
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp. maple or pecan flavoring
½ cup bourbon
2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare (grease and flour) a 12-cup bunt pan or two 9x5 inch pans.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and butter until creamy. Add the first three eggs at one time, pausing the mixer to scrape down the bowl occasionally. Add one third of the flour mixture and mix to combine. Add the remaining eggs and combine. Add the remaining flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the sour cream, flavorings, bourbon and then the pecans.

Give the bowl a final scrape and turn the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the cake tests done with a wooden pick. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 20 minutes before turning out on a rack to cool thoroughly. Dust with powdered sugar for a pretty presentation.

If you have an interest in getting your very own copy of the King Arthur Flour Baking Sheet - sign up here.  A little birdie there told me KAF will be running a promotion this coming Tuesday Feb 22, where people can get a free 3 month subscription with a $60 catalogue purchase, check out their web site for more information.

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