A Little Sugar & a Lot of Spice

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It’s late March here in the Northwest and the weather is anything but predictable. One day, the clouds amass in a blanket of grey and the next they are pillowy white racing through a Capri-hued backdrop. And if that were not enough, there are plenty of days that provide both. But one thing you can count on is a crispness to the air that makes you feel alive. After a winter of hibernating, it’s a welcome notion to get outside, take a deep breath, and stick your hands in some dirt. More…

It’s late March here in the Northwest and the weather is anything but predictable. One day, the clouds amass in a blanket of grey and the next they are pillowy white racing through a Capri-hued backdrop. And if that were not enough, there are plenty of days that provide both. But one thing you can count on is a crispness to the air that makes you feel alive. After a winter of hibernating, it’s a welcome notion to get outside, take a deep breath, and stick your hands in some dirt.

After a few hours of tending to the garden, it’s time to come in for some tea and sweet tid bit. I can think of nothing better than a moist, flavorful cake with a kick of warmth to tickle the senses, and to me that means gingerbread cake–at least the dark, spicy gingerbread I make. The complexity of flavor defies the ease of which this staple nosh is made. So, I am off to the kitchen to whip some up.

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Gingerbread with a Kick

INGREDIENTS

Dry Ingredients

  • 220 grams of all-purpose flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour)
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp of ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp of ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder

Wet Ingredients

  • 115 grams of brown sugar, add a tad more if you like it sweeter
  • 175 grams of molasses, I prefer dark but use what you like
  • 113 grams of butter, melted & slightly cooled
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of water

Prep & Other Ingredients

  • powdered sugar
  • butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • maple syrup, to taste

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease and dust 8″x8″ square pan using butter and powdered sugar.
  3. Get egg out so it gets to room temperature.
  4. Melt butter, grind pepper, and grate nutmeg. If you grate too much, no worries. Set aside and use as garnish.
  5. Measure out all applicable ingredients.

STEP ONE
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk all dry ingredients. In a large bowl, mix all all wet ingredients; stirring until smooth.

STEP TWO
Combine wet and dry ingredients until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and cook for approximately 30 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean). Let cool for at least 15 minutes.

STEP THREE
While gingerbread is cooling, prepare cream by whipping until slightly stiff. Add a bit of maple syrup to your liking. Cut into 9 or 16 pieces and serve each with a dollop of cream and any extra grated nutmeg.

COOK’S NOTES
If made right, you should now be enjoying a stunningly dark, moist slice of cake that pairs well with whipped cream, ice cream, or all by its lonesome.

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Pound for Pound

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I have baked my fair share of pound cakes throughout the years, but I have never really made the original. You know, the one with one pound of butter, one pound of sugar, one pound of eggs, and one pound of flour. So, no time like the present. My task today was obvious: bake a traditional pound cake as well as a slightly updated version that even included a bit of baking powder and compare them. More…
Today is National Pound Cake Day which was enough to get me out of bed and into the kitchen in a matter of seconds. After all, pound cake is where I got my start in baking.  This teatime staple provides everything you could want in a sweet treat; it’s tender yet dense, moist with a slight crumb, and rich but not cloyingly so.

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I have baked my fair share of pound cakes throughout the years, but I have never really made the original. You know, the one with one pound of butter, one pound of sugar, one pound of eggs, and one pound of flour. So, no time like the present. My task today was obvious: bake a traditional pound cake as well as a slightly updated version that even included a bit of baking powder and compare them.The recipes were not all that different, as you can see…

Original Recipe

  • 454 grams of butter
  • 454 grams of sugar
  • 454 grams of eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 454 grams of cake flour

Updated Recipe

  • 454 grams of butter
  • 454 grams of sugar
  • 454 grams of eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon of cream sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 454 grams of cake flour
  • 50 grams of almond flour
  • 25 grams of coconut flour

If using measuring cups and such, you would use four sticks of butter, about two cups of sugar, about four cups of flour, and eight eggs. But using weight provides a more precise version and hopefully more consistent results. I measured everything in grams, as I just prefer that unit of measurement for baking, but you could use ounces as well by simply converting.

In both recipes, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and lined four loaf pans. At the same time, I got out all my ingredients as everything needed to be at room temperature. I set up my mise en place and then just waited. Once the butter and eggs were at room temp, I began by creaming the butter and white sugar together in a stand mixer on a relatively high setting. (I used baker’s sugar, but this is not required.) I creamed the mixture until almost white in order to get as much air in as possible. I then added the eggs, one at a time, incorporating and then scraping down the bowl between additions. Once all the eggs were added, I scraped down the bowl again and added the vanilla. It is at this point that the recipes diverge.

In the updated version, I then added the cream sherry and salt and continued mixing. Once incorporated, I then added the baking powder, and cake, almond, and coconut flour in three parts mixing on stir/low on the stand mixer until combined. I then poured the mixture into two loaf pans and began baking. In the original recipe, I simply folded in the cake flour by hand, poured into two loaf pans, and began baking.

I tasted each batter, and yes I knew that there was raw egg in it, but I was willing to take that risk in the name of science. The original recipe batter smelled and tasted like Christmas cutout cookies. Pretty darn good in my book. The updated version was more subdued and did not have the in-your-face butter bomb of the original. At that point, I decided to start keeping score and the original was currently in 1st place.

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The original loaf took about 65 minutes to bake, while the updated version took approximately 75 minutes. As you can see right out of the oven, there is a distinct difference in height. No big surprise. Actually it was more surprising that the original got as much height as it did! In addition, the updated version has a beautiful fracture and crispy top that dares you to crack it like a thin layer of ice on the first freezing day of winter. I decided it was best to start writing this post where I could not be tempted. Current score: one to one.

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Some time passed, 30 minutes to be exact (not that I was counting or anything). It was time to cut into each and see what the crumb looks like. I glided the serrated knife through each. The original recipe offered up some resistance; with the other slicing like butter. As I peeked in, the original was dense, really dense. The updated version, proved to have more texture and a lighter feel. I am not sure whether that is my mind playing tricks on me or not though. Looking back on it, it would have been interesting to weigh each. The updated version had taken the lead.

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I tried a slice from each recipe; plain, with butter, and with lemon curd. I took two bites of each for a total of twelve bites. Let’s start with plain. I actually liked the flavor and crunchy shell of the original pound cake; but dense. The updated version was good, but lacked as much of a buttery presence. I then tried each slice with a bit of butter; which now seems insane given the amount already in the loaves. The updated version actually tasted on par with the original in this taste test, and the texture of the updated version better across the board. And lastly, I tried each with lemon curd. I have to be honest, both tasted like a hot summer day after running through the sprinklers sipping on lemonade feeling a warm gentle breeze dance across your arms after this one (to be overly verbose). I really could not decide. They were both amazing with the curd.

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So at this point, I think the updated was ahead in terms of points, but I tossed the points out and chose the original. And here’s why; the original recipe was pound cake–through and through. Yes it was dense, but what else would you expect? It’s right there in in the title: Pound Cake. The original was also rich without being over the top. It’s funny though, I feel pretty stuffed after my two pieces in total now, but when I was a child, I was able to eat a whole loaf over the course of a day. My younger self would be so ashamed of my current shortcomings. And lastly, I thought the updated version was going to have the delightful crisp top layer I so fondly remember, but it turned out that the original recipe had that sought after edge on all sides. That sealed the deal for me.

This evening I plan to have my family try these pound cakes in a blind taste test and will update this post after the results. If you are interested in their thoughts, stop back. If you are interested in a few key shots of yesterday’s National Pancake Day breakfast, head over to my Twitter page.

UPDATE: Well, the blind taste test was interesting. My husband liked the original pound cake recipe across the board; plain, with butter, and a smear of curd. He liked the taste, texture, and outer crunch. On the other hand, my daughter chose the updated recipe in every category. To be fair, at first she thought she was taste testing bread, not cake, so she was looking for something more bread like, but the texture/density of the original was not her favorite. In addition, she thought the original was too sweet. She is not the biggest sweet eater, so this made sense.

What does this mean? I think it means that much like people, there is a recipe out there for everyone. If you find a beginning such as this one that dates back to the early 1700s, think about how you might be able to interpret it to your liking. If it doesn’t work, try again. The worst thing that will happen is that you learn something; like adding too much liquid makes a soggy mess that you have to throw away or not enough fat makes makes a dry loaf that gets used for ice cream topping instead. Either way, you are that much closer to finding your perfect pound cake (or any other recipe).

We have pounds of pound cake in the kitchen, so it will be pound cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I don't find someone to take some of these loaves off my hands!

Our house is now filled with pound cake, so breakfast consisted of grilled pound cake and fruit. I wonder how I can sneak it into lunch as well?