02 May2009

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It is often the case that the simplest and most classic dishes are not so darned simple to do right. Puto comes to mind as a Filipino delicacy that requires just the right amount, quality and proportion of rice, coconut milk, sugar, etc. and steam to yield a superb result. Most of the time, the puto is mediocre, and despite being close to its “perfect” relative, doesn’t quite impress. Pound cake is another of those seemingly simple recipes that has eluded me for decades. I have baked dozens of pound cakes in the past 30 years, first attempting the cake in my teens. I have had decent results, but most of the time, the resulting cake is disappointing… either too dense, too dry, too wet, and better off covered with something else like ice cream and fruit compote. Purchased versions aren’t much better, though I have to admit I love the Vargas butter cake that is light and very fluffy, but is really not a pound cake. What I have always sought is a substantial cake, light but not airy, redolent with butter flavor, delicious on it’s own, perfect with a hot cup of tea. I think I have finally made one…

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Saveur magazine’s March 2008 issue delving deeply into all things BUTTER is one of the best issues in recent memory. I love how it not only writes about the ingredient butter, but then brings in classic uses and dishes from around the world. And when I turned to the page entitled “The Great Cake” with a photo of stunning pound cake, I knew I would have to set aside a calm weekend to test this recipe by James Villas out. I read and re-read his article to ensure I got all of the tips and details he described. I waited until Sister had come for a visit and brought with her a few pounds of precious Plugra butter, not even the brand Mr. Villas recommended the most, but one of the two alternatives he deemed acceptable… And with all the other ingredients on hand, on a calm Saturday afternoon, I started to bake.

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The ingredients list was rather straightforward, butter, flour, baking powder, salt, milk, sugar and eggs… with the addition of three flavoring extracts, lemon, almond and vanilla. But I don’t think it is the ingredients that elevates this to the next level. It was the numerous anal retentive tips regarding the temperature of the butter and eggs, flour, etc. The length of the beating. The care of preparation of the cooking vessel and the temperature of the oven. I realize it sounds a bit OA (over acting) but I followed the instructions to the letter and the resulting cake was the best pound cake I have EVER made. EVER. I prepared the ingredients in an air-conditioned room to approximate the suggested room temperature. I used very good butter, brilliant organic eggs, I blitzed our local sugar to get a finer grain before mixing it in, and had a thermometer in the oven to ensure the right temperature. But please refer to the March issue of Saveur for the full article/recipe, or this link to the recipe.

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My pound cake emerged from its pan looking like an identical twin of the pound cake photographed in the magazine. It was dense but not heavy. Moist but not wet. The browned edges had a stronger flavor due to the caramelization, but it was delicious. As suggested, we did not refrigerate the cake but left it out with a cover. And by the next morning, 1/2 of the cake was gone with only 3 folks digging into it since the previous afternoon… I will have to try this cake with local butter sometime soon and see if it comes out reasonably well because if I have to wait for more Plugra, I will only be able to bake this once or twice a year! Thank you Saveur for this wonderful issue, article and recipe… it was worth the entire annual subscription rate for the magazine! :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. shootfirsteatlater says:

    wow! gotta try this. looks good. where did you get the Plurga butter? what local butter do you plan to use next? do you think elle & vire butter will be good for this recipe?

    May 2, 2009 | 11:42 am

     
  2. Bubut says:

    wow! it really looks identical and looks very yummy with hot coffee during rainy days… happy weekend MM and family

    May 2, 2009 | 11:46 am

     
  3. fried-neurons says:

    Congrats, MM! I noticed that Anchor Butter (New Zealand version and not Philippine version; no surprise there) was listed in Saveur’s “30 Great Butters”… maybe you should experiment with Pinoy Anchor and see how it turns out?

    I’d never even heard of Plugra until I read your post. I usually buy Kerry Gold, Straus, Horizon, or Challenge. Always European style, because I find that it’s richer and creamier than run-of-the-mill American butter.

    May 2, 2009 | 11:52 am

     
  4. marissewalangkaparis says:

    MMmmmmm…..I can taste the cake…looks so good!! Will try this!! Maybe I can use the local Anchor Butter.How about Brunn butter…hmmmmm let me try Anchor Butter first so it’s readily available anytime. Thanks!!

    May 2, 2009 | 12:22 pm

     
  5. Connie C says:

    I see your cake rose to great heights… almost touching the cake cover. Wow! If you followed the recipe to the letter, your cake looks taller or higher than the Saveur one, truly a great cake! The anal retentiveness paid off. Now let me see if I can bake something close to it.

    May 2, 2009 | 12:52 pm

     
  6. sanojmd says:

    wow, this cake really looks stunning.. i bet the taste is even more better..congrats for your best pound cake ever..

    May 2, 2009 | 12:53 pm

     
  7. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    MM, Try this….brown (clarify) the local butter and then re-chill before using it for the recipe. This should remove most of the water and enhance further the flavor.

    Another tip. Scale (weigh) all ingredients to get consistent results everytime.

    fried-neuron, Plugra butter is a european style butter made in USA. This is the brand that most professional cooks & bakers use in the US which is cost effective.

    May 2, 2009 | 1:20 pm

     
  8. Lilibeth says:

    I used to buy Plugra butter in Trader Joe but they have been out of stock for almost a month now. It’s not that expensive in Trader Joe, in fact, it costs only a little bit more than the Trader Joe butter. I wonder if Whole Foods has it too? I want to try this pound cake. Looks yummy!

    May 2, 2009 | 1:47 pm

     
  9. fried-neurons says:

    Artisan and Lilibeth,

    Yeah, I Googled Plugra butter after reading this post. In Northern CA, it’s available at Save Mart and Lucky supermarkets, according to their website (kellerscreamery.com). Whole Foods is not listed (for the Bay Area, anyway).

    May 2, 2009 | 2:30 pm

     
  10. filipina42 says:

    Marketman, I’m a baker and cake decorator which means I’m far more obsessive-compulsive than you are:)

    Some additional tips to improve or make your baking experience easier:

    - use a fine sieve even to put the 2 tbsp flour to dust the pan. There’s a special tool for this which I don’t recommend anyone getting unless they’re really into it. The coating will go on smoother and more evenly. TIP: If you do see a gap or a shiny portion in your pan which you missed, grease only that part and then flour.

    - I remember seing Peotraco brand superfine sugar.

    - you can actually beat the butter and the sugar together. Use speed 6 on your KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment. It will take 10 minutes, precisely. Stop halfway to scrape bottom/sides of bowl. As a base, it will be light, fluffy and of the right color.

    - Using the whip attachment, continue with the eggs, etc.

    On second thought, I may have to try this recipe first before I make any more suggestions.

    May 2, 2009 | 2:50 pm

     
  11. Marketman says:

    filipina 42, thanks for those tips. The recipe was actually embedded in an article that had the tips… and they were extensive as well. I actually did things like refrigerating the flour to get it to 68F or so as well… but I don’t consider myself a particularly good baker.

    May 2, 2009 | 3:13 pm

     
  12. Cecilia says:

    I love the idea of a simple cake like this, but yes, I’ve never really had one that comes close to how I feel it should be, and because of this, it has intimidated me to try to bake it. Just like torta, I only know of one person who makes it perfectly, and she won’t share the recipe. Seemingly so simple, but not so afterall. Will definitely make it soon before it gets too hot here at the beach where we don’t have air-conditioners. Thanks again, Marketman, for doing my homework.

    May 2, 2009 | 3:51 pm

     
  13. sister says:

    Plugra has a more flavourful butter in a gold half pound wrapper- “European style” other than the red wrapped version used by most pastry shops in the US and it yields a definitely more pronounced pound cake but is almost 50% more in price.Will bring you some next trip. Good god, I hope you didn’t use butter that was two years old- that’s the last time I was there! Red wrapper is good for most pastry needs, having a more delicate, less acidic tone. Kerry Gold is excellent as well as the Normandy butters.
    Your pound cake loooks very good except for the slightly sugary crust- next time cream the butter and sugar longer with the paddle but not until it liquifies. It took me dozens of tries to get pound cake right and now I have a version that is sister to a genoise, light and buttery with sone substance. The proportions in the Saveur recipe are good except if you want to rachet it up one more step up try using half cake flour and half all-purpose, and heavy cream instead of milk. You will have less crumb.
    Here are the proportions I use:
    1 1/4 lb. butter 65 F
    3 1/2 c. superfine sugar
    8 extra-large eggs 65 F
    2 tsp. each vanilla and almond flavouring
    1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
    2 c. cake flour
    2 c. all-purpose flour
    1 tsp. each baking powder and salt
    1/2 c. heavy cream

    Bake at 300F. Makes 3 8x4x3″ loaves.
    I agree with artisan chocolatier- scaling the ingredients is faster and more consistently reliable and the professional way to go. I have given you the proportions in cups for the amateur baker.
    Since you like tart flavours try drizzling the cooked cake with a mixture of 1/3 c. sugar, 1/3 c. meyer or regular lemon juice plus 2 tbsp. grated lemon rind.
    I am making a wedding pound cake for Liza filled with a lemon curd folded into an Italian meringue and iced with whipped cream only for her wedding on the Cape in September.

    May 2, 2009 | 4:53 pm

     
  14. natie says:

    that is one gorgeous cake!!! i could smell it!!

    May 2, 2009 | 5:33 pm

     
  15. Marketman says:

    sister, oops, I think I brought the butter back last year, which you gave to us, and made the cake as soon as the March issue came out. This post is delayed… :)

    May 2, 2009 | 6:27 pm

     
  16. Mai Mai says:

    Hi, MM

    That’s one great looking cake! Would love to try it at home too.
    How many eggs did you use for this recipe? Because I find that our eggs are not the same size as the ‘large eggs’ that some recipes ask for and usually add another.

    May 2, 2009 | 6:54 pm

     
  17. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    Oh WOW Sister, the wedding pound cake your making sounds awesome!!!! My knees and elbow joints started to shake and weakened, just imagining the lemon curd folded into the italian meringue!!

    May 2, 2009 | 7:44 pm

     
  18. sister says:

    If you are filling or putting a glaze or icing, reduce the sugar in this recipe to 3 cups only.
    The Saveur recipe is very close to the classic yellow cake because of the large amount of milk.

    Artisan Chocolatier, we are very busy with wedding cakes this year. The one going to the Cape may require a refrigerated Hertz truck unless we have an unusually cool weekend in September. The frosting goes on at the reception site just before the dinner.

    I am inspired by the rumour that a Sylvia Weinstock wedding cake now starts at $45. per serving of 2×1″. My daughter’s wedding fruitcake is now taking up a 23 cubic ft. neighbor’s refrigerator while she is in Palm Beach, all five tiers basted weekly in brandy. There is nothing sadder than a small, dismal wedding cake so we’re going for a Filipino style number, actually recognized by decorators, and Wilton, as in a class of its own. I only worry that the caterer’s table might collapse under the 100 lb.plus total after almond paste and fondant are wrapped around it. I’m sure marketman will tell you about it.

    May 2, 2009 | 8:48 pm

     
  19. Lou says:

    Beautiful cake MM, and the recipe looks very doable as long as you can get the right quality ingredients. I tried a Nick Malgieri recipe a few times and the result was superb, but denser.

    @sister – Rose Levi Berenbaum is a stickler for measuring EVERYTHING. A bit OC for my taste, but going by her amazing results I’m sure she has a point.

    May 2, 2009 | 9:17 pm

     
  20. corrine says:

    Super-duper siblings you are! Thank you, thank you! I have been looking for a good recipe for pound cake. MM, your pound cake is gorgeous! Look at the size! Yay! If only I have aircon in my kitchen!

    May 2, 2009 | 9:40 pm

     
  21. Apicio says:

    Notice that the classic pound cake has been fertile ground for modification from both theorists and practical bakers alike even from the beginning. For over fifteen years I have been closely observing Cook’s Illustrated (America’s Test Kitchen) The Best Pound Cake recipe metamorphosed at least three times, the most recent one zeroing in on the critical role that consistency of temperature of ingredients plays. It is slightly different from your beautiful cake since they strictly limit themselves to the four original ingredients used for traditional pound cake, i.e. butter, flour, sugar and eggs (no milk, cream or baking powder). On another front, Rose in her Cake Bible claims that the fine texture and melt-in-your-mouth quality that people seek and find only in Sarah Lee’s industrially produced pound cake can be achieved with a small loaf pan alone. I am no purist (and I hope no obsessive-compulsive either), I just go for whatever is the least demanding and delicious as long as it is not from a box of ready cake mix. I’ll definitely try sister’s version with Lactancia, our local cultured unsalted butter (not the Lactancia Light they featured in the linked article).

    May 2, 2009 | 9:49 pm

     
  22. jun b says:

    Baking is one thing that I will never be good at :(. Good thing that my wife likes to bake and on an emergency the abundance of nice cake to choose from always save the day.

    May 2, 2009 | 9:55 pm

     
  23. betty q. says:

    Thank you for sharing your Pound Cake recipe, Sister! I am going to give it a try.

    When the boys get craving for Pound Cake, I have ALWAYS relied on the Cake Bible’s recipe. It has never failed me yet. Just like Apicio said, somehow, the small loaf pans turn out better for some reason and the taste is INDEED AKIN TO THE SARA LEE’s.

    Hey Apicio, have you tried the SOUR CREAM one? That is our house favorite. ….best eaten the next day! Have you heard of ANITA BRYANT’S POUND CAKE? If you have and have the recipe, do you mind sharing? Someone told me that it was the BEST ever she has tasted but the recipe is no longer in print. I tried the library but I guess, they don’t keep “antique “cookbooks any longer!

    May 2, 2009 | 10:22 pm

     
  24. betty q. says:

    Never mind, Apicio, I just saw it on the net. But that recipe has been tinkered with already, I think!

    May 2, 2009 | 10:30 pm

     
  25. Apicio says:

    Didn’t realize until you mentioned that she has time to bake pound cake. Just assumed she is a full-time anti-gay activist. I have baked Elvis’ favorite pound cake though, along the same approach as sister’s.

    May 3, 2009 | 12:30 am

     
  26. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    Sister, your daughter’s wedding fruitcake brings nostalgia for me. I too insisted on a fruitcake for my wedding 19 years ago. Our wedding cake was covered in fondant and it had to be kept inside an SUV with aircon running until we arrive. Our evening wedding was at San Agustin in Intramuros and we all just walk to our reception which was held at its courtyard.

    May 3, 2009 | 8:13 am

     
  27. Divine G says:

    I have never tried baking, but I love to eat cakes. So for now I can just buy Sara Lee’s pound cake. Speaking of cakes , does anybody know how to make the “Tres Leches” , hmmmm I love it?

    May 3, 2009 | 5:51 pm

     
  28. millet says:

    MM, this looks wonderful. i’ve found very few butter cakes that i like. the rest seem to stick to the throat and refuse to go down.

    sister, are you doing the cake all by yourself? can’t wait to see it. my mom-in-law made our wedding cake, too.

    May 3, 2009 | 8:04 pm

     
  29. filipina42 says:

    sister, i’m having flashbacks of my wedding cake days… was there actually more stress for us than the bride? lol! but i do love walking into the venue with the other suppliers while it’s still empty of the wedding party.

    maybe it’s the recipe, but i find my fondant resilient. there’s more damage to it when its refrigerated or chilled (streaks, etc.) you think it’s the difference in humidity? imagine if you had to do ganache, nightmare yun! and yes, i agree on the 50:50 cake flour/all-purpose flour ratio. i should end my semi-retirement because i’m positively jealous:)

    May 3, 2009 | 9:53 pm

     
  30. marissewalangkaparis says:

    Yippeeeee!!! I did it! I was able to make this and it tastes so good and it’s so soft!! Thanks MM. I instead used 7 eggs as I was not sure the eggs were large.I obediently followed instructions…and it came out very well…Thanks MM!! Am so happy with this recipe!! Will make another one next week!!

    May 3, 2009 | 10:12 pm

     
  31. betty q. says:

    Unless the cake has perishable frostings or fillings, fondant covered cakes can be stored at room temp. It will take quite a few days before it dries out. Sugar attracts moisture from the air and the refrigerator is a good environment for that. We usually put the cake that needs to be refrigerated in a CARDBOARD BOX SANS DECORATIONS as well as placing it in an airconditioned room after taking it out of the refrigerator so there is not that much difference in temp. fluctuations reducing the possibility of condensation. That is why there are streaks, etc. on fondant covered cakes and more so with cakes already decorated with GUMPASTE FLOWERS because of CONDENSATION when the cake is immediately placed in a warm and humid environmnet.

    May 3, 2009 | 10:31 pm

     
  32. betty q. says:

    Ms. Divine G: Alton Brown makes a REALLY GOOD TRES LECHE CAKE!!!! You just have to have a scale. This cake is sooooo adddicting! A really good tip. If you like sweets…poke holes in the cake and pour the gLAZE. Any glaze that collects or pools on the plate, brush it again on top of the cake. Let it sit overnight before you eat it. I know it is hard to wait! But believe me… GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT!!!!!

    I hope this is what you are looking for aand I think it is!!!! Be prepared to have recipes printed out …you will be hounded by people you don’t even know or you can say, the lady on your block made it…you won’t be lying since YOU are that lady on your block!!!….hahahahaha….

    May 4, 2009 | 1:20 am

     
  33. Divine G says:

    Betty Q. I knew I can rely on you. As I’ve said I don’t bake but when I get hold of that recipe of Alton Brown I’ll ask my cousin who bakes to do it for me. Yes it is addicting and again thank you.

    May 4, 2009 | 2:52 am

     
  34. Ted says:

    I thought the cake was named “pound cake” because it’s 4 ingredients (flour,butter,sugar and eggs) are measured exactly a pound each? I never tried to make it since, i’m not really into cakes and i never owned a scale. But i’ll try sister’s recipe, and use the Saveurs instructions, will that work? Plus i have a few loaf pans already. I also like my pound cake naked, with just one scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

    May 5, 2009 | 7:22 am

     
  35. betty q. says:

    Ted (my baking buddy!): For one your bake pound cake in loaf pans…do this: make a BUTTER-RUM SAUCE and then poke loooooots of holes on the loaf maybe every inch or do. Then pour or brush the glaze. Use it all up! Wait till the next day to eat it! It is soooooooooo good!

    I almost forgot to tell you the glaze! In a small pot, melt about 1/2 cup butter When melted add 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Let it come to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes or so. Cool a bit and add 2 to 4 tbsp. DARK RUM. I think 3 tbsp. would be enough. if you want it taste RUM-Y (?) then use the 4 tbsp. THEN EAT IT WITH VANILLA BEAN ice cream!

    Your loaf pans…don’t use the dark ones or the industrial ones that is heavily lined with some sort of non-stick coating…ordinary aluminum ones …better!

    May 5, 2009 | 9:59 am

     
  36. Maria Clara says:

    Thanks BettyQ for the buttery rummy glaze tip. Thanks to Sister and MM for sharing their true and tried tested and tasted pound cakes!!!

    May 6, 2009 | 7:16 am

     
 

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