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Sunday, March 4, 2012

It's Pound Cake Day

Rose Geranium Pound Cake (recipe below)
Rose Geranium Pound Cake
Raise your hand if your heart begins to thump at the thought of Pound Cake. One, two, three, I see three hands...there goes four, five and six...just as I thought...As you might suspect, pound cake usually weighs one pound, WRONG! 

Pound cake is so named because the ingredients to construct it were once measured by the pound; a pound of flour (4 cups) , a pound of sugar (2-1/4 cups), a pound of butter (2 cups), and a pound of eggs (2 cups or about 8 eggs depending on size). If left to my own devices, I would have assumed the name Pound Cake referred to the amount of time and beating it took to get that buttery goodness ready for the oven.

According to Andrew Smith, in The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, the Pound Cake arrived from England in the eighteenth century, which he states "was basically a small plum cake without fruit.
...At the fancy evening parties of the early nineteenth century, cake was a principal attraction. The long party cake table covered with a white cloth typically bore a row of different "fruit cakes" down the center. Initially these cakes were plum cake, pound-cake and sponge cakes. But, by the 1830s, suppler tables also included uniquely American cakes spun out of Pound Cake and Sponge Cake. The two new Pound Cake offshoots were to be particularly important to American cake baking. They were the stunningly white Lady Cake made with egg whites rather than whole eggs and flavored with bitter almonds, and the deep yellow Golden Cake made with egg yolks and flavored with orange or lemon. The fashion was to bake both cakes to highlight the contrast in color...
Nineteenth century America also saw the introduction of Pearl Ash, an alkaline leavening similar to today's baking soda. Pearl ash allowed women to make cake with less butter and fewer eggs than Pound Cake required. Pearl ash also took away some of the drudgery of beating the cake batter for so long.
...One of the new cake families comprised various cakes with spice, raisins, and currants. These were often named for American patriots (Washington, Madison, Harrison, Jefferson) or American cities (Boston, Rutland, Dover) The other new cake was "cup cake", which proved to be one of the most important cakes in American cake baking history. The cake was so named because its ingredients were measured by the cup (which was more convenient than weighing) and because, at least initially, it was baked in small cups, which facilitated the rising of inexpensive quickly made batters. Soon enough, cup cake came to be baked in large sizes as well...
One of the reasons I don't consider myself a "true" baker is because I lack precision. Baking depends on proper technique and precise ratios. Blame it on my lack of mathematical skills:) It isn't often that I get to share some of more conventional vintage cookbooks with you. In the days when Pound Cake recipes first appeared, it would take at least an hour or more of continuous beating by hand to get it too the right consistency. Thank goodness electric mixers were eventually introduced!  In this first edition of The National Cookbook published in 1896 and authored by Marion Harland and Christine Terhune Herrick, the authors reinforce the virtues of the proper assembly of Pound Cake.

National Cookbook 1896In cake, as in bread making practical knowledge of a few cardinal rules will enable the cook to bring forth an almost infinite variety of sweets in this line of culinary adventure. She who can make, once and again, good cup cake is equal to whatever the layer-cake species may offer for experiment. The filling gives character and individuality to each of the family. Become proficient in the manufacture of pound cake, and, to parody Mr. Wegg, "all cake is open to you." Recipes many and diverse are only suggestions to her whose sponge cake always turns out well, whose pound cake is never streaky, or her jelly cake too stiff or too friable.
Pound Cake Recipes 1896
By 1871, in Commonsense in the Household, Ms. Harland cements the importance of the "proper" ingredients in cake baking.

Pound Cake may very well be a British creation, however, through the years, the Plain Jane of Pound Cakes has been modified by varying the amounts of ingredients and even adding chemical leavenings. Some have chosen to eliminate the butter entirely while replacing it with more "heart friendly" ingredients such as Olive Oil.


Here are a few more hints for capturing the essence of that goodness you remember from Pound Cake of days gone past without relinquishing the flavor; entirely:)

1. Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of whole eggs. (You may have to add an extra white)
2. Replace butter with reduced calorie margarine
3. Use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour (It makes a lower fat cake more tender)
4. Substitute non-fat buttermilk for cream; you'll get a rich flavor without the fat. (When you use buttermilk make sure that baking soda is one of the leavening ingredients.) 

The tips and this recipe for Rose Geranium Pound Cake (pictured above) were harvested from the Low-Fat, High Flavor Cookbook published by Oxmoor House.
Rose Geranium Pound Cake
6 large rose geranium leaves
Vegetable cooking spray
3/4 cup reduced-calorie margarien, softened
3 cups sugar
8 egg whites
1-1/2 cups nonfat buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4-1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Directions: 
1. Coat geranium leaves with cooking spray; arrange leaves, dull side up, in bottom of a 10-inch tube pan lined with wax paper and coated with cooking spray and flour. Set aside.
2. Beat margarine at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg whites; beat well.
3. Combine buttermilk and vanilla, stirring well. Combine cake flour and remaining ingredients; add to margarine mixture alternating with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix after each addition. Spoon batter into tube pan. Bake at 325°  for 1 hour and 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack. Yield: 16 servings.

Resources

1. Sugar measuring equivalents (Joy of Baking)
2. Convert measures of ingredients for cooking & more
3. "Quatre Quarts" Pound Cake (French Pound Cake)
4. Pound Cake Tips
5. Experimenting with Size: Miniature Pound Cake
6. Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake (Fine Cooking)