In my last post, Mother’s Milk, I attempted the very first recipe in the classic The Cake Bible: The Mother Of All Cakes, The Pound Cake. Even though I’ve baked enough cakes to stock a bakery or ten, I felt like I’d be a fraud if I couldn’t muster the master cake; the cake from which all other cake recipes are derived.
After following the recipe and its copious notations and suggestions, I ended up with a dry, flavorless, although very pretty little cake. I’ve always loved plain, so as a kid, I thought Sara Lee Pound Cake was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. No German Chocolate, fruit filled, double-decker anything for me; a simple, unadorned slice of that dense, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth Plain Jane was the only dessert I needed.
Yeah, well, this cake? Nothing like that! It didn’t even have enough flavor to be considered plain. So, I made it again. This time though, I threw out my baking powder and started with fresh. I also invested in the Baker’s Joy Spray Rose Levy Beranbaum recomended. I tried the more traditional loaf pan over the fluted one I’d used on the flavorless cake. I even invested in a new oven thermometer!
I also soaked a vanilla bean in the 3 tablespoons of warm milk, let it cool to room temperature and scaped out the soft center. Then I followed the recipe to the letter, again, and this time, the cake was…better. A little more moist, a little more flavorful, but nothing like the way I remember my Sara Lee.
So, what’s going on here? Am I a failure as a baker, or just a great success as a nostalgist? My memories of food are often stronger than my memories of my childhood friends. And when I do have strong memories of my freinds, they are usually sitting around the kitchen table watching Dad make “homemade pizza” straight out of a Chef Boyardee box, or Linda Seather and I twirling the Lazy Susan her Norwegain mother laid out for us filled with meats and cheeses. Or perhaps my favorite, watching my friend Maggie’s dad make homeade pasta with photographers from Gourmet Magazine shooting the whole scene. And the sweets I ate and drank as a child… the Kissy Cookies, Green Rivers, Bunn Bars, Nibs, Baskin Robbins Ice Ccream were they sweeter then? I think I want to relive my childhood and eat it, too!
I’ve vowed to make this Pound Cake till it tastes like POUND CAKE. Any suggestions you have to improve it would be greatly appreciated. One insightful Shawnologue reader suggested I just try another recipe, but I can’t let it go. That’d be like turning my back on all the flavors of my youth. I can get those back, can’t I?
Vampire Weekend - Diane Young