in truth i have had a frustrating day in the office. i feel like i got nothing done and my frustration was inevitably enhanced by the fact that everyone else had the good sense to take the tuesday after the long weekend off. blegh!
so i’ve brought myself home and in an effort to soothe my frazzled state i have pulled out my recipe book to bake my old favourite the buttermilk pound loaf.
i grew up being a tea drinker and not being too keen on icing (more to follow on that soon). for me there is nothing better than a moist, not-too-sweet pound cake and a cup of tea. bliss.
so in short i was very excited to find this wonderful recipe in the hummingbird bakery cookbook which i received as a gift from my sister-in-law a couple of years ago.
pound cake is simple to bake. beat sugar and butter, add eggs one at a time and then add wet and dry ingredients. not much rocket science here so i’m not going to get into the details. i do have the following pointers though.
dammit i forgot to pull out the butter!
i don’t know about you but i keep forgetting to do this. add to that the fact that i am hopelessly impatient i have had to find a way around this obstacle. so what i do is i measure out the amount of butter that i need and then cut up the butter into slices about 0.5 to 1cm in thickness.
don’t you just love this handy scale! anyhooo once the butter is cut up i lay it evenly across the bottom of the bowl before defrosting in the microwave. now the way to do this is just like when you melt chocolate in the microwave. take it out every now and then and give it a mix. you don’t want to expose the butter to so much heat that you start making ghee (clarified butter). in truth today i let it go for longer than i should have and melted the butter too much but i was able to salvage it by whisking it back together.
the butter looks like butter that was left out on a warm day. if you had oily rivulets that wouldn’t blend back in with the rest of the butter i would say get some more butter and use what you have to grease baking pans or for cooking.
buttermilk comes in 500ml cartons and i always seem to waste it since its very rare that i bake two buttermilk recipes in a week. i do however usually stock yogurt so i made a quick substitution by mixing some yogurt and milk till i hit the 120ml volume requirement. i was using double thick yogurt which is much thicker than the consistency of buttermilk so i used the milk to loosen it up a little. for this recipe you can’t substitute just milk since the recipe uses baking soda as a rising agent. baking soda reacts with the acids in the buttermilk or yogurt, acids which are not present in milk. if your only option is milk then you will have to use normal baking powder but keep in mind that baking soda is normally four times stronger than baking powder so you will need to up the quantity you add. half a teaspoon times four is 2 teaspoons which seems about right to me. you may have to experiment there.
sugar to taste
do not be afraid to adjust sugar quantities. sugar…like salt is a flavourant. you can decrease or increase by degrees. this recipe calls for 330g of castor sugar. i usually use just under 300g. i don’t think it’s possible to half the sugar but to be honest i haven’t tried yet. if i do i’ll let you know. baking is all about balance and in general if you take away you have to add to counter the affect. there are however many recipes where i add less sugar and am happy with the results.
i am a complete paranoid android when it comes to eggs. all it took was one unforgettable heart-breaking day when i cracked a bad egg into my butter and sugar mix and i was scarred for life. since then i always crack eggs into a separate bowl and give it a sniff before adding it to the batter. added bonus of this method is that it’s easier to pick up (and see) any pieces of shell that may find their way into the bowl.
use good salt
because you are baking with unsalted butter (ideally) you will need to add salt. for most of my baking career this has meant adding a pinch of normal iodated table salt. in the last couple of months we have been buying pink himalayan salt that the husband grinds to a fine powder. i find that this salt tastes much much better in cakes. try it.
the result of all these pointers is a batter that has a mousse-like texture.
popped it into the oven for 50 odd minutes (the recipe says 45 minutes but i’ve baked this enough times to know that more time is needed). i cleaned the kitchen (like a good girl) and sat down to write this. just over a minute left on the timer and there is a delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen.
i have achieved a nice even golden brown. the crust on this cake is crunchy with a nice moist sponge on the inside. for this reason you don’t want to pull it out of the oven if it still looks pale. having said this don’t bake it till its dry.
lessons learnt: pay attention when you’re defrosting butter.
note on this post: this is my third blog post. both of my previous posts where on recipes that i hadn’t tackled before so there was an element of adventure in them. i have to say that the act of stopping to plan and take photos for the sake of the post took away from the calming effect that baking this old favourite usually has on me. additional lesson learnt: when you need to just take in the moment you don’t need your camera.