Sunday, June 13, 2010

Best-Ever (Bakewise) Pound Cake & The Science of Baking

I taught a 4-week, 40-hour course in January called The Art & Science of Baking.  We used Shirley Corriher's book Bakewise for a textbook.  Shirley is a frequent guest on Alton Brown's show Good Eats.  She's a chemist, and explains the science behind the baking. If you want to develop your own recipes, this is a must-read book.  She explains how to check the math of a given recipe and the important differences between baking powder and baking soda, natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder, and so much more.  One of the most surprising things I learned - so many cake recipes are way over-leavened!!

Shirley examines pound cake early on in her book, and takes you through her process of developing the perfect recipe.  Make this cake immediately, and as you taste the moist buttery cake with just a slight hint of almond (perhaps unidentifiable to some, but you'll taste something a little different), with a dense (but not heavy) crumb, you'll see how successful she was.  The whipped cream is not a typical ingredient in pound cake, but after you make this cake, it might become a regular in all your cake recipes.  It adds moisture, and of course enriches the flavor of the cake; whipping air into the cream lightens the texture of the cake.  Replacing some of the fat (i.e. butter) with oil also adds moisture to the cake; oil is better at greasing the flour proteins than are butter or shortening, so less gluten forms.

Full-disclosure, I did adapt Shirley's recipe slightly.  Potato starch isn't readily available at my grocery store, so I stuck with flour; Shirley says the potato starch adds moisture to the cake, and that the large granules make the texture a little less tight than the average pound cake. I believe her, but my version of the cake is still extremely moist, and the texture is not as dense and tight as your everyday pound cake.  I also didn't add her optional cream glaze or pound cake icing. I didn't miss them. 

Other things to note:  don't make this cake in a loaf pan, it won't work.  The abundance of butter and sugar in this cake make the cake perfectly moist and sweet, but don't contribute enough protein structure for the cake to dome in a loaf pan.  Using a tube pan or Bundt pan insures that the cake remains fully in the pan; in a loaf pan, we would want the cake to dome nicely above the pan, but without the sides of the pan to climb, the cake needs sufficient protein structure to reach that high.  Also, if the cake sinks slightly on top, it's not noticeable with these pans, since you invert the cake before serving anyway.

Oh, and I'm not sure she mentions this, but this cake improves after baking, so try not to eat it all the first, or even second day.  It's still moist on day 3, and the butter flavor is even more pronounced (I haven't figured out why yet!).

The Best-Ever Pound Cake - Seriously (adapted from Shirley Corriher)
Makes 1 12-cup Bundt cake, 1 10" tube pan cake, or 1 10-cup Bundt cake & 4 mini-Bundts.

Just under 3 cups all purpose flour (3 cups - 4 teaspoons, or 13.3 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (6 ounces or 12 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (trans-fat free)
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract*
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large egg yolks
5 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Powdered sugar, for dusting

*Don't let a lack of almond extract keep you from making this cake. I think the almond extract is definitely responsible for part of this cake's greatness, but it'll still beat out your average cake if you replace the almond extract with more vanilla.

Spray a 12 cup Bundt pan or 10" tube pan generously with baking spray (with flour).  I used a 10-cup Bundt pan, and made 4 mini-Bundts as well.  Preheat the oven to 350F**.  Chill a medium bowl and the beaters of a hand mixer for use in a few minutes (if your kitchen isn't too hot, you will probably be ok if you skip this step, but Shirley might diagree).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until completely blended.

Beat the butter on medium speed to soften.  Add the shortening, and beat until light and pale in color, about 3 minutes.  Add the sugar, and beat a few more minutes until very light; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl if you're not using a Beater Blade.  You want the mixture to stay cold.  If it's a very hot day, you may want to place the bowl in the fridge or freezer if it gets too warm.

Beat in the extracts.

Beat in the oil, a little at a time, until fully incorporated.

On the lowest speed, add the yolks and eggs, one at a time.

On the lowest speed, add the dry ingredient mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk.

Take the bowl and beaters from the fridge, and whip the heavy cream to soft peaks.  Whip another 30-seconds or so, just past soft peaks.  Stir in about a quarter of the cream to the batter to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the pan on the counter from a height of 4 inches to knock out the air bubbles.  Smooth the batter with a rubber spatula.  Bake the cake for about one hour (could be a little longer, 60-70 mins) until a toothpick in the center of the cake just comes out clean.  It shouldn't start to pull away from the sides of the pan until it has just come out of the oven.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a rack; invert the cake onto a serving platter to finish cooling. 

Dust with powdered sugar immediately before serving.  Enjoy!  But try to save some for a day or two from now, it'll taste even better (see notes above).

(Shirley includes a cream glaze and a pound cake icing, but I really don't think the cake needs it.  If you disagree, heat 1/3 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup in a pan over medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Brush and rebrush over the warm cake until the glaze is absorbed.)

**Shirley recommends baking cakes on a pizza stone. The stone absorbs and retains heat, and protects your cake from the sometimes significant temperature swings that can be caused by opening and closing the oven door.  I didn't use the pizza stone, but made sure the oven was preheated for a half hour before baking, and was careful not to open the oven door often or for very long.

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  1. I am going to have to try this since it is the best ever. I love baking pound cakes. I'll try it on the pizza stone and see how it goes.

  2. This pound cake looks really moist!! YUM!! I love pound cake!

    Would you mind checking out my blog? :D

  3. I made this cake yesterday and it was wonderful. I will add this my recipes. I, too, watch Alton Brown and have seen the science lady on there. After reading the blogs, I think I'm going to order her first book, Cookwise. I am a savory cook and would like to cross over into baking goods. Thank you!!!