Wednesday, May 29, 2013

cream cheese vanilla rum pound cake

It started with a sugee cake craving, that morphed into a prune lapis (Indonesian layered cake) longing that finally evolved into a raging desire for vanilla pound cake. This cake kept me up nights for a week, flipping through every baking book in my possession and every pound cake recipe good ole google laid at my feet, from Ina Garten's, to Martha Stewart's to Paula Deen's to Pichet Ong's. Why the anguish over a simple pound cake? Because in all my baking life, I've never been happy with the pound cakes I've made. They've always peaked and cracked horrifically and they've always been either on the dry or greasy side, never just right. And this time, I wanted my pound cake perfect. Plain but absolutely, non-negotiably, perfectly... perfect!




Bakers these days are straying from the classic 1:1:1:1 pound cake ratio, as in 1 pound each butter, flour, sugar and eggs in surprising and inspiring ways. Additions to the time honoured classic pound cake batter of the above proportions and ingredients, run the gamut from sour cream and yoghurt to heavy cream, cream cheese, condensed milk and even instant pudding. Baking powder and baking soda have also become commonplace ingredients in pound cake recipes, to the extent that many are unaware a true pound cake does not have any leavening apart from the air creamed (beaten) into the butter and sugar at the beginning of the process.



My newest version is no different. It has quite a few additions to the classic recipe though I didn't stray far from the traditional ratios and didn't include any chemical leavening. I've probably baked about a  hundred pound cakes by now, and I've always included either baking powder or soda, just in case. I couldn't bear the thought of a flat, sad, brick heavy cake and was never confident enough that my pound cake technique alone was good enough to lift such a dense cake without some help from the magic powder jar.

                                                                                                                                  
This is the first time I've given the baking powder a miss and I am ecstatic at the outcome.When it came out from the oven, I was surprised at how evenly the cake had risen and how minimal the cracking in the crust was.  I cut disbelievingly into the dense, buttery ring and was gobsmacked at how soft and moist it was, though it was undeniably firm textured, as a good pound cake should be. And oh, heavens! The rich, milky, buttery aroma, deeply punctuated with vanilla and rum almost made me swoon. 



The crust is a thing of beauty - not too thick, not too thin, intense both in flavour and aroma, tender, golden and an eloquent summation of the perfection that is this simple but sublime cake.  I always eat a slice of cake from the bottom up, saving the crust for last. I wish I could eat every bit of the crust from every cake I meet, and leave the rest for everyone else ;) This is doubly true for good sugee and pound cake. The beauty of a pound cake is you can eat it plain with coffee, tea or milk for a deliciously simple snack or doll it up with any syrup, glaze or frosting, toppings of whipped cream, custard, sauce and fruit or even grill a nice thick slab before adding any of the above for a truly decadent treat fit for a dinner party finale.



You probably have your own benchmark for your pefect pound cake, so I won't make any sweeping claims about mine. I will tell you what kills a pound cake for me; a badly cracked crust, a crust that separates or flakes off from the cake, a dramatically domed or peaked top, an eggy smell or flavour or an unrisen crumb with rubbery, damp and dark patches: textural hell. In local parlance, an unrisen and rubbery cake is known as "kueh bantat". It sounds awful and it tastes worse.  



Now what I LOVE in a pound cake; a dense but soft and moist, nicely risen crumb, a lightly crisped and golden crust that cools to a buttery, tender and not too thick skin which tastes and smells like a more intense version of the crumb, a soft squelcing sound when I gently prod the crust (this means it's mmmmmmmmmoist!) NO EGGY SMELL, a rich buttery flavour, clean slices that don't leave trails of crumbs and..... uh no, that's it really. No! Wait.... NO EGGY SMELL!!!!! This one's the deal breaker. I gag on cakes that smell or taste of egg. 

This here plain jane of a damned near pefect pound cake has ended my streak of sleepless nights. It magically managed to sidestep all the pitfalls and tick every right box for me. I've been having a slice every night, before bed. It's not what the doctor ordered, but ohhh.....the pound cake-fuelled dreams I've had ;)



cream cheese vanilla rum pound cake

prep 30 mins           cook 50 - 60 mins           makes 12 slices

200 g (1 1/3 cups) soft but cool butter (not melting)
150 g (1 cup) soft cream cheese
200 g (1 1/3 cups) fine grain sugar 
2/3 level tsp fine salt
4 tbsp full cream (full fat) milk powder

4 egg yolks
200 g (2 cups) plain or all purpose flour, sifted at least 3 times (use self raising flour for a less dense cake)
1 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract or paste (I used Nielsen Massey vanilla paste - no egg can stand up to it)
6 tbsp dark or Malibu rum (use milk, your favourite liqueur or citrus juice if preferred)
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar



Preheat oven at 140 C (285 F) and grease and flour a 23 cm (9 in) tube pan.

Combine butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt in bowl of standmixer and beat with paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth and well combined. Add milk powder and continue to beat on medium speed until mixture is very pale and fluffy. This will take at least 8 minutes.

Reduce speed slightly and beat in one egg yolk at a time, beating after each yolk until yolk is no longer visible before adding the next.

Turn off machine and scrape mixture down sides of bowl. Sift over a third of the flour and mix in on minimum speed, by turning the motor on and off until flour is no longer visible. Add the vanilla and rum (or preferred liquid) and mix in again by turning the machine on and off on minimum speed, until liquids are no longer visible.

Add the remaining flour in two lots (sifted over), using the same turn on/turn off method. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Do not overmix or you will develop the gluten in the flour and your cake may turn out heavy.

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in another clean and grease free deep mixing bowl and whisk until peaks form but egg whites are not dry or grainy. Fold a third of whites into batter and fold in with whisk. Add remaining whites and fold in until whites are no longer visible. Do not overmix or you will deflate the batter and your cake may not rise well.

Scrape batter into prepared tin and and tilt pan to level batter. Bang tin once sharply on work surface to dispel any large air bubbles. If you don't do this, your pound cake slices will look like Swiss cheese (see pictures). Bake at lower centre of oven for about an hour. Test with skewer after 45 minutes and if not done, again at 50 minutes. When skewer comes out clean (a few tiny crumbs sticking on the skewer is fine), remove from oven and leave cake for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. 

While cake is still very warm, but not too hot to handle, wrap in cling film and leave until cake is cold. Keep overnight before slicing. This softens the crust and makes the crumb more moist, which is how I like my pound cake. If preferred, cool unwrapped cake completely on rack then keep in a lidded container and eat within 5 days.


11 comments:

  1. this pound cake looks really good, I can imagine the vanilla fragrant, nice!

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    1. Hi Jess :) Thank you. It really is very moist and fragrant. Cannot tahan the smell - once kena sure must eat ;)

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  2. Wowwwwwwwww... Looks super soft.. Brilliant captures too.. love it :)

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    1. Hi Hari :) Thanks for the kind words.

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  3. This cake is a thing of beauty. Stunning colour.
    I kind of like a crack across my cake especially if it's a loaf.

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    1. Hi Usha :) Thank you LOL I think I'm blushing! The colour's from the gorgeous golden corn fed chicken egg yolks and the sunny coloured Irish butter I used. Yes, I agree - a subtle crack is attractive in a loaf, but when I look at my cake and all I can think of is the Grand Canyon.... it makes me want to do a re-bake!

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  4. Hi Denise, your photos look like pages from a cookbook! Oh... I have almost forgotten that you published your own cookbook! :D

    You are really good! Exactly how you had put it... Perfectly perfect!

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  5. im not even a pound cake fan but the way u described it makes me want to bake it right this moment! :)

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  6. The pound cake looks perfect. But your description of it has made me want it even more than the pics. You do sound ecstatic!

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  7. THIS.....I called, Denise's in search of the perfect pound cake..Lady Heston Blumenthal. LOL! If only I could crawl in my computer and grab a piece of your gorgeous looking pounder. And BTW, I'm a crust girl, too. The ymmiest part of the cake :-P

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  8. Nice to see you back Denise after your little burnout. It does happen. Until last year my husband and I had a blog about our passion for Greek and Egytian Archeology but after awhile it wore us out and we gave up. I salute your patience and continuation Denise. Good to know you caught up with a lot of things blogging kept you away from.
    Your pound cake looks perfect indeed and I'm salivating at its slight crustiness.The French have a kind of version of this but made with a pot of yoghurt instead of cream cheese. Fabulous post as usual Denise :) Take your time.
    Cheers!

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