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Forget the Cookies! Bake a Cake!

So, in our last class, we investigated the relationship between fats which are solid at room temperature and their behaviors when combined with sugar and flour and baked. Everyone got that? Good. We will move on.

That was all in the service of science, of course (which is why the ‘o cookies’ disappeared like snow off a dike by Tuesday…). Today’s discussion is much more up my alley because frankly, Aunt Toby doesn’t like having to fuss with all of that. Any baked good that requires that level of diddling around with doesn’t get made at Chez Siberia very often (read that: the only time. If anyone lusts after homemade ‘o cookies’, they will have to make them). But, I digress.

At this point in the year, people have been fiddling around with cookie cutters, jimmies and egg wash for the past several weeks, tinning things up to give as gifts and so on. People have been eating decorated cookies since Thanksgiving and will continue to do so until they run out, which will probably be after New Years. If you have missed out on this ‘cookie steamroller’, good for you. If you want to give a gift that someone will thank you for in March, read on.

Forget the damn Santa cookies; make a pound cake and give THAT as a gift. Real from scratch (Sorry Ms ‘only from boxes and cans’ TV cooking person with the cakes made out of commercial store cakes) pound cake is not only heaven on earth; it is so damned useful as a base for desserts and goodies that having at least one in the freezer at any given moment is almost a requirement at Chez Siberia.

So, what can you do with a frozen pound cake?
Totally Obvious Dessert Solution #1: Slice the frozen cake up, plop a scoop of the best ice cream you can find with an appropriate sauce (home made of course but if you lack the time and dinner guests are in the driveway, when you scream into the phone, “so and so’s strawberry ice cream” you can also mention “so and so’s thus and such topping’ and a pint of heavy whipping cream).

Totally Obvious Dessert solution #2 (but only during the months when you can get local fruit): Take local fruit or berries, wash and slice up if they need slicing up, wash if they don’t, put into a small sauce pan with a teensy bit of water, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and heat slowly. Do not stir. When the fruit starts to release its juices, turn off. Serve with the aforementioned whipped up pint of heavy whipping cream which you will have added a teensy bit of vanilla or almond extract to and a tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar.

Less Totally Obvious Dessert Solution #1 (not for when there are sudden guests in the driveway unless you keep things in the fridge): Trifle. This is genius if you are good at making your own egg custards. Make up a recipe of lovely custard (the pan sort not the bake in the oven sort). Layer chunked up pound cake in a glass bowl (the visual is a big deal with this; don’t ask me why – it all ends up in the same place), with custard, fruit, cake, custard, fruit, etc. If you are feeding adults and are feeling generous, you can soak the fruit in a little brandy before you layer it in. If you have kids in the crowd…don’t.

Completely Obvious Secret When-you-need-something-sweet and nothing else is available
: Take a slice of pound cake and spread with any of the following if you have them in the fridge:
Good fruit-based (home made if possible) jam or preserves.
Dairy –based frostings or fillings (cream cheese, sour cream frosting, etc.)
Peanut or other nut butter if you are feeling virtuous; Nutella(tm) if you are not.

Cut in half, stick both halves together. Cake Sandwich.
At 10 p.m. at night with a cup of tea, this is heaven, I tell you…heaven.

Totally Fancy “How Did You Do That?” Dessert:
Slice up the cake. Layer 2-3 slices with jam, frosting, filling or whatever sort you desire. Cut the slices into sticks. All together now? Good. Get some sort of candy melt stuff. Good dipping chocolate from a restaurant supply, wedding cake supply or bakery supply house or even those wafers that you can get from chain craft stores. Melt according to directions and with the sticks on something like a rack over waxed paper, carefully spoon over the coating over the sticks. Voila! Extremely fancy homemade Petits Fours. Two of those on a plate with a cup of something will impress everyone.

So, there you go. Why wouldn’t anyone have at least one frozen homemade pound cake in their freezer? It’s almost un-American not to have one, right? So, do your patriotic duty. Make the recipe. You can be generous and give both away or hold onto one for yourself.

Pound Cake – this makes TWO loaves, so make sure you have two loaf pans to do it with.
(from the extremely grease-stained and written on pages of my cookbook – the original recipe is Fanny’s; the changes are mind)

2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 cup of vegetable shortening
2 cups of sugar
10-12 eggs (depending on size – the smaller number is for extra large)
4 cups of cake flour
1 tsp of baking powder
2 tsp of vanilla
1 cup of milk or other liquid (orange juice for example)

How to:
Preheat the oven to 325 and grease two bread loaf pans
Sift together 4 cups of cake flour and the baking powder
Beat up the butter until it is mushy and soft, then add the vegetable shorting to cream together.
Add the sugar a little bit at a time. Beat up. Then add the vanilla and beat that.
Add the eggs 2 at a time and beat after every addition. This is going to be ‘sloppy’ but not liquid-y.
Add the sifted flour/baking powder a half cup at a time, adding a little bit of liquid every single time. The last addition should be liquid.

This is where things get weird with pound cakes. This is NOT going to be coming off the beaters like a standard layer cake batter. This is heavy and thick. You should have a batter that almost doesn’t come off the beaters at all – it should come off in a fluffy clump. It is lighter than the density and texture of something like banana bread, but not by much. Fluffy but dense (we’re getting into the woods here in terms of this, but trust me on this one. You will definitely scrape the beaters to get this off).

Divide up the batter between the two pans. Don’t second guess yourself and think you have too much and need to throw the extra into a Pyrex™ bowl to bake it. Two loaf pans. That’s it.

Bake at 325 degrees F for at least an hour. It usually takes mine about an hour and 15-20 minutes. Depending on your altitude and so on, your mileage may vary. The top is going to crack (accept it). Make sure the centers are all done with the toothpick test. When firm and done, take the pans out and cool on a rack. When cool, THEN use a knife around the edge and take out. Let cool all the way, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Gift wrap if you are feeling virtuous and give away. Otherwise, stick in your own freezer (Mwa-ha-ha!)

Variations on a theme: chocolate pound cake

All else is the same except for the flour:
3 ½ cups of cake flour
½ cup of baking cocoa

That’s the only difference.

Happy holidays. Bon Appetit!

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