|Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013|
Choosing a first dish to share seems really important, so I thought I’d search the archives of my memory to remember what smells and flavors were most impressive from childhood. I was very fortunate to have grandparents on both sides of my family who could cook. I mean really cook. And cook well. Being from the South and very proud of my heritage, I’m happy to report that country cooking was a staple in our family. Maybe that’s why comfort food is a favorite for me, still today. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade biscuits, and fresh garden vegetables made their way to our table more often than not. To this day, I’d choose perfectly fried chicken over almost any food, but I am remiss to report that I haven’t mastered it well enough to share here just yet. It’s on my list of goals this year, which means that I’ll hopefully have a great recipe for no-fail fried chicken here by or before day 365.
Continuing down memory lane, I was always first in the dessert line after every dinner with my grandparents. I’d practically inhale my meal to have the chance to enjoy something sweet. Not much has changed, honestly; I still love dessert. My favorite desserts as a child included chocolate chess pie, pecan pie with ice cream, pound cake, and an interesting pie that my grandmother called “Poor Man’s Pie”. It was reminiscent of pecan pie, but it had oatmeal instead of nuts. I don’t have that recipe, but I’m determined to re-create it here before the year’s end. My great-grandmother used to make bread pudding with damson preserves, and my father says it was a family favorite. Although I never tried hers, the oral recipe was passed to me, and I’ll post it later too. For now, I think I’ll comfortably settle for a pound cake recipe.
I’m choosing pound cake first because, for the last year or two, I’ve tried a different pound cake recipe every week. That sounds absurd, I know, but I’ve been in search of the perfect pound cake for years. I finally bit the buttery bullet and started testing recipes. Finding a perfect one is not an easy task, but I can’t say it’s displeasing to test each one. If you’re like me (crazy, you ask?), you agree that the perfect pound cake, no matter the flavor, is rich, very moist, and incredibly dense. The exterior should be a little bit crunchy while the interior should reflect its abundance of butter and eggs. My grandmother’s pound cake was a good one, to be sure, but I don’t have that recipe and didn’t think to ask her for it until she was in her 90’s. At that point, she couldn’t remember the specifics and every attempt to recreate it was not quite right.
I’m sad to report that I haven’t found the best recipe yet, but I’ve definitely found some excellent ones. The one I’ll share here might be surprising because it uses a cake mix. Before you gasp and tsk! tsk! at me, allow me to explain. Last year, my aunt and I were talking about how much we love pound cake. She told me that she had a recipe with cake mix that was outstanding—rich, dense, moist…. the works. She shared it with me, and I was disappointed to learn that it wasn’t from scratch. Until I tried it. Then, I was a convert for that recipe. It’s easy, quick, and it turns out deliciously every time. Now, to be fair, I must admit that I did my fair share of tweaking her recipe to make it as delicious as I possibly could. I tried many different versions and ingredients. I even altered the brand and flavor of the cake mix to make it better. Using the exact cake mix and sour cream listed is crucial, by the way. Here is my altered, tweaked, and pretty darned perfected recipe for pound cake. If you don’t like using a mix, I’ll be sure to also post my second favorite pound cake—from scratch—as the second food entry.
In honor of my aunt who shared the original recipe, enjoy…
Sarah’s Simply Perfect Pound Cake
1 box Pillsbury WHITE cake mix (The box must say, “with a cup of pudding in the mix”.)
½ cup sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1-8 oz. container Breakstone sour cream (Don’t use light or nonfat—it doesn’t work as well)
¾ cup butter, softened to room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With an electric mixer, blend the butter, sugar, and sour cream until smooth and creamy. One at a time, add the eggs. Blend until wet ingredients are smooth and well incorporated. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Slowly add cake mix until mixture is nicely blended and smooth. Mixture will be thick.
Use shortening and/or cooking spray to thoroughly grease a bundt pan. Sprinkle sugar on the pan and move the pan around so that the sugar coats all of the greased surface. Greasing the pan well is essential.
Pour the cake batter in the bundt pan and smack the sides to get rid of any air bubbles. Also drop/tap the pan on the counter to evenly spread the batter throughout the pan.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Invert on cooling rack and let cool completely, uncovered.
Once cooled, the cake is delicious plain or with a hazelnut coffee glaze (see recipe above).
Optional pecan (or hazelnut) glaze:
1 tsp. instant coffee granules
1 cup of powdered sugar plus 1 tbs.
2 tbs. whole milk or half-and-half
½ cup toasted pecan or hazelnut halves
Pour sugar and coffee granules in bowl and add milk. Stir until mixture is a liquid that is slightly thick. (To test the thickness of the glaze, raise the spoon above the mixture after stirring. If the glaze that falls back into the bowl disappears in the mixture slowly and completely, it is the right thickness.) Add nuts and stir. Pour over cooled cake.