Yes, The University of Pastry Methods and Techniques (Mascot: Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man) is now offering another class. No more pussy footing about with Van Halen Pound Cake here and Sammy Hagar Pound Cake there. Oh, no–today, it’s The Whole Enchilada. So, sit back, pull up a seat and prepare to Take Notes. As usual, you can pick up your certification at the end of class.
Back in The Day (being the late-ish 1700’s), pound cake was made with a pound of each of four things: flour, eggs, sugar and butter. They shoulda called it a Four Pound Cake, but what do I know. I wasn’t there. At any rate, as you can imagine, this cake was dense (leavening? Where are you, leavening?), not terribly sweet (1:1 flour to sugar as opposed to modern pound cake at about 1:1.5 flour to sugar), and not terribly flavorful (salt? vanilla? Hello?) It was prolly a bit tough (a bunch of water in all those egg whites and no dairy to creamy it up a bit, not to mention whatever kind of Crunchy Colonial Flour they were using). Gee, sounds yummy, huh? Maybe not so much, but hey, the recipe was pretty easy to remember, right?
The good things about pound cake were that the crumb was fine (the Cup Half Full side of “dense”), it toasted and sliced well, and the recipe really was easy to remember. Most likely, some Renegade Colonial Bakers started tinkering with the basic recipe to lighten it up and just make it plain taste better. These changes weren’t necessarily written down, though. This I understand. I generally just fling things together, myself, so I can’t fault these Intrepid Bakers for just Going For It. At some point, someone decided to start writing down some changes. Good for them! And good for us, too. I shan’t be looking up all the baby steps that it took to get from Four Pounds O’ Stuff to Van Halen Pound Cake. Let’s assume that there were many, though, shall we? Sorry about my woggly columns; I am not Table Girl.
Original Recipe PMAT’s Modern Van Halen Recipe
Flour 16 oz. 13 oz. cake flour
Sugar 16 oz. 19 oz.
Eggs about 10 5
Butter 16 oz. 12 oz.
Milk huh? 8 oz.
Leavening huh? 1 teaspoon
Salt huh? 1 teaspoon, barely
Flavoring huh? 2 1/2 teaspoons
Take a look at these changes:
- Reducing the flour by 3 oz, or about 2/3-3/4 cup by volume, as well as using a low protein flour reduces change of too much gluten formation.
- Increasing the sugar by 3 oz, or about half a cup, not only makes the cake sweeter, but it also adds to the tenderness and brownability. Yup, I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.
- Cutting the number of eggs in half reduces the amount of water in the cake and allows for a thicker batter and less chance of gluten formation. And do we seriously need 10 eggs in a cake? The 5 yolks add plenty of richness and contain enough lecithin to keep the batter nicely emulsified.
- Someone decided that it was Necessary to reduce the butter by 4 oz (1 stick) because who needs a pound of butter in their cake? Don’t answer that. Plus, it further lightens things up.
- Adding the dairy keeps things from being too stodgy, allowing for better mixing and a more even rise. Plus, the lactose further sweetens things.
- To get a Serious Rise, you’d have to use 3 teaspoons of baking powder. With a pound cake, we want that nice, tight, velvety crumb, so 1 teaspoon is all it gets. Just enough to help the Creaming Method air bubbles expand a bit during baking.
- Salt and flavoring? Well, they just make the cake taste better.
Using this Pound Cake Formula, I’ve made Ye Olde (Newe?) Van Halen Pound Cake four or five times now, and I’ve not made it the same way twice. You can read about most of them on PMAT already, but the newest incarnation, and the one that I’m proudest of, I’ve been saving that one. Introducing The Creamsicle Pound Cake! Yes, it is so good that it deserves italics, bold and an exclamation point. Here’s how it goes:
- 13 oz. cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt, barely rounded
- 12 oz butter at cool room temperature
- 18 oz sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon Microplaned orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (2 oz) orange juice concentrate, thawed
- 1/4 cup (2 oz) half and half
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy whipping cream, lightly whipped
For the Citrus Soak (I just made that name up)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste. Don’t go crazy with the sugar, unless you reduce the amount in the cake by the same amount.
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup water
For The Glaze
- powdered sugar
- equal parts orange juice and half and half
- pinch of salt
- bit o’ vanilla
So that might look like a Ridiculous Lot of ingredients just for the cake alone, but look closely. It all sticks to the basic ratio for the PMAT Van Halen Pound Cake. Really. I’ll show you.
Okay, so we have flour, baking powder, salt, and butter. So far, so good.
There’s 1 fewer ounce of sugar than in the Master Recipe. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Cardamom and orange zest? I consider those flavoring agents, and I don’t include them in the formula. They’re present in such small amounts (volume and weight-wise, not taste-wise) that I don’t even worry about them.
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract=2 1/2 teaspoons, so we’re good there, too.
1/4 cup orange juice concentrate + 1/4 cup half and half + 1/2 cup heavy cream = 1 cup dairy/liquid + 1 ounce sugar. The sugar was hiding in the OJ concentrate. Sneaky sugar. I found this out by looking at the back of the can. It said that 2 oz. concentrate contained 24 g. sugar, and that’s almost an ounce, so there you have it.
And that’s really it. Use a modified creaming method, thusly**:
- Cream the butter until smooth and light, then
- cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light.
- Add salt, flavorings (cardamom, zest, extracts) and cream them until well combined
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating about 20 seconds between additions. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature. If you don’t, your mixture will get curdly looking. That’s because the butterfat hardens up (thanks, refrigerator temperature eggs) and won’t stay in emulsion with the water. Honestly, I forgot a few weeks ago, and it happened to me. It didn’t hurt the final cake, as far as I could tell, but it hurt my feelings. Plus, it just looked kind of gross. See:
- Whisk flour and baking together very, very well. Add half to the batter, barely mixing it in.
- Barely mix in the OJ concentrate and the half and half.
- Add the other half of the flour mixture in. Again, just barely bring it together.
- Whip the cream to very soft, slumpy peaks. Gently mix/fold into batter. Finish by folding everything just a few times to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated.
**Assume that there is plenty of bowl scraping going on between additions.
I bake this 1t 325F for an hour-ish in a 10-cup Bundt pan that I spray liberally with pan spray and then coat with a lot of flour. I go outside and knock the cake pan against the side of the porch to make sure there’s no extra flour lying around to gum up the works. You don’t have to go outside, but do make sure that you knock out the loose, excess flour.
It’s done when it’s just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan, when it’s golden, lovely and well-risen, and when a knife stabbed down in the middle of the cake comes out clean. I usually check at 50 minutes and then go another 10-15.
Let cool in the pan for thirty minutes. Turn it out on a cooling rack, and then put the pan right back on it and turn it over again so it’s back in its pan. Whisk together the soaking ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Pour it evenly all over the cake. I even pulled back the sides of the cake a bit–gently–so the soak could run down into the bottom of the pan, too.
The cake will seem Alarmingly Gooey. I called my mom for moral support, and she expected the worst. She’s a very nice lady, but she tends towards Glass Half Empty sometimes. She did say we could just serve it in a cup. How’s that for making lemonade from lemons? Go, Jane! To keep from fretting, do not mess with the cake At All until it has cooled down to room temperature. Go shopping, or carve a gourd or something.
When the cake has cooled down, turn it out onto a serving platter. If you turn it out onto a cake rack, the bottom might sink down between the Skinny Rails of the rack and then end up on the top of the stove when you use two large spatulas to move the cake from the rack to a platter. Don’t ask me how I know this. I Just Do.
Once the cake is completely cool, you can glaze it. I made my glaze by putting about 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl along with a pinch of salt. Then, like some kind of OCD Freak Girl, I added a few drops of OJ, and then a few drops of half and half. Then a few drops of OJ, and then a few drops of half and half. I whisked in between so I could check the Viscosity of the Glaze. I was going for thick pancake batter/icing just a bit too thin to spread. See:
When I was Almost There, I added a wee bit of vanilla, and then I was There.
Refrigerate until about an hour before serving. This cake should live in the fridge–the part that you’re not actively Putting Into Your Face, that is.
Okay, so now you can make whatever version of pound cake you want. Try it with all vanilla and all cream. Try it with almond. Use different spices. Consider using some lime aid concentrate and some coconut milk in place of the dairy. (I just thought of that–I’ma have to do that sometime, myself). Use sour cream in place of the milk/liquid. Make the creamsicle one and increase the concentrate to 1/2 cup (decrease the sugar by an extra ounce, of course). That’ll be my next variation. And maybe I’ll add some Grand Marnier or some Cointreau.
Take the basic formula–13 oz cake flour, 19 oz sugar, 12 oz butter, 5 eggs, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 barely rounded teaspoon salt and 2 1/2 teaspoons of flavoring–and make it your own. You could even try a chocolate pound cake. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me how they’d do it. And why. Okay, that’s it, then. Happy Halloween, everyone, and don’t forget your Pound Cake Prowess Certification.