Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Church Picnic Cake Walk

I volunteered to bake two cakes: the now-famous Chocolate Stout Cake and my grandmother's Almond Pound Cake. To help me get the cakes to church safely, yesterday ECG cut two pieces of plywood and sanded them down to make "cake transporters" that I lined with tinfoil. Driving to church today meant taking every turn and gear change at the pace of a slug on ludes.

They made it!

And people walked, hoping to win one of the many lovely cakes. Whose lucky number will get called?

A huge moth, the size of a hummingbird, flew through the crowd, providing a fascinating distraction from the sugar for just a moment.

Folks couldn't stay focused on the moth for too long; as people began to win, joyful applause erupted from the group. My cakes were chosen quickly and I have to admit that I felt a twinge seeing them go. It's the Third Law of Home-Economics: When one knows how good a baked-good tastes, it is very hard for one to let go of that good-tasting-baked-good. Happily for me, the winner of the Chocolate Stout Cake decided to share her loot with everyone.

Everyone except for him.

My Grandmother's Almond Pound Cake
I've already posted the recipe for the amazing Chocolate Stout Cake (do make it, and do double the frosting recipe--you will not regret it), but I also wanted to include the recipe for my grandmother's pound cake. This was her most-requested recipe, and if you make it, you'll see why. With the help of a good mixer, this is a cake walk to make, and it is everything a good pound cake should be: moist, rich, fine-crumbed, and incredibly fragrant. In addition, it is lovely with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and can be dressed up with a dark chocolate sauce or piled high with perfectly ripe fruit. Moreover, if one just can't bring oneself to eat it all in a week or so, it can be cut in half, wrapped well, and frozen to brighten up another, otherwise pound-cake-free day. I don't know if my grandmother ever made it for any cake walks, but if she did, I'm sure this cake was picked up mighty quickly. It's a winner.

You will need:
1 pound of unsalted butter, at room temperature*
1 pound of powdered sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature*
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

*It is imperative that these ingredients be at room temperature for the batter to come together smoothly enough to beat in the air necessary to keep the cake light and beautiful. If the ingredients are too cold, it is much harder to emulsify the fat, and therefore the cake might end up being a brick. If you're short on time, warm up the eggs and butter by setting them in warm water for a few minutes before preparing the recipe.

To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour your favorite bundt pan.

Place the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of your mixer and begin stirring on a low speed so the powdered sugar doesn't fly all over the place. (Believe me, if you start too strong, you'll have powdered sugar everywhere. I know from experience--you should have seen the snowy state of my kitchen counters yesterday.) Once the sugar and butter have begin to come together, turn the speed up to high and beat the mixture until very pale and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to make sure the butter and sugar have mixed evenly.

Add eggs one at a time, beating after each until the mixture is fluffy again. Once again, use your spatula to scrape down the sides as needed so that each egg is evenly beaten into the mixture. After each egg has be incorporated, add the salt and almond extract and beat well. (In my grandmother's handwritten recipe, the phrase "beat well" shows up four times, each time anything is added to the batter. I think she was very serious about beating this batter well.) The batter should still be fluffy.

All at one time, add the flour and beat just until the ingredients are completely combined with each other. Use the spatula to scoop and push the batter into the bundt pan. Smooth the top of the batter with your spatula then place the pan in the preheated oven. Bake for at least an hour and fifteen minutes (and up to an hour and thirty minutes), or until the top is a crisp, golden brown and the edges are just beginning to pull from the sides of the pan.

Let the cake cool in the pan for at least twenty minutes before you try to remove it from the pan. Use mitts or silicon gloves to help you if you still find the pan hot. To remove the cake, place the serving plate or platter upside down on top of the cake pan, place one hand on top of the platter and another under the cake and invert the whole kit and kaboodle. The cake should release itself on to the serving platter.

After an hour, the cake should be completely cooled and ready to serve, sliced however thickly or thinly you prefer. Enjoy!


The Passionate Palate said...

It is absolutely amazing that you could get those cakes to the church in perfect condition - especially given So. Cal. traffic conditions! They look picture perfect, professional and impressive. The almond cake sounds dreamy to me.

Lucy said...

Glad that the winner was a generous one. Here's some crazy kismet for you - I was in the middle of writing a post about my grandmother's recipe book just as I took a break (with slice of cake...spooky...) to read your post. Great cakes.

Rowena said...

Oh my! I've been craving a deep, dark chocolate dessert such as your wonderful Stout Cake (never heard of one incorporating beer!) and will definitely give this a try for those late midnight snacks. Hehe...I'd hate to see my baked goods go too but how nice that the recipient decided to share!

winedeb said...

Grandma's cakes...there is nothing like them. I have my grandma's pound cake recipe, which when baked I think weighs a lot more than a pound, that I love to make in the spring when the first strawberries are picked. Not only is the cake marvelous, but the memories of seeing her make it are...priceless!

Wendy said...

Gorgeous looking cakes! I'm impressed. And, unsurprisingly, I love the dog picture. :)

Susan in Italy said...

I think I hooked onto your blog around St. Patrick's day when you posted a decidedly more delicious Guinness cake than the strange one I produced for that holiday. I'll have to try the pound cake as well.

Christina said...

The Passionate Palate: I couldn't believe my luck either. Thanks for the compliments--try baking the almond cake as it really is delicious. One of my favorite things about it is that it sometimes rises just above the edge of the bundt pan, so I get to slice that edge off so that it will lie flat when I flip it over. One of the perks of cooking is the scrumptious scraps, after all!

Lucy: I do declare, you and I seem to be in each other's heads every once in a while! I can't wait to read the post about your grandmother's recipe book: you've piqued my curiosity.

Rowena: Make it. You will not, not, not be disappointed. A man came up to me at the picnic yesterday and told me it was the best chocolate cake he'd tasted in his life, and he'd had 77 years of experience by which to judge chocolate cake.

Winedeb: I don't remember much else of my grandmother's cooking, but this is referred to as her masterpiece. I'd love to see your grandmother's pound cake recipe come springtime, so I can compare. Mine ways more than a pound too--I think the name comes from the pound of butter, pound of sugar, pound of eggs, etc.

Wendy: You know I thought of you when I posted the dog picture. I might not have even included it if I wasn't certain you'd see it. I loved the flipped up ear and thought I'd have to share it with you too.

Susan in Italy: You're right! I think that was when I received my first comment from you. I think you'll like the almond cake too. It is much simpler to make than the chocolate cake and it just smells so very, very good. It's good to see you back from vacation and I look forward to all sorts of posts about your adventures.

Anonymous said...

Trying to transport your cakes to church safely reminds me of "The Ace of Cakes" on the food network..haha Glad it all worked out :)

Rowena said...

Regarding your comment on the jaw harp...3 days in the car with your brother? Yikes! I'm glad you survived to tell the tale. ;-)

Wendy said...

I'm honoured! :)

Shaun said...

Christina - I love almonds in everything. Thank you kindly for your grandmother's almond pound cake recipe. I'm going to try it, but I might substitute one cup of flour for almond flour (simply made of finely ground almonds).

Christina said...

Maryann: That thought went through my head too, but they usually have dowels that make the cakes sturdy--I didn't have such a trick. I was so happy that they didn't go splat.

Shaun: Let me know how it works with almond flour. The cake is tender and silky-crumbed now, so I'm fascinated to see what the texture does with the nuts. I hope it turns out beautifully for you!

Truffle said...

You are quite the baker! These look fabulous. The chocolate one has my name all over it!

Lucy said...

The cake is wonderful Christina; we had it over the weekend and will be freezing in slices as you suggest.

Thanks, to both you and your grandmother.

KPB said...

I am intrigued by the pound cake idea. I haven't made one since I was a teenager and it was indeed a brick. Clearly I hadn't beaten well enough and got enough air into it.

I had heard you're meant to put a pound cake into a cold oven but can't remember why.

I will definitely be trying this one. Although I need a US-AUS translation of powdered sugar - do you know if that is what we call caster sugar or icing sugar?

KPB said...

Oh - and did you make it using a paddle attachment in your mixer or a whisk attachment?

Christina said...

Truffle: Do try the chocolate stout cake. You won't be disappointed.

Lucy: Hooray! Success! I'm glad that the recipe worked well for you.

Kim: Powdered sugar is icing sugar. And, I used the paddle attachment and it turned out perfectly. I think it ends up too thick for the whisk--that's a great question though, and one I should have addressed in the post. I hope the cake turns out well for you.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.

Anonymous said...

Your grandmother's almond pound cake sounds delicious. I'll give the recipe a try. Question - I live in London England now and I want to have a cake walk at our church's summer fete (summer garden party), but I don't remember how it works. Is it like musical chairs without the chairs and they walk around some numbers marked in squares on the ground?

Thanks! Susie