Among the many happy things that led me astray were Felix’s birthday, which involved a brunch party for none other than the hurricane boys (see my posting on shrimp, chicken and andouille gumbo for details.) It turns out that the “hurrication” and Felix’s birthday were perfect bookends for freshman year; so, not only were we able to catch up and reflect on a stellar first year of college, the Griffin even showed up to wish Felix many happy returns! Worth a little blogging lapse, I’d say.
Somehow or other, amidst all of my racing around, I have had occasion to reflect upon the year since Felix left for school, and some of the revelations I’ve stumbled into since he left. I’ve also done a little baking. Perhaps it’s the lessening of the sheer volume of food that gets dispatched around here without him, or my trip to the Low Country, or even just a little time to reflect, but in any event, I was reminded that in cooking, as in life, sometimes the simplest, most seemingly basic things can be the most exquisite and elegant.
Surely pound cake falls into this category. Often overlooked and inevitably undervalued (if you ask me) pound cake can really end a complex meal on a high note, providing clarity and depth. At other moments, a slice of pound cake can form a simple, intense moment of repose in an otherwise frenetic day.
This incredible recipe of Mark Bittman’s, which appeared in the New York Times in 2010, is absurdly easy, being made almost exclusively in the food processor. The picture doesn’t do it justice, of course, but that’s sort of the point.
Suffice it to say, this is a marvelous pound cake. It may not create a big bang, like hanging with the Griffin, but it is the culinary equivalent of that other intense moment that happens in college when you’ve spent all afternoon immersed in your books, and you look up, only to realize that quietly and without even noticing, you’ve stumbled onto something that matters.
As Keats wrote in ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. “
Simple and to the point.
Citrus-Almond Pound cake
10 to 12 servings
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for pan
Flour for pan
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 7-ounce tube almond paste
7 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-cup Bundt pan. Put lemon juice, orange juice and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan over low heat; cook until the sugar dissolves and remove from heat.
Put almond paste and remaining 2 cups sugar in food processor and process until well combined; add butter and continue processing until light and fluffy. With the machine running, add eggs one at a time along with zest and vanilla, and continue to process until smooth.
Stop the machine, add the flour, baking powder and salt, and pulse a few times–just until the dry ingredients are integrated(be careful not to over process, or the cake will become tough). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. When a skewer or thin-bladed knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and let cool slightly.
Pour the citrus soak over the cake and let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and the cake released from the pan easily. Cut into slices.
–Mark Bittman in The New York Times, August 25, 2010