When I am feeling strange and out-of-sorts, I like to bake. Who doesn't, you ask? I don't know. To me, baking is one of the best ways to soothe an uneasy heart and a jumpy mind. There's the gathering of the ingredients: the smooth, cool eggs, the stodgy packets of flour, the slab of butter, the pouring of thick buttermilk, perhaps, or milk. Maybe you're chopping up chocolate, focusing on the cutting board, taking care with the sharp knife, watching the shards of chocolate spray out. Or you're putting together your mixer, beaters sliding into their grooves with a satisfying snap. Out come the bowls, one - two - three, the clean measuring spoons, so full of shiny promise. You stop thinking about the end of the world or your ragged cuticles or your looming taxes or human misery. You can only focus on what's in front of you: the recipe, the equipment, the counter.
And the results are almost beside the point.
It's not the cake I crave, or the cookies, or the loaf of bread. It's the rhythm and the music of busying myself in the kitchen, of scraping batter into a prepared pan and washing a sink of dishes while whatever's in the oven starts to smell very good. It's the warmth of a hot oven and sitting in the living room reading while the apartment tightens around me, holding me safe in its cocoon. It's the feeling of having accomplished something, even if it's as small as a little loaf cake. Something other than worrying and fidgeting and generally allowing unease, like poison, into my mind.
So it's rather inconvenient when the cake I start to bake with every intention of either giving away or just ignoring turns out to be so delicious that I can't stop myself from slicing off a sliver every time I pass it. Silly cake, I think to myself. Your creation was supposed to be enough! And now it's got me contemplating cake for breakfast, which - if you know me - is rather out-of-character indeed.
The cake in question, as slim and simple as a shift dress, is a pound cake from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert. (Has that woman ever written a bad recipe?) But it's a pound cake with a sly little twist: a measure of golden, rich Kamut flour poured in alongside the regular flour, which produces an exceptionally buttery pound cake that almost glows. Most intriguing, however, is Medrich's pound cake method: Instead of tediously creaming together butter and sugar, and then moving forward with the rest, it has you fill a bowl with dry ingredients and then dump in the cubed butter and half of the liquid ingredients at once. This you beat for exactly 60 seconds. Then you add a quarter of the remaining liquid and beat for exactly 20 seconds. You finish with the addition of the final bit of liquid and another 20-second beating, which leaves you with a silken batter ready to put poured into a tin and baked.
Fastest pound cake ever.
It's actually a little disconcerting, especially if you planned on being leisurely in the kitchen. Well, that, and realizing just how easily you could be whipping up Kamut pound cakes at a moment's notice whenever your little aching heart desired.
And as is that wasn't enough, this pound cake bakes up into the most beautiful golden loaf. It's a work of art if you're into rustic, homey desserts (give me a slab of this over foam any day!) and would be a killer gift if you had a housewarming to go to or a dinner party. It keeps well for several days - we had it out on our counter loosely draped with parchment paper for two days and it was fine, even improving with the rest - and if wrapped tightly in plastic would stay fresh for longer.
Right after cooling, a slab sliced off the loaf is gorgeously damp and very rich. Almost too much so. But if you leave it out overnight, the loaf sort of sturdies up and reabsorbs the butter (or something) and what you get the next day are absolutely perfect slices of pound cake, sturdy but still light, fragrant but not too sweet, just as perfect eaten out of hand over the kitchen counter as they would be plated and topped with sugared berries for a pretty dessert. The crumb is super-velvety but if you pay very close attention while you let each bite melt in your mouth, you'll possibly taste the faintest shimmer of texture, almost graininess. It's lovely. Bewitching. I'm obsessed.
In fact, after I kept finding myself sneaking back into the kitchen and cutting off slice after slice, I forced myself to wrap the cake up and put her in the freezer. There was much protestation from the other member of this household who happens to have the metabolism of a 14-year old boy. Lucky him! This lady has a wedding dress to fit into this summer.
All of this to say, really, that I'm going to have look somewhere else for a long, meditative baking recipe to distract me from the rest of the world. But in the meantime, I discovered my holy grail pound cake and that was an unexpected gift.
Kamut Pound Cake
Makes 1 loaf serving 8 to 10
3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (3.5 ounces) sifted (before measuring) cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1.75 ounces) whole-grain kamut flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons (6.5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350º F. Line the loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, eggs and vanilla to combine.
3. Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl; if any bran is left in the sifter, add it to the mixture. Cut the butter into chunks and add it the flour mixture, then pour in half of the egg mixture. Beat on low speed with a hand-held mixer just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to high and beat for 1 minute only. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
4. Add half of the remaining egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the bowl. Add the rest of the egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds.
5. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the surface. Bake until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. 55 to 65 minutes. (If the cake is browning too quickly, cover the loaf loosely with foil after 30 minutes.) Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then remove loaf from the pan and cool completely on the rack.