Tag Archives: cake

BROWN SUGAR POUNDCAKE

I’m asking my students to answer an amended version of the Proust Questionnaire this week.  And I swear I can hear their brains working as they write.

brown sugar poundcake side view

Used by Vanity Fair magazine since 1993 as a “back page” feature, the Proust Questionnaire is so named because the famous French author believed that answering this set of questions revealed one’s true nature.

My eighth graders are at a particularly pointed place in their development and understanding of themselves; not kids anymore but not quite adults, they strain against the limits of what they know and what they want, what they are allowed to have versus what they feel, deeply.  Everything is changing for them all of the time, and there’s little they can control.

Hence the questionnaire.  This deep and difficult set of questions forces the respondent to become very clear about who they are and what they want.  While it seems like it should be easy—I should be an expert on the topic of myself, right?—for me and my students, these questions have forced us to think about who we are and who we want to be.

In answering these questions along with my kids, I’m disturbed a bit by how easy it is to forget that there is no one fixed way for me, Nishta Jaya Mehra, to be in the world.  I act as if “this is how I am” but my being wasn’t set by my birth; it’s constantly in flux, and I am in the one in control of that, even though it often feels like the circumstances are.

At once empowering and totally scary, this week in my class we are taking on the idea that we get to say who we are.  We get to change ourselves, experiment with our expression, make mistakes and clean them up.  We put ourselves out there in the world and hope for the best.

If the best hasn’t come your way this week, might I suggest a poundcake?  Because while who I am is changing all of the time, my love for butter will never, ever die.

butter makes it better

BROWN-SUGAR POUNDCAKE

This recipe makes a LOT of batter; it filled not only my mom’s big ole bundt pan but also a few little mini-loaf pans on the side.  I’ll be you could halve this pretty easily, but the thing is—this cake is delicious.  You could freeze it, give it away, or just, you know, eat it.  I think it would be especially darling baked into wee little cupcakes or muffins!)

I made a very simple glaze of powdered sugar, milk, & vanilla, but the recipe came with a fancier glaze idea, which I’ve included below.  Haven’t tried it yet, so please let me know if ya’ll do.

ingredients: brown sugar pound cake top view

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 one-pound box dark brown sugar (about 2 ¾ cups)
½ cup white sugar
5 eggs

oven: 325°
pan: original recipe calls for greasing & flouring a 10-inch tube pan or two 9 X 5-inch loaf pans, but I’m skeptical that all of this batter would fit into those configurations.  I recommend having some extra pans on hand!

Whisk the dry ingredients with a fork.  Combine the vanilla & milk in a separate bowl & set aside.

Beat the butter on its own until light and fluffy.  Add the brown sugar in three batches, then the white sugar all at once.  Scrape down the bowl & continue to beat well, adding the eggs one at a time.

You know what’s coming!  Alternately add the dry mixture (flour, etc.) and the wet ingredients (milk & vanilla) in several batches, starting & ending with the dry.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake.  Time will vary widely depending on the shape/size of your pans.  Cupcakes/muffins will take between 25-30 minutes, the loaf pans, 45-50.  My bundt baked for over an hour, until the cake tester revealed nice, moist crumbs on the inside.

Cool the cakes on a wire rack, giving larger cakes a generous amount of time.  Turn the cakes out and eat/glaze/wrap up.

QUICK CARAMEL GLAZE

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup light-brown sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the evaporated milk and let the icing come to a gentle boil.  Stir well.

Remove from heat, then add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla.  Beat well, by hand or with a mixer, for a few minutes until the glaze thickens and looses some sheen.

Pour immediately over the cake or the glaze will harden.

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BLACKBERRY UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

I am a sucker for road-side produce.  You know, you’re driving along (especially this time of year), and suddenly you see a spray-painted piece of particle board, declaring “FRESH PICKED CORN” or “STRAWBERRIES” or “OKRA.”

blackberries in a bowl

Or, you know, “BLACKBERRIES.”  When I drove to San Antonio from Houston a few weeks ago, to visit my dear friend Arianne (of key-lime-pie loving fame), I stopped about 45 minutes outside of town to buy some insanely good peaches and these ripe, Rubenesque blackberries.

What I love about this cake is the way that it works equally well for dessert as it does for breakfast. Throw it in the oven at the start of dinner, and it will be warm and ready to serve by the time your meal is finished. Bake it Sunday night, set it next to the office coffee pot, and endear yourself to all of your coworkers on an otherwise grumpy Monday morning. It would also make a lovely housewarming gift, hey-you-just-had-a-baby offering, or potluck contribution.

Frankly, I think this cake is the main reason my friend John puts up with our old, incontinent dog for whom he and his wife Courtney (an important BJG taste-tester/inspiration/dish-washer) often dog-sit.  It may actually be the only reason he puts up with me, come to think of it.

The finished cake will keep, wrapped well in saran wrap & foil and refrigerated, for about a week.  But if John is any indication, there’s no way it’s going to last half that long.

blackberry upside-down cake

Special equipment & ingredients:

• A kitchen mixer is most helpful but not required—if you do try it by hand, make certain your butter is extra soft.
Parchment paper is one of the greatest inventions known to man, and well worth the $2.50 investment. Find it on the same aisle as Saran Wrap.
• If you grew up in the south like me, you are already familiar with the wonders buttermilk can do in pancakes, biscuits, waffles, & cornbread.  If you’ve never cooked with buttermilk before, I urge you to try it this time–a small bottle will run you less than $1.  If you must substitute, stir a bit of lemon juice into some regular milk & let it sit for a few minutes before using.

BLACKBERRY UPSIDE DOWN (AND RIGHT-SIDE-UP) CAKE
adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s “Everyday Meals”

pan: 8-inch round

oven: 400 degrees F

goes nicely with: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream*

ingredients:

2 cups fresh blackberries (use an extra ½ cup if you like lots of fruit) sugar-coated blackerries in pan

½  cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for sprinkling

1 cup all-purpose flour

½  tsp. baking soda, NOT powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup buttermilk (shake it before you pour!)

Use the bottom of your cake pan to trace two 9-inch circles on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place them inside the pan (use a little butter if they won’t stay put). Lightly butter the sides of the pan and the top circle of parchment. Spoon in a bit of flour and shake to coat the pan.

Rinse & dry the berries.  Pour them into the cake pan; try to get them to fit in just one layer. If you’re feeling crafty, go ahead and arrange the berries into pretty concentric circles. If you’ve better things to do with your time, don’t worry, the cake’s still going to taste good! Sprinkle the blackberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar; set pan aside.

For the batter: cream butter & sugar together until light & fluffy (if using a mixer, run on “high” for about two minutes). More gently mix in the egg & vanilla (switch speed to “low”) until the mixture just begins to come together.

Here, a classic baking technique: alternately adding the wet & dry ingredients. So in one measuring cup or bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, & salt. In another cup or bowl, measure out your buttermilk (shake it up first!). Now, you always want to start and finish with the dry ingredients. So your process will go like this:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture

Just eyeball the amounts—it doesn’t matter if you exactly halve the buttermilk or not—the important thing is just not to dump it all in at once. Don’t over mix! Stop mixing when the batter has just come together.

Using spatula or large spoon, drop even clumps of batter over the blackberries until they are all hidden. Bake the cake for approximately 30-35 minutes—I recommend you test the cake at minute 25 using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out of the center of the cake with a few crumbs clinging to it.

If your cake takes longer than 35 minutes, don’t panic. If the top (which is actually the bottom!) of the cake starts to look a little too brown, just carefully cover it with foil.

Remove cake from the oven and run a butter knife around the inside of the pan. Now you get to flip it! Set a big plate or platter on top of the cake pan. Using pot holders, grab the pan with the plate on top and flip it all in one motion (it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid–you gotta do it fast!)  The cake will release from the pan—peel the parchment rounds off the top and enjoy.

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