Thursday, March 15, 2012

A sweet ending.

Over the weekend, we had some friends over for dinner. I wanted to keep the meal casual but still just a little more special than an everyday dinner, so chicken with crisp rosemary potatoes came to mind immediately. However, dessert stumped me for weeks.

I know, it sounds really silly to hem and haw over the dessert for a casual get together with good friends. But dessert really puts the exclamation point at the end of a meal, and is certainly my favorite part. I thought, what about a layer cake? No, too fussy; I wanted to keep with the special casual feel (yes, I just made up that term). Cookies? Too casual...

When pound cake came to me, it seemed so obvious. Like I should have thought of it first. It's more special than your everyday sweets, especially with some lemon whipped cream, but it never seems like it's trying too hard. And I love pound cake. It's easy, it's sturdy (no need to make it the day of), and it's power to create a gorgeous domed shape without leaveners seems like magic.

See? Check out that dome! That's just eggs and fluffy butter, my friends. Fantastic.

The only real problem with pound cake recipes is that they generally make 2 loaves, so you should ideally have 2 loaf pans of the same size. However, I do not live in this ideal world so I have a slightly larger than standard pan and a slightly smaller than standard pan. Just make sure you fill your pan 3/4 to 4/5 full to make sure you get that domed shape; if it's not full enough, it won't have that classic shape (but it will still be delicious). If you just want one loaf, you can make cupcakes with the rest; just reduce the cooking time to 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Blueberry-Sour Cream Pound Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2009

Makes 2 loaves

Note: The sugar-sprinkled crust is optional, but I recommend not skipping it. The sugar gives the cake a really pretty top and the crunch provides a nice textural contrast to the cake. But don't skimp on the sugar; really sprinkle 2 tablespoons per cake. It will look like a lot, but if you put on less the crust won't be nearly as crunchy and delicious.

1 pound (3 1/4 cups), plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt, like kosher salt or sea salt
3 sticks softened unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 large, room-temperature eggs
2 cups blueberries
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar (aka raw sugar)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans, or if you're making cupcakes, put pan liners in muffin tins. In a medium bowl, combine 3 1/4 cups flour and salt.

2. With an electric mixer on high, cream butter, sour cream, and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and on medium speed, mix in the vanilla extract.

3. Lightly beat the eggs, and add to mixer bowl in 4 additions. Make sure to mix thoroughly after each and scrape down sides to make sure the eggs are incorporated properly. Reduce the speed to low, and add flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until just incorporated. Don't over mix-- we want a tender pound cake! Toss the blueberries in the remaining 2 tablespoons flour and fold them into finished batter. Divide batter between pans, tapping on counter to distribute, and smooth the tops. Sprinkle the sanding sugar over each cake (2 tablespoons each).

4. Bake the cakes until a tester inserted into center of each cake comes out clean, about 65 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Let the cakes cool in pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. To remove from pans, carefully run around the edge of the pan with a knife and gently tip the cake out of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

If you want to gild the lily (and believe me, you do)...

Lemon Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Combine heavy cream, confectioners' sugar, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Beat until soft peaks form; this means that when you lift the beater the peaks fall over slightly.

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