When Santa Maria and the kids were away, I have to say, life around the kitchen was very easy. I had forgotten what it was like just to cook for myself. It was so easy that I almost (and just almost) didn’t know what to do with myself.
I don’t know what it might be like for you (if you are a parent), but for me, my mind is never fully my own. It is split right down the middle, with one part belonging to me, and the other belonging to my family. I’m always thinking about my kids no matter where they might be or what they might be doing. I didn’t have any responsibilities last week, other than to myself, and yet I still didn’t have a unified consciousness. In the back of my mind, a constant script was running, along these lines: “Is there enough milk in the house? Do we need bread? What will the kids eat for dinner any given night?”
Now that Santa Maria and kids are back, I’ve ramped up the cooking. This morning, I made a few weeks worth of Bolognese, Black Beans, and Dhal. If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know that’s how I do it: Cook, cook, cook. Cook to freeze. Cook and have dinner ready by lunch. Cook to breathe.
But life around my kitchen is not all daily grind. Man does not live by soups and stews alone. A few weeks ago, in July, after our trip to High Hampton, I was feeling so well rested and relaxed that I did something very special (at least for me): I did a bit of baking.
At dinner one night down at High Hampton they served pound cake for dessert. Nina was very taken by it, and when we came home I came across an old newspaper clipping from the Dining section of the New York Times. It had a recipe for a Lemon Pound Cake from an esteemed chef. It looked rich. It looked delicious. (Full disclosure: one of my potentially habitual weakness is buying and eating slices of those NYC deli pound cakes that are so moist and yummy). It looked irresistible. I waved the clipping around and told Nina that could make it for her.
Then I read the recipe. It was so complicated that there was no way I could make it. It involved a lemon-syrup bath. A Lemon-syrup bath? What was I thinking? I don’t have much experience baking, so I checked with Santa Maria. She rolled her eyes, and confirmed my suspicions.
But I still wanted to make a pound cake. I figured the “Joy of Cooking” would be a good place to look, and sure enough it had a recipe that passed two important tests: I thought I could do it, and Santa Maria agreed.
Whenever working with a new recipe, it’s important to a couple of things before starting. The first is to read the recipe through all the way, at least a couple of times. The second is to make sure you all your ingredients ready before beginning. So I lined everything up.
Until I made a pound cake, I didn’t understand what was in it, or were its name came from. It has a pound of butter. (The first recipes had a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and a pound of eggs, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion.). A pound of butter is a lot of butter. A whole lot. I was glad I knew there would be other people around to eat the cakes. That weekend we were visiting friend and also going to a dinner party. I could share one loaf with my friends, and bring the other the dinner party, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The head note in the “Joy of Cooking” included a little line about creaming the batter “An electric mixer is a true aid for creaming this batter,” but I think it misses the point. Being new to baking, I was shocked by the first step. “Cream 2 cups butter, no substitutes. Add slowly and cream well: 2 cups sugar.” The thing that shocked me was how good butter and sugar taste together. I almost stopped completely at after this step. What was the point in going on?
But then I filled the cake pans, and put them in the oven.
One pan had a little bit more batter than the other, and it took a few extra minutes to make sure the larger loaf was cooked through. The old knife in the dough trick worked well. When it came out dry, it was done. We took them to our friends, and we took them to the dinner party. Everywhere we went, folks enjoyed the cakes. I wish I had the time and energy to make them again soon, but on the other hand, it’s good that I’ve been busy cooking other things for my family. All that butter can’t be good for anyone. At least not all the time.
The girls and I made the pound cakes together. Working with them might not have made things easier for me, but they sure made things better. I don't think I would have been inspired to make the cake without Nina's initial enthusiasm. Easy is overrated.
Lemon Pound Cake (adapted from “Joy of Cooking”)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting, about 70 degrees.
- 2 cups butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 9 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon organic lemon extract
- 4 cups cake flour
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and the sugar.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Beat the batter well after the addition of each egg.
Beat in the vanilla and the lemon extract.
Sift the flour, and resift with the cream of tartar and salt.
Add the sifted ingredients slowly, at the lowest speed, mixing only until thoroughly blended.
Pour the batter into a creased tube pan or into two greased loaf pans lined with parchment paper or into a greased and floured hinged loaf pan.
Bake the cake for about 1 hour for pans; 15 minutes longer for tube pan.
Note: To make the cake fluffier, separate the egg yolks from the whites. Add the yolks only per the instructions for the eggs above. Whip the whites until stiff but not dry and fold them in as the very last step before pouring the batter into the pans. I have not tried it this way, but it sounds good. I did it the original, dense way, and it was delicious.