Pound cake. It's been on my mind recently. I've baked a couple of recipes over the last month or so, but they weren't quite what I was looking for. Each one was a variation on lemon pound cake, too, so it's a little disappointing that the results didn't meet my expectations. When visiting family up in Washington a few weeks ago, I happened upon a different sort of pound cake recipe that looked very promising, one involving vanilla beans and cardamom. If anyone I visit has a collection of magazines, I'm usually drawn to the cooking magazines first, because I love good food and love to make good food and love to read about good food. My cousin had a few fairly recent Gourmet issues scattered about her living room, so of course I had to flip through them while lounging on the couch one day, and it's a good thing I did, too. The picture and description of this cake looked like the answer to my previous disappointments. Sure, I had wanted a lemon version, but in the face of my failed experiments, the combined flavors of this recipe sounded even better.
For a pound cake, the texture needs to be fairly dense and moist but not soggy or squishy. It's supposed to be sturdy. The previous recipes I tried were too cakey and soft. They just didn't seem right, especially when it came to the texture, although the flavor of each wasn't bad, despite being a tad too sweet. Not all pound cakes are created equal, though, and this recipe is on the lighter side. It has an airy quality almost like angel food cake, but it's sturdy enough to satisfy my idea of a good pound cake. The crust is perfectly golden and the interior soft and flavorful. It might even toast well, which would be a perfect backdrop for sauteed pears, or perhaps a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I'm definitely satisfied with the outcome. The cardamom and vanilla flavors are pleasantly mild and not in danger of overwhelming the cake. It's not too sweet, either. If I ever have the hankering for lemon pound cake again, I'll just replace the ground cardamom with a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon zest and call it good.
The success of this cake must be due to the method of preparation as well as the balance of ingredients. Using a handheld mixer has its advantages over beating and stirring with a wooden spoon, although I'm certainly not opposed to the wooden spoon method. Most of my cookie dough is mixed by hand in a large mixing bowl with a large wooden spoon. When it comes to cakes, though, an electric mixer can beat the batter to such a whipped and smooth consistency that is practically impossible to do by hand. And the final product attests the difference. Maybe that's partly why my other attempts had funky textures. So pay attention to the directions when baking different types of cakes. I'm beginning to, and I've noticed better and more consistent results. There's always something new for me to learn with each new baking session.
Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, March 2009
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 ¼ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350° F and position rack in the middle. Generously butter either a 12-cup kugelhopf or bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed, scraping sides of bowl occasionally, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from the vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife into butter mixture, reserving pods for another use (like vanilla sugar), and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in lemon juice until combined well. At low speed, add the flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. I added the flour in four additions and the milk in three, which seemed to work pretty well.
Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top. Gently rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about 1 hour more.
The magazine suggests serving the pound cake with sweetened whipped cream flavored with vanilla extract, but in my opinion, it's pretty good plain. Or, you could try serving it with fresh fruit or homemade jam.