It's that time of the semester again.
My frenzied, deadline-heavy weeks are over, and now I have just the low-level stress of a research paper to contend with. My desk is piled high with books and papers, and I am chipping away at the page count in a slow and painful fashion. This is when I find solace in my mixing bowl, returning to variations on the basic mixture of butter, sugar, and flour.
As much as I long for a KitchenAid mixer, I prefer the meditative process of hand-mixing when I'm stressed. Lately, I've been fascinated with pound cake, the old-fashioned kind.
Classic, old-fashioned pound cake uses no chemical leavening. The rise depends entirely on the tiny air bubbles created by creaming together butter and sugar, and beating in eggs. A well-beaten mixture produces a cake that forms a bump on top. Part of the pleasure of baking a classic pound cake is peeking in the oven at the forty-minute mark and seeing if the cake has "bumped."
I know that some add a little baking powder for a lighter texture, but I like the dense, rich, eggy results of the classic proportions. Using the classic proportions in full is a hefty undertaking, however, which is why I prefer to bake it in quarter-pound quantities using a mini loaf pan. (It's easier to achieve a well-beaten mixture when you're working in smaller quantities, too.)
Vanilla is the basic flavoring of pound cake, but I like it with lemon zest and a sticky, tangy lemon glaze.* Add a cup of tea, and paper-writing is almost bearable.
Almost. Whether I end up measuring my page count in pound cakes remains to be seen.
Glazed Lemon Pound Cake
(Serves one. Can be cut into slices, wrapped and frozen.)
Preheat the oven to 325F. Ready a 5.75 inch by 3 inch loaf pan (two-cup capacity).
Place a stick of salted butter in a mixing bowl and leave it to sit at room temperature until it is easily squashed with a fork. Add half a cup of white sugar to the bowl. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
Add a quarter-teaspoon of vanilla extract, a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and the zest from one large lemon to the bowl, and give the mixture a quick stir. (Hang on to the zested lemon. You'll need the juice for the glaze.)
Crack in one egg. Beat with the fork until the mixture is thick and smooth, then beat a little more. Crack in another egg; beat until the mixture is thick and smooth-ish; it might look a little curdled.
Gently fold in a scant cup of flour (four ounces or so). The resulting batter should be thick and creamy. Spoon the batter into the pan, and give it a gentle shake to smooth out the top.
Place the pan in the oven. Bake for an hour, or until a knife or skewer stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake sit in the pan for five minutes before turning it out on a cooling rack.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. Take the lemon you zested and juice it into a small saucepan. Add a tablespoon or two of sugar, and heat the mixture just to the point where the sugar dissolves - don't worry about bringing it to a boil. Let cool.
Once the cake has fully cooled, brush the top and sides with glaze, allowing it to soak in between applications. Cut into slices. Serve.
*Lemons courtesy of Virgin, who returned from Thanksgiving break with a bagful from the tree in her parents' yard at home.