What?! An Alice Medrich recipe that has nary a hint of chocolate in it? Impossible! Hard as it is to believe, the Queen of Chocolate has transformed herself into the Master of Pure Dessert. As the lovely Anita so aptly described Alice’s new tome on Desserts First, the lady from Berkely, has reinvented her approach to dessert by embracing the intrinsic flavors of ingredients.
For this round of my “Medrich fix”, I have decided to use an element I have never tried before in my baking exploits: chestnut flour. This is used extensively in Italian baked goods and has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor. And as I have found out, goes very well with rum too!
Chestnut Pound Cake
From Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert”
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.5 oz) chestnut flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup butter milk, at room temperature
1/3 cup rum
1 ½ cups (6oz) coarsely chopped walnuts
Two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch (5 cups) loaf pans
POSITION A RACK in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 °F. Spray the pans with vegetable oil spray. (Or line the loaf pans with parchment paper.)
In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, soda, and salt together, then sift the mixture three times. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork to combine the whites and yolks; set aside.
In a bowl of a stand mixer (use the paddle attachment) or another large bowl, beat the butter for a few seconds until creamy. Add the sugar in a steady stream and beat at medium speed (high-speed with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beating constantly, dribble the eggs into the butter mixture a little bit at a time, taking 2 to 3 minutes to add them all.
Stop the mixer and add one-third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed only until no flour is visible. Stop the mixer and add half of the buttermilk and half of the rum and beat only until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat with half of the remaining flour, then all of the remaining buttermilk and rum, and finally the remaining flour with the walnuts if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes for a tube pan or 50 to 55 minutes for the loaves. Cool in the pan(s) on a rack for about 10 minute before unmolding.
If using a tube pan, slide a skewer around the tube. If the sides of the pan are straight, slide a thin knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to release the cake. If using a Bundt or other decorative pan, tap one side of the pan against the counter to release the cake, then tap the other. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack. Turn the preferred side up before cooling the cake completely.
Wrapped airtight, the cake keeps well at room temperature for up to 3days; or freeze for up to 3 months.
It is important to sift the flour meticulously and add it in batches so you do not deflate the air you have just beaten into the butter. Additionally, Alice said the reason a cake gets that annoying “dome-shape” is because you have either measured your flour carelessly or you have beaten your mixture too much that you have overdeveloped the gluten. Another method she has gotten into the habit of doing is when eggs were to be “beaten in one at a time”, she just whisks them first to blend the yolks and the whites, and then dribble them in – for the same reason that you do not want to interfere with the air structure that you have already formed when you creamed the butter and sugar.
As usual, the aroma of something baking in the oven has me rooted to the stove waiting impatiently for the thing to be done. It’s like watching your creation get born, you know? The resulting pound cake had a fine crumb, a faint nutty flavor, a hint of rum, just the right amount of sweetness and pure buttery goodness – perfect with that morning cup of coffee or that nicely-brewed afternoon tea! Taking that first bite has given me a sense of open-space, rolling hills and a little round table set up with tea or coffee and me just relaxing and taking in the refreshing scenery as I have a homey slice (or two) of the freshly baked, subtlety sweet cake.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda. Many of you probably already know this but I always had the question of: when do you use baking powder and when do you use baking soda? Why do some recipes call for both? I consulted some food science books but was not satisfied by the explanation there. Of course, I finally found the answer in my perennial favorite, The Sweet Life, by Kate Zuckerman.
In special sections of her book labeled Beyond the Basics, she described these two as chemical leavening agents that when handled properly produce carbon dioxide when exposed to heat, giving baked goods greater volume and lighter texture. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) does not produce carbon dioxide on its own, it needs an acid like chocolate or juice or vinegar. Baking powder is a complete leavening system; it contains both baking soda and acids it can react with.
Certain acids react with the presence of heat, while other acids dissolve and react in the presence of liquid. Double acting baking powder is a leavening agent that includes both types of acid so that carbon dioxide is produced immediately in a moist batter and then again when it is in the oven.
So when do you use both? You want to use baking soda when there is a presence of an acid in your batter like sour cream, buttermilk and molasses. If the leavening is not enough then you add baking powder.
And since I wanted to make sure I understood this concept correctly I emailed Kate and here is her response (which was pretty similar to the explanation in the book):
"Both baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents. Baking powder is a complete leavening system because it contains baking soda and acid, a mixture waiting to be ignited by liquid. In other words the acid and base in the powder do not react until they are moistened.
Baking soda is basic and will not leaven a batter unless it reacts with some acidic ingredient in a given batter – buttermilk, sour cream, brown sugar and molasses. Some recipes contain both because there might be a small amount of an acidic ingredient which will react with the soda but it is not enough to leaven the whole batter so baking powder is added also."
So baking soda is there to react and neutralize the acid in the batter. What will happen if one leaves out the baking soda and use all baking powder instead. Will my resulting baked-goods taste more acidic? That, my friends, will be the subject of another experiment.