In the spirit of complete disclosure, I am a horrible baker. Not just bad, truly horrible. When I was in my early 20s, I spent five nights feverishly baking to produce barely enough cookies for a cookie exchange party. I once picked a recipe for easy chocolate pies simply because the title said they were “easy,” only to watch them explode in the oven. I think my problem is that I do not really enjoy following specific instructions. For instance, if a recipe calls for the dough to “rest” a particular length of time, my response is that I am the one who has done all the work, and the dough should be ready to cook. Big mistake.
Despite my inabilities, I decided to make from scratch my grandmother’s pound cake. My MaMa was a strict, no nonsense kind of woman. Her sweet side came out in the desserts that she baked daily. My mother recalls coming home from school to a small, poor home filled with rich, delicious smells of cakes, pies, and sticky buns. I am the proud recipient of some of her recipes, written by hand on index cards now yellowing with age, including her pound cake and chocolate pound cake.
I am a purist when it comes to pound cake. I want it vanilla with no icing, but many people in our Crocker Clan prefer their cake chocolate and heavily frosted. Few things are better with coffee than a slice of pound cake with a perfect crust. Apparently, according to Google and my MaMa, you have to add the eggs one at a time and beat at low speed or your crust may become too crunchy and even detach from the cake. I prefer my crust to cling possessively to the dense, moist body of the cake.
Determined to reconnect with my deceased grandmother and overcome a long-term baking disorder, I resolutely set out all the ingredients on my vintage 1930s Coca-Cola machine turned kitchen island. I thought pound cake earned its name from the weight gained from eating too much of it, but according to the history of this particular cake, the name came from the original recipes that called for a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, and a pound of eggs to make a single cake. My MaMa also added a few other ingredients including salt, baking powder, vanilla, milk, and lemon juice. All of the ingredients should be at room temperature, so that the butter and sugar cream together evenly. I also laid out her bundt cake pan.
My grandmother’s recipe called for sifting the dry ingredients three times. This created a huge mess and I was tempted to skip this step or modify it to just one or two times through the sifter, afterall, my strict MaMa wasn’t here to correct me. But according to the internet, sifting produces a finer texture to the cake, something my grandmother would have been particular about. The milk and flour also have to be added alternately in three portions; by this point, my resolution to follow instructions was wearing thin.
The recipe I was following, however resentfully, said to bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for an hour and 15 or 20 minutes. Now, all I had to do was wait and hope the cake wouldn’t fall. Apparently, there are many reasons why a pound cake can fall:
Over mixing the batter
Shutting oven door too hard
Not measuring ingredients properly
Expired baking powder
Oven temperature incorrect
Too much baking powder or soda
My son throwing his 100 pound bookbag on the bench next to the oven
The time passed slowly; I think the patience needed for baking could be another weakness of mine. It took me most of the baking time to clean up my kitchen, but in the end, I pulled out of the oven a lovely, golden, buttery masterpiece. Thank you, MaMa.
By Kim Winslow
Here are the recipes!