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02/28/2019

~ Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake ~

IMG_9251I'd never proclaim to have the best recipe for pound cake (unless I did and I do) because almost everyone claims their mother or grandmother made the best pound cake.  Truth told, in many cases, these are false claims.  I know, because I've had to test and taste a few recipes that left a lot to be desired in the (lack of) flavor and (dried out) texture departments.   That said:  My grandmother made the best buttery vanilla pound cake I ever tasted -- her recipe is so spot on perfect, no one I know who has tried hers has ever reported looking elsewhere for one.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic ingredients as everyone (flour, sugar, butter and eggs plus vanilla extract), but then, she incorporated two tangy ingredients common to her heritage and always on-hand in any Eastern European kitchen:  sour cream and buttermilk.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097d3e86970dA bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured cake was baked exclusively in a loaf pan. It was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla. That is the recipe, nothing more, nothing less -- one pound of everything.  Out of curiosity, I did try it once -- it didn't happen twice.  Let's just say, we bakers have come a long way baby!

Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My savvy grandmother used a bit of both.

Now it's time to bake an old-school chocolate pound cake...

IMG_9265Beginning with my grandmothers basic pound cake recipe, it didn't take me long to come up with a chocolate version.  While it's an easy cake to bake, please use Dutch process cocoa powder -- it does matter (see not below)*.  Also, it's important to make sure that the butter is very soft and the eggs are at room temperature.  I remove the butter 2 1/2-3 hours prior to baking the cake and my eggs about an hour in advance.  The extra step of separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in the batter is well worth the extra few moments it takes.  That said, before whipping those whites, be sure to wash and dry the beaters or the whites won't whip.

... w/an optional but decadent peanut-butter glaze!

IMG_9121

6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

3  cups sugar 

2 1/2  cups, unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup Dutch-process cocoa powder*

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt (not a typo, 1 teaspoon)

1/2  cup sour cream

3/4  cup buttermilk

1  tablespoon chocolate extract

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

* Note:  There is a difference between natural (think Hershey's) and Dutch process (or "Dutched") cocoa powder.  All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Natural cocoa powder has a pH between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge.  Dutch process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH to 7, which gives it a smoother, more-mellow taste.  Recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are typically leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process rely heavily on baking powder.

IMG_9137 IMG_9131 IMG_9131 IMG_9125 IMG_9125 IMG_9125~Step 1.  Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  In a second medium bowl, rough-stir the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the sour cream, buttermilk and both extracts, until smooth.  Set aside. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray and preheat oven to a moderate 325°-330°.

IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Beat on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer for three full minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and in a thin stream add and thoroughly incorporate the sour cream/buttermilk/extract mixture, increase speed to medium-high and beat for about another minute.  Lower mixer speed.  In 3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high again and beat about two more minutes.  Set batter batter aside for a moment, while:

IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9171 IMG_9171 IMG_9171~Step 3.  Without delay, wash and thoroughly dry beaters.  On  high speed, whip the egg whites until stiff curly peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

IMG_9180 IMG_9187 IMG_9205~Step 5.  Transfer batter by large scoopfuls to prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes.  Invert cake onto rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_9224For the optional peanut butter glaze:

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter 

2  cups confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon peanut butter flavoring

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk, + up to 2 more tablespoons 

1/2  cup toasted, ground peanuts

IMG_9227 IMG_9227~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place the peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter flavoring, vanilla extract and 1/2 cup milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Check consistency and process in up to 2 more tablespoons milk, in small increments, if necessary.  Drizzle over cooled cake and immediately sprinkle with lightly-toasted and finely-ground peanuts. 

Pound cake going into 325° oven to bake for 50-55 minutes:

IMG_9177Pound cake out of oven, cooling in pan for 15-20 minutes:

IMG_9194Poundcake inverted on rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours:

IMG_9209Drizzled w/peanut butter glaze & sprinkled w/toasted peanuts:

IMG_9234Time to dig in to the very first irresistible slice:

IMG_9242Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending on how thick or thin you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0992d5b9970dCook's Note:  Mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.  Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption. It was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk.  ~ A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

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