Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Mom (the Conservative Baker) and Banana Sour-Cream Pound Cake . . .

My mom used to make a mean pound cake. She was a woman of conservative taste in most aspects of life, truth be told. This was true of her even when it came to cooking and baking. If she felt a recipe went too far afield, her tendency was always to steer clear. In the almost 46 years that I knew her, she rarely--if ever--made anything remotely exotic. What she did make, though, was usually pretty good and sometimes startingly so.

That's not to say she never experimented in the kitchen. Her experiments just didn't appear outwardly adventurous, nor were they necessarily models of house-wifely innovation. They never screamed "Hey, look at me!" (Come to think of it, she never screamed "Hey, look at me!" either.) She had little interest in rocking the culinary boat. You'd never find her poaching an eel or putting pine nuts and pomegranate seeds in the Thanksgiving stuffing, but she was supremely interested in modest conventional variations that could subtly improve upon a recipe that she already really liked.

I suppose when it comes to baking, an attitude like that has far more drawbacks than benefits. The one obvious benefit such an attitude might hold, though, would be the fact that it gives you a chance to try and perfect a given recipe through repetition. Sounds kind of boring, doesn't it? I agree that it does. But, I suppose if you're a careful observer of the minutiae of each recipe as you bake, and you care about what you're doing, then a tried and true recipe can seem a bit different every single time you prepare it.

I think that's how my mom looked at this kind of thing. She was always trying to see what could be fixed, and trying to come up with ways to not just fix it but to make it better, both in the kitchen and in life. She was often successful that way in the kitchen; outside of the kitchen, however, one just doesn't have all that much control. As she aged, she became more accepting of the things she couldn't change, both large and small, and more appreciative of anything that was truly good . . . in the kitchen and in life.

About the banana sour-cream pound cake . . .

A simple, classic, vanilla flavored, non-boat-rocking, sour-cream pound cake was one of her specialities (for that recipe of hers, click here). The focus of this post, however, is a banana variation of that cake, one that my mother endorsed. It's a nice change from the basic vanilla, but a comfortable change.

I say kugelhopf, you say gugelhopf . . .

I bought a new kugelhopf/gugelhopf pan that I found on sale recently, so I decided to throw caution to the wind this afternoon and bake the cake in that. It's taller, and the bottom of it is narrower, than a typical bundt pan or regular tube pan would be. I don't know if I'd bake this particular recipe in that pan again. The outside of the cake got a little darker than I think it should be, but it is a pretty shape. I've made this recipe before in a regular bundt pan and it's turned out great; I'll probably go back to doing that next time.

This is one of those cakes that tastes much better completely cooled than when it's still even lukewarm, and also tastes best the next day. I dusted mine with confectioner's sugar, but in the past I've drizzled it with a vanilla glaze, and I think I gave it a chocolate glaze once too--all delicious options.

This particular recipe is a slight variation on one that appeared in Taste of Home magazine about five years ago (the original 2004 recipe can be found if you click on the link). In terms of what I altered: I changed the extract amounts and the salt amount slightly; I used superfine sugar instead of granulated (but feel free to use granulated if you want to); I used cake flour instead of All Purpose; and I didn't use a tablespoon of sugar to "dust" the greased pan. Other than that I left things pretty much the same.

Banana Sour-Cream Pound Cake

(For a printable copy of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease, or use baking spray on, a 10-cup bundt or tube pan.

3 cups superfine sugar (granulated sugar will work too)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs
1 cup well-mashed ripe banana
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups cake flour (All Purpose flour is okay if you don't have cake, but sift it well before measuring)
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sour cream

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 minutes or more. (Today, mine just never got what I'd call light and fluffy); the ratio of sugar to butter is pretty high. Just do the best you can, but don't fret about it.)

Add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop and scrape the bowl as needed between additions. On lowest speed, stir in the mashed bananas and the extracts. Continuing on lowest speed, add in the flour mixture and the sour cream alternately. Begin and end with the flour. Stop to scrape down the bowl and the paddle as needed.

Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth out the top with your spatula. Bake the cake for at least 65 minutes and even up to 85 (my oven is like a blast furnace; my cake had to come out on the early side). The top should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the cake should come out clean. If the top is browning too quickly, cover it lightly with foil. When you deem the cake done, let it cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before you invert it onto a cooling rack.

P.S. It can be hard to tell when a pound cake is truly done. I'm notorious for taking them out too soon. That fine velvety texture that's characteristic of perfect pound cake sometimes eludes me because I don't bake them long enough. If your cake comes out too moist, dense, and kind of eggy tasting, it needed to bake longer. This is a live-and-learn lesson, made all the more troublesome if you have an oven that doesn't heat quite accurately (like mine).

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