Sunday, August 4, 2013

Blueberry & Lemon Pound Cake

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill 

This does NOT look like failure.

I’ve been to my secret blueberry patch again. It seems that they’re just about peak right now, even though I first went up to pick some a month ago. That’s a long time for blueberries to hang around.

It took me no time at all to gather 4 cups of the wondrous dark blue darlings. But now I have a slight problem. What should I do with them? It’s easy enough to put them in a bowl with cream and sugar, but what’s interesting about that? Not much, I dare say – although delicious.

I have had occasion to doubt my abilities with the oven lately. I’ve made a couple cakes that were absolute flops. As you can imagine, they ended up in the compost as opposed to our stomach. I used to be able to bake...

Whatever the reason for failure—haste, inaccurate temperature, insanity—I felt the need to “prove” I could do it, at least to myself. Lack of confidence is a terrible thing. For me it’s deadly. I do the cooking.

So always one to get back onto the horse that threw me, I launched myself into a blueberry cake. To mitigate my chance of failure I pulled out an old friend: the Quatre quarts recipe from Larousse gastronomique, the bible of all things food.

Quatre quarts (pound cake) is an English invention of the 1700s. It consists of equal measures of flour, sugar, eggs and butter. In English recipes each weighed a pound. As you can imagine, this sort of recipe was a godsend to illiterate masses who couldn’t read a cookbook even if they had one. Easy to remember, easy to do.

The leavening in a classic pound cake is only air whipped
into the eggs and sugar.
The leavening was/is accomplished by beating the heck out of the sugar and eggs until you have a very creamy, very light coloured and fluffy mass. Not everyone had access to baking powder or soda in the 1700s, or their forerunner potash.

This really is “the” classic cake as far as I’m concerned. It has just a few, readily available ingredients and is easy to put together. You can easily tell when your sugar and eggs are ready for the flour and butter.

But I had to change the original recipe from a straight vanilla cake to blueberry and lemon. Somehow I succeeded without bollocks-ing it up. I did add some baking powder to help. Soda and powder act in acidic batters to help rising. Lemon juice = acidic, so it seemed right to do. 

The result? An ever-so-slightly lemony cake studded evenly with beautiful, sweet wild blueberries. The classic “crack” down the centre is just a aesthetic bonus.

I’m vindicated. I can bake (again)! But I still have well over 2 cups of blueberries...and will be going back for more.

Blueberry & Lemon Pound Cake
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 1.25 hr to 1.5 hr  |  Yield: 1 loaf
1-1/2 cups wild blueberries*
2 tbsp flour
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup salted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Butter a 5x9 loaf pan and sprinkle with enough sugar to coat well. Toss the blueberries with the 2 tbsp of flour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cream the sugar and eggs together in a mixer. After about 5 minutes the mixture will get very light and fluffy.

Turning the mixer to low, incorporate 1 cup of flour followed by 1/2 cup butter, alternating again to include all of both. Then add the vanilla, baking powder, juice, rind and nutmeg and beat for a further minute. Fold the berries and any flour left in the bottom of the berry bowl into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the hot oven.

Bake for 1 hour and then check for doneness. The cake is fully baked when it pulls away from the sides, has the characteristic bump down the centre with a crack in it and a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted in the centre of the crack comes out perfectly clean.

If in any doubt at all, bake the cake longer. (That was my downfall with my failures.)

Let cool slightly on the counter, then remove from the pan. Slice as you serve.

* Cook’s tip: chill the blueberries before tossing with the flour. Once you take them out of the refrigerator they will have a slight dampness that helps the flour stick.

Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

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