Since I was a tiny baby...scratch that, I was never a tiny baby. Since I was a venti-sized baby, I've been baking. I know, impossible. A newborn with a whisk? Sometimes I wonder. But it's true. I find baking when I scan my oldest memories. Flour dusting over third birthday parties, crumbly dough balls wedged in between that time the front tire popped off my Big Wheel and I learned that pesky cursive “Q,” a melted butter sheen on my first love letter.
How did my crib get in the kitchen? A question I ask because my mom never invited me in. And not to say that I wasn't welcomed, I just wasn't drawn in out of encouragement. We never set out on an afternoon chocolate chip cookie project. No, rather, it was the scent of pound cake that caught my nose and captured me. The Bishop's Cake, freshly baked, having leapt from the black and white pages of The Silver Palate cookbook and onto my formica countertop. So heaven is a smell, I thought. I've always been an observer. Keen on watching people, things, and events like I was going to be tested on my recollection later. A shame I didn't go the detective route. A wonder I didn't do better on my SAT verbal. I'm intensely interested in how things are made and in the manner in which others go about doing things. Fitting that I'd sit for hours on the painted oak footstool in the kitchen and watch my mother put on a magic show with butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. What's her trick? Though never a rabbit, the sweets she pulled out of the oven were magnificent- different every time.
I soon became the magician's apprentice. Cracking eggs into the bowl, stirring, and running a knife's edge along the top of her measuring cup, excess flour dropping off the sides. I learned the timing. I learned the precision. I learned the delicate nature of baking. And my favorite- the requisite taste testing. There's value in wrapping your tongue around the beater's wires to get every last lick of buttercream. What that value is, I'm not aware, but my belly is, and I'd say that's enough. I leave most major decisions to that part of me- the wisdom of my waist. I spent years at my mother's side, asking questions, watching cupcakes dome through the oven door, learning to read almost exclusively by recipe cards. I divided my time between Sesame Street and Julia Child. And somehow, without consciously realizing the transition, I became the baker. Funny how that happens. I sit here now in my own kitchen, a coast away from my mother, and recreate the confections we once made. The ones that drew me, nose first, into the kitchen, tied themselves to moments in my life, and tucked themselves away in the closet of my memory. And even as an adult... the butter, the sugar, the flour and the eggs...they still feel like magic.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
(recipe courtesy How to Eat A Cupcake) makes one 10" tube cake or two loaves
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups sugar 6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
**Note: I halved the recipe to only make one loaf. The pictures depict half of the ingredients called for.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 10-inch tube pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper. Alternately, you can use two 8x4" loaf pans. I cut the recipe in half and made 1 loaf. If using the loaf pans, line them with parchment paper- cut one long thin strip to cover the pan length-wise, then a short and wide piece to cover it width-wise. This will form a sling to aid in removing the cake from the pan.
Your eggs should be at room temperature for this recipe- as they're crucial to the proper rising of the cake. If you were not able to bring them to temperature over the period of an hour or two, place them in a small bowl with warm water and let them stand for fifteen minutes.
Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place the butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric hand-held mixer) and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Gradually increase speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
Beat in the extracts.
Add the remaining flour and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl thoroughly.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and shake lightly to even out the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Place the pan(s) on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.