Friday, July 27, 2012

Rising to the Occasion: Fresh, Fresh Eggs

Years ago, when I taught at Centre College, my neighbor, Maryann Ward, used to get eggs fresh from the farm.  There were more than she could use, so she shared them with me.  The first time I used them to bake a cake--a pound cake, as I recall--I was astonished by the results.  Very fresh eggs seem to have a power to raise baked goods almost beyond imagining.

I'm in Maine at the moment, and a friend, Marty Ward (no relation, so far as I know, to Maryann), raises chickens.  When she and her husband, Dave, came to dinner the other night, they brought a dozen eggs from their chickens.  Heaven!  And as some of the eggs were fresh that day, my thoughts instantly turned to pound cake.

Pound cake is deceptively simple.  It uses only the most basic ingredients, and the procedure isn't complicated.  There isn't even a great deal of variation in the recipes.  The one I used to use came with a Sunbeam stand mixer I got years ago.  It was fabulous.  But I'm in Maine, and that recipe is in Arizona.

So I decided to try a little variation.  Some recipes call for buttermilk, and I know that yogurt and buttermilk can be used pretty much interchangeably.  I've got a good supply of yogurt on hand (I make my own and will share the instructions for that one of these days), so I thought I'd try a buttermilk pound cake, using yogurt in place of the buttermilk.

There are various ways to flavor pound cake.  The traditional, purest form is with just vanilla, though some recipes omit that, using only sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and milk.  You can also flavor pound cake quite nicely with almond or lemon.  Lemon somehow seemed summer-like to me, so I chose that.  (Besides, it's nice to serve pound cake with some berries or fruit, and lemon is always nice with that.)

This is a very traditional recipe.  Some more recent ones call for six eggs, but I think four is plenty.  Six, in my opinion, would create something more like a yellow cake; it wouldn't have the close, dense texture I associate with pound cake.  This one, made with yogurt, came out with a wonderfully moist and almost creamy quality.

So here's what I did.

BUTTERMILK POUND CAKE  (Click here for a printer-friendly version.)


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter--get the best, richest butter you can find
3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
3 cups white flour (I prefer unbleached)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

optional:  grated rind and juice of 1 lemon, plus 1 teaspoon of lemon extract (this is what I did today); OR 1 teaspoon almond extract.  You could also omit the vanilla and increase the lemon or almond extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter.  Add the sugar, and cream it thoroughly.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Add the salt.  Add 1 cup of the flour and the baking soda.  Mix on the lowest speed until moistened.  Add a third of the buttermilk and beat until thoroughly blended.  If using lemon juice and grated lemon rind, add them now.  Then add another cup of flour, stir, then another third of the buttermilk and beat to combine.  Finally, add the remaining flour, stir, and beat in the remaining buttermilk.  Add whatever extract you're using.  Beat for 2 or 3 minutes at fairly high speed until the batter is very smooth and uniform.

Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan or a bundt pan. (I used a bundt pan, because that's all I had.  It was a little difficult to get it out in one piece, so be sure to grease and flour it thoroughly.  Baker's Joy, a cooking spray with flour in it, works best.)  Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Things don't have to be fancy or innovative to be good.  Often the basics are best, if you put care into them and use the best ingredients.  There is nothing wrong with tradition lovingly and thoughtfully followed!  And if you have really fresh eggs, bake. 

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