Monday, February 15, 2010

The Great Cake Caper Begins

Ok, well I thought about doing it, talked about doing it, and as of Sunday February 7, 2010, I actually started it. The "it" in question is cooking, well baking, my way through the Williams-Sonoma Cakes book.

Yes, this is basically a rip off of the Julie/Julia project, but I prefer to think of it as having been inspired which is actually what has happened. I have a dream of opening my own cake shop some day and I want to work on getting those skills so that I can be ready once I have some resources available. So, as I've said before, I was thinking about heading to pastry school, Johnson and Wales University is about 45 minutes away, but it's really, really expensive. So, I thought (well my honey gets a bit of credit on this front too) that I could bake my way through a somewhat basic, and by basic I mean limited decorating not basic recipes, cake book and then hopefully, when I'm done with this one, move through either a cupcake book or a more technical cake decorating book.

To that end, I have decided to make one cake each Sunday (so that I can bring it to work and not eat it all) or Monday in the case of a holiday week like this one, until I finish the book. I've also announced this to all my co-workers so that I can't skip a week unless I really have a good excuse.

Last week I started with the first recipe, Pound Cake. It was a lovely cake. I've included the recipe below. (the actual book has more tips and more information but I paraphrased a bit to cut down on the typing)

Now, for the next 6 weeks, I will be making all variety of pound cake. I have promised to work straight through the book even if this means making 7 versions of pound cake with each recipe using well a pound of butter. Sigh, the dairy farmers are going to love me! So, last week was plain pound cake and this week is going to be Espresso Pound Cake. I'll be including both recipes in this blog (two weeks for the price of one).

Williams-Sonoma’s Pound Cake


Unsalted butter and flour for preparing the pans
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¾ cups granulated sugar
8 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
About 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, optional

1. Preheat oven and prepare the pans

Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325F (165C). Butter and flour two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pans. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the pan and place in the pan bottom. Butter the paper and then sprinkle lightly with flour. Tap out the excess flour.

2. Sift the dry ingredients
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set bowl aside.

3. Cream the butter and sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl, combine the butte and granulated sugar. If using a stand mixer, fit it with the paddle attachment. If using a hand mixer, fit it with twin beaters. Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and airy and the mixture changes in color from light yellow to cream. Occasionally stop mixer to scrape down sides of bowl.

4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat eggs until yolks and whites are blended. Add about ¼ cup of the beaten eggs to the mixture at a time (about 4 equal portions), beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix well. As you near the end of mixing, the batter may look slightly curdled because the cold eggs may firm up some butter. Do not worry. Continue beating for 2 minutes until the mixture warms and looks light and fluffy.

5. Mix in the dry ingredients

Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add half the dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Beat in the remaining dry ingredients in the same manner.

6. Bake the cake

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing evenly. Lightly smooth surfaces. Bake undisturbed for 1 hour. If the cake looks set and the tops are firm to the touch, insert a skewer or cake tester into the center. If it comes out dry, the cakes are done. If not, set the timer for another 5 minutes and check again. Repeat this process until the cakes are done. They will probably take a total for an hour and 10 minutes but since ovens vary, it’s important to start checking at 1 hour.

7. Let the cakes cool

Let cakes cool in pan on wire racks for 30 minutes. Then, unmold the cakes; run a thin knife along the inside edge of the pans to loosen each cake. Invert a wire rack on top of the cake and flip them together. The cake will release from the pan. Lift off the pan. Remove the parchment paper and discard it. Then carefully flip the cakes right side up and let cool completely, about 1 ½ hours.

8. Serve or store the cakes

If desired, lightly dust the tops of the cakes with confectioners’ sugar by placing sugar in a fine sieve and gently tapping it over the cakes. If not serving right away, tightly wrap the cooled cake (without the confectioners’ sugar) in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Serving Ideas

Pound cake with strawberries and cream
Cut the pound cake into ½ inch slices. Layer with whipped cream and strawberries.

Pound cake with candied citrus zest
Bake cake in buttered and floured 10 inch tube pan for 1 ½ hours. Let cool. Unmold, then sift confectioners’ sugar lightly over the top and sprinkle with candied citrus zest.

Make-Ahead Tip

This cake can be frozen for up to three months. Let it cool completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Thaw to room temperature before serving.

Williams-Sonoma Espresso Pound Cake Variation

Follow the recipe to make Pound Cake. When sifting the dry ingredients in step 2, use only 3 ¾ cups flour and add ¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder along with the baking powder and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar as directed in step 3. Dissolve 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder in 2 teaspoons water and mix it into the creamed mixture.
Proceed with the recipe to finish the batter and bake and cool cakes.

Next, place 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar and 2 tablespoons brewed espresso or double-strength coffee into a bowl. Using a rubber spatula, stir until the mixture is thick, smooth, and pourable. Drizzle the glaze over the cakes and let stand for 5 minutes to firm up. Cut the cakes and serve.

If you're interested in reading more or getting all the extra tips and tricks the book has to offer, you can get the book here: