But soft, what cake through yonder window smells so tasty? It is Buttery Pound Cake with Salty Caramel Glaze from Baked Occasions— I’m sure Juliet would approve! Pound cake is buttery, dense, rich, and unbeknownst to me until now, best served with a gooey salted caramel lid. The cake is quite good on its own, but ohhhh-so-much-better slathered with caramel. Really, I suppose it should be fairly obvious that these two delicious things would go together so well, but it simply hadn’t occurred to me before making it for this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe in honor of William Shakespeare‘s birthday on April 23rd. In fact, his actual birthday cannot be confirmed as there is no record, but he was baptized on April 26th, and at the time, infants in England were baptized after 3 days, so the 23rd is his presumed birthdate. What is even more interesting is that he died on this alleged birthday in 1616! Thanks to Shakespeare, we have awesome expressions like “baited breath” and “wild goose chase” and “green-eyed monster”, so being a proud language nerd, I’m happy to bake as an homage to one of the English language’s greatest innovators. I don’t remember much from high school Shakespeare, except that I rocked my class presentation of Sonnet 128 in 12th grade English Lit, in which the poet wishes to experience his love interest’s lips with the same intimacy as her hands grace the piano keys. Yep, that’s a little sexy. And I remember that one of my classmates wrote a brilliant sonnet about Twinkies at 7-11 or something like that; I think he’s an English teacher now, so you know, that’s basically perfect. I’d like to say that I was well-read in Shakespearean works, such that I could appreciate his birthday that much more, but alas… I’m mostly here for the cake.
The recipe intro says that salted caramel can be “redundant”. My feeling on that is that it seems redundant because there are way too many salted caramel posers out there like salted caramel lattes, salted caramel pudding cups, and salted caramel breakfast cereal. Friends, I say this out of love and concern: These items are not what real salted caramel is for. Legit salted caramel is made with fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt flakes) and hails from the Brittany region of France– it is one of the greatest pleasures in life. A good caramel teeters perfectly on the precipice of sweet and salty, and it enhances whatever it’s served over to unspeakably delicious heights. If it’s redundant in any way, it’s because “salted caramel” has become another bastardized, trendy flavor brought to you by Starbucks or Betty Crocker, much like the debasement of red velvet. Real salted caramel is one of the most complex and heavenly things that could ever grace your palate… *sigh* 🙂
The most important ingredient in this recipe is BUTTER. Much like chocolate-centric recipes depend on good-quality chocolate for success, one must deploy the best possible butter for a pound cake to reach its full potential. The recipe calls for European-style butter, which is different than American butter in a couple of ways. First of all, it has a higher fat content, 82-86% butterfat compared to the meager 80-81% of American butter, bestowing a richer flavor and texture, and a lower moisture content, which yields more tender and flavorful baked goods. (A few percentage points may not sound significant, but they do make a big difference!) Secondly, it is made with cultured cream, which I didn’t know much about until I researched it for this recipe. In Europe, cream used to be left out overnight to sour slightly and develop natural live cultures, imparting a complex tanginess to the butter. However, since pasteurization became common practice, butter makers now add live cultures to the pasteurized cream to emulate this flavor. American butter evolved in a different direction; instead of trying to recreate the flavor of cultured butter, sweet cream butter was born, which boasts a decidedly blander flavor and a languid hue of light yellow. Cultured butter has only recently become popular/available in the United States. In addition to imported European butter, there are a number of small butter producers making some excellent European-style artisanal butter (as are some organic dairy companies like Organic Valley). And let me tell you, in Europe they do NOT mess around with their butter—this is taken very seriously by chefs. For example, the French beurre d’Échiré (butter produced from the milk of cows from the region near the village of Échiré close to France’s Atlantic coast) is considered the best of the best. Like the highest quality wines and cheeses, it possesses an appellation status (“Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”), which is a “designation awarded to agricultural products whose character is dependent on the place where they are made.” This special butter is unique based on the soil in that region, which affects the grass eaten by the milking cows, and thus the flavor of the butter produced from their milk. I only know of it because a local French bakery called Voyageur du Temps in Los Altos, CA, makes two kinds of croissants: one with regular butter and one with beurre d’Échiré—the latter is infinitely richer and more delicious. GAH. But anyway, that’s probably way more than you wanted to know about cultured butter!
Sadly, provincial French butter is not what’s in my fridge. Or in this pound cake. The recipe intro for the pound cake says that recipe testers by far preferred this cake with European butter, so I turned to my favorite butter from Kerrygold. I’ve been using Kerrygold unsalted butter from Ireland for several years when making special baked goods. (Incidentally, salted Kerrygold makes heavenly buttermilk mashed potatoes… I thought you should know.) It is intensely buttery, which may sound obvious, but you would notice a definite difference if you taste it alongside American butter because of the above reasons; it is bright yellow— and a little magical, just because that’s how things are in Ireland.
The pound cake is fairly easy to pull together. You start by creaming the majestic European butter with the sugar until it’s fluffy. Sometimes when a recipe says to cream the butter and sugar for upwards of 3 minutes, I’m like, “Is that really necessary?”, especially when it already looks fluffy after 2 minutes. The recipes says to beat for 4-5 minutes, on high speed no less, and I definitely considered stopping earlier, but I’m so glad I let it keep going for the full amount of time because it did make a big difference! I don’t know how the finished pound cake would have been affected per se, but the way the creamed butter looked was very different at 2 minutes vs. 5 minutes. After the full 5 minutes, it appeared much smoother and the sugar looked more dissolved.
After adding a healthy dose of vanilla, you’ll then add 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, mixing for a full minute after each. The mixture was visibly thicker and thicker after each one, and after the final egg yolk, it was smooth and velvety.
The pre-sifted flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt then get added in 3 additions, alternating with heavy cream to make a thick, smooth batter. Scrape this goodness into your loaf pan, from whence a wonderful buttery aroma will waft throughout your house while the cake is baking!
The pound cake took 64 minutes to bake (upper end of the recommended baking time) because the center was still raw long after the rest was cooked, as is often the case with loaf cakes/quick breads. Unfortunately, the edges were tougher than I would have liked, and the top, a little browner than I prefer. Maybe THAT’S why the recipe says to cut and discard the ends! I read that and thought, “Uhhh, right– why the hell would I throw out perfectly delicious pound cake?” Now I’m thinking that, unless I simply overbaked it, the ends get thrown out because they get overdone while the middle finishes cooking. (I may turn down the oven a few degrees next time to see if that prevents over-browning.) Meanwhile, the loaf will develop the tell-tale center “split”– I always love how that looks!
The recipe says that optimal pound-cake-eating takes place 12-24 hours after baking, so I waited patiently until the next day. Make the glaze on the day that you plan to serve the loaf. You guys, I’ve been feeling seriously caramel-impaired. I’ve had trouble with nearly every batch I’ve made recently, and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. For this batch, you’ll melt together the brown sugar, butter (more Kerrygold goodness up in here), and heavy cream, and bring to a boil. I did all the boiling and whisking, and it still felt like there were sugar crystals on the bottom of the pot even towards the end; I was sure that it would seize up in a massive crystallized rebellion, but I carried on anyway. I added the fleur de sel and let it cool for 5 minutes as instructed. Then, I added the confectioners’ sugar (about ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons), which was all clumpy when I whisked it into the caramel, despite having been sifted. I decided to put the pot back over medium heat, in the hopes of melting the sugar bits, and this worked perfectly. I was still worried about it crystallizing, but at least for pouring, it was beautiful. I am so grateful that this batch turned out well, but I wish I knew where the inconsistency lay! Perhaps the luck o’ the Irish was with me…
Meanwhile, I cut off the those edges as instructed, pleased to see that the interior was dense and moist with a very tight crumb– as a classic pound cake should be! The finished glaze was somewhat thick and very pourable– and there was a LOT of it. I poured it in about 4 layers, letting each one cool and thicken a bit before adding more in order to build up a thick caramel topping. Because we all need that in our lives. The pound cake itself is very tasty… but the salted caramel is where it’s at, people. This cake would be best served with a small pitcher of caramel, like pancakes with maple syrup– every bite with caramel is heavenlyyyyyy….
To thoroughly enrich your life, get thyself over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe for Buttery Pound Cake with Salty Caramel Glaze, and be sure to take a peek at my fellow bakers’ beautiful caramel-drenched loaves!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.