December 04, 2010

Making Pound Cake: Or How My Mother Fibbed To Me

I still make pound cake in the same way my mother and her family prepared it. The requisite pound of eggs, pound of butter, pound of sugar, pound of flour, etc. put quite a dent in their modest household budgets so the cake was made in the late fall, carefully wrapped and stored, and only enjoyed over the Christmas season. And even though our standard of living is much higher than theirs, I still only make it at Christmas - both to honour them and to ensure that it is something that remains a special treat. It is so much richer and better than its store-bought counterpart.  

My recipe comes from my mother's old Dutch Oven cookbook from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. You can tell that the book has been well used over the years.

The first year I enthusiastically made the cake, I was a tad disappointed. It was good but not as rich and flavourful as I remembered. When I mentioned this to my mother, she hesitated for a moment, and pointed out that although the recipe book calls for lemon juice and lemon rind for flavouring, she, in fact, used mace, vanilla and a jigger of brandy. So the following year, I altered the flavourings. Good but... I went back to her, expressing my view that it still wasn't quite up to snuff. Well, turns out that jigger of brandy was more in the region of, say, a CUP of brandy. Now, we're talking! The baked cake does not taste or smell of  brandy. But that amount of brandy binds with all the other rich ingredients to make a dense, but moist, and oh-so-wonderful taste that can't be duplicated in any other way. Secret revealed.

Although our baking pans are of a much higher quality than were available to those women in the old days, I still prepare them in the same way  with a couple of layers of brown paper, greased and cut to fit the pan.

The egg whites are whipped and added to the batter when all the other ingredients have been well incorporated. My mother used a Sunbeam Mixmaster to do this. She used it so much and for so many years that, growing up, we referred to all electric mixers as "mixmasters". I prefer my KitchenAid even more. Women in the neighbourhood who could not afford to have a mixer used their upper body strength to mix the heavy batters of pound and Christmas fruit cakes. Family members would sometimes be called upon to relieve them and take turns at hand mixing.
The batter is poured into the pans, levelled, and covered with a tent of either parchment paper or a sheet of greased brown paper and goes into a 300 degree F. oven for two hours. The loaves are wrapped and stored but not before an end of one loaf is cut off for sampling! After all, the baker has to be sure it is good enough for her guests!


movita said...


Brenda said...

This sounds delicious. Would you share the recipe? Is it actually a pound of everything?