A perfect, plain pound cake is wonderful. A mediocre pound cake is boring.
That’s my conclusion having tried Ina Garten’s recipe for Lemon Cake. This zest-studded cake is first drenched in a puckery lemon syrup, then iced with a crisp sugar glaze. It’s powerfully lemony, in a good way. Thinking back, all my favorite pound cakes have bold flavor additions. Things like candied orange or ginger, rum syrup, brown-butter icing, or chocolate ganache. When I eat plain pound cake, I toast it and eat it with fruit. Or smother it in ice cream. It always needs something extra.
Here is the recipe, if you’d like to try it. Do make sure your ingredients are at the proper temperature- it really makes a difference!
I’ve been working my way through Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. It’s the sort of baking book I like- one that’s been adapted for home cooks, but still offers a challenge for readers with advanced skills and specialty equipment. I have similar feelings about Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life and Sarabeth Levine’s Sarabeth’s Bakery.
So far, Chang’s recipes have been reliable and delicious. I especially liked this tart- the pate sucree is crunchy, delicate, and punctuated with bits of kosher salt. The filling is indulgent, not too sweet, and smooth on your tongue. When I visited Flour Bakery in Boston, my impression was that Chang appreciates well-browned baked goods. All the breakfast pastries were crisp, flaky, and flavorful. I’m particularly obsessed with the craquelines, brioche pastries stuffed with candied orange and topped with a crunchy sugar-almond glaze.
Some notes: the tart pastry is quite delicate. If it tears, just press some extra dough scraps into the pan. You can also chill the dough briefly before transferring it to the pan. Enjoy!
Continue reading Chocolate Truffle Tart
Most of the people I know eat cake on their birthday- a special cake that’s reserved specifically for the occasion. Growing up, I’d ask my mother for one of three cakes: a lemon cake, a German chocolate cake, or an angel-food cake. They were the cakes she made most frequently. I wonder- did she make them because I liked them? Or did I like them because she made them often?
I’m not sure how we choose our favorites. For a long time, tradition dictated my choices. Now, they are more influenced by personal taste and rarity. I pick things I haven’t had in a long time, or things that take considerable time and effort to execute. I was home for my birthday this year, and I asked my mom for an apple crisp. There was a year in college when I desperately wanted an impeccably decorated birthday cake from Whole Foods. Mom let me buy two.
Perhaps it’s not about what we want to eat on our birthdays, but how we want to feel. People rarely bake for me, so I feel extremely indulged when someone makes me a cake. It is a gesture that expresses great thoughtfulness- much like buying someone the perfect Christmas gift instead of giving them a gift card.
This is my third year making my husband a lemon meringue pie for his birthday. I make it for him because he likes it. I also make it because it gives me an occasion to perfect a single recipe. There are many recipes I make repeatedly, but few I make predictably, with such intense focus. It’s not just a pie- it’s a gift of time, effort, and care.
I’ve added some new notes to the recipe below, which appeared on my old blog. If you compare the above photo with this photo, you can see how mistakes can impact the texture. One has a dense filling and a creamy meringue- the other has an aerated filling and a stiff meringue.To swirl the meringue like I have in the photo, shape it into a dome, and then angle a spoon or spatula into the meringue. Rotate the pie to shape a swirl, moving your spatula from the bottom of the meringue to the top.
Continue reading On Birthday Cakes and Pies