Before, I would have turned to several cookbooks and online resources to determine which pound cake recipe to use. However, since reading Michael Ruhlman's excellent tome, Ratio, which provides formulas for many different foods including cake batters, I knew the basic pound cake ratio and did not have to wade through a bunch of recipes. The pound cake ratio is very simple: equal parts by weight of eggs, flour, sugar and butter. (Just to satisfy my curiosity, I compared Rose Levy Berenbaum's Perfect Pound Cake from The Cake Bible to the standard ratio. She increased the butter about 10% and added a couple of ingredients like salt and baking powder, but it is pretty close. Most pound cake recipes do not deviate very far from the ratio, which makes me wonder why there are so many recipes out there!)
Once you know the ratio, it's easy to perform variations on a theme. I wanted to use up leftover egg whites, so I began with those and added a couple more eggs. Since I was going to be a little short on one of the tenderizing agents (yolks), I threw in some sour cream, knowing that the acid in the sour cream would help tenderize the cake and provide a subtle tangy undertone. It was easy, too - I put a bowl on the scale, zeroed it, poured in the whites and then added two whole eggs plus a few dollops of sour cream until I had the weight I needed.
Since the fall harvest pan falls between a loaf pan and a full-size Bundt in size, I decided to go with 12 ounces of each ingredient, thinking that would be about the right amount of batter. I could have boosted the amounts a few more ounces but came darn close with this guesstimate. Again, because I know the ratio, it's easy to scale the recipe to fit the pan I am using.
Now that I had the ingredients down, I needed to decide on the flavor of the cake. The options are limitless, but being devoid of inspiration on a dreary day I chose lemon, adding both the juice and zest of a large lemon. I threw in 1/4 teaspoon of pure lemon extract (Penzey's) and half a teaspoon of salt. Because I planned to rap the pan on the counter to get the air bubbles away from the surface of the pan, thereby partially deflating the batter, I added a teaspoon of baking powder for added lift.
Now I began to deviate from Mr. Ruhlman's directions. He suggests using the standard creaming method for cake batter: cream together the sugar and butter for several minutes, and add the liquid ingredients alternately with the flour. I prefer a more streamlined version used by professionals called the hi-ratio method (name after the hi-ratio shortening (blech) used by commercial bakeries). I've written about this method before but it bears repeating. You simply stir together all the dry ingredients, add the softened butter and most of the liquid ingredients, mix for 1 1/2 minutes at high speed to aerate the batter and create structure, then add the remaining liquid ingredients and mix another 30 seconds. This technique requires fewer bowls and less fuss yet produces equal, perhaps even superior, results.
I must digress for a moment and talk about softened butter. There is a fairly narrow window between too firm and too soft, a range of about 10 degrees F. For the best results, the softened butter should be between 60 and 70 degrees. You don't even need a thermometer to determine when the butter is softened enough - just bend it. It should bend easily but still hold its shape, like so:
Also, one cautionary note about the hi-ratio mixing method: when you add the butter and liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, start out slow with the mixing speed or you will have a flour volcano erupting in your kitchen.
Before I made the batter I diligently greased the pan using melted shortening and a silicone pastry brush, then tossed in a few tablespoons of cake flour. After tilting and tapping the pan to distribute the flour, I turned it upside down and banged it on the sink divider to get rid of any excess. After doing all of that, the pan closely resembled the frost-covered branches of the trees in our yard (when the hell is spring going to get here?!).
I mixed the batter following the directions above, scraped it into the pan, rapped the pan firmly on the counter about 15 times, and hoped for the best.
You can tell it was a LOT better than the first cake I made with that pan, although a little of the detail on the acorns is still not coming through. I'm not sure what more I can do, but the results are more than passable.
I boiled some sugar and the juice of a lemon to make a glaze, which I brushed on the warm cake to give it the sheen you see above.
And if you are wondering how the crumb of the cake turned out:
Equal parts cake flour, granulated sugar, unsalted butter and eggs.
(about 8 ounces of each for a 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder per 8 ounces flour (if you are going to use a fancy pan and plan to rap the pan on the counter to remove the air bubbles)
1/2 teaspoon salt per 8 ounces flour
Flavoring of your choice (citrus works well - add a Grand Marnier glaze for orange; a spiced cake would be great for fall - especially with this pan)
Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan.
Stir together all dry ingredients in bowl of standing mixer. Mix eggs together in a small bowl. Add the softened butter and about 2/3 of the eggs to the dry ingredients; starting with a slow speed, mix until blended. Increase speed to high and mix for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the remainder of the eggs and mix on high for another 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl again and pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until top is cracked and golden brown and no raw batter remains on a cake tester inserted into the middle. (Cake should be between 195 and 200 degrees F). Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then invert onto cooling rack. Let cool to room temperature.