When it comes to baking, I am seriously out of my comfort zone. I am a mas o menos (more or less) type of girl: more or less on time (usually less, but I get to my job, the airport, and the train station on time. Anything else, well, I try my best, but often get sidetracked. I have a lot of roses to sniff).
This mas o menos personality thing is well suited to making stews, marinades, pasta sauce. You don’t like how things are going? Add a dash of this. A pinch of that. A heaping tablespoon of cumin, a squirt of hot sauce, more garlic, of course. Cooking at home is a jam session, a sudden-onset sick guitar lick, ad-libs, improvisation, invention, spontaneity. Kick, save, and a beauty!
But when you eff up a baking recipe, there is often no heroic rescue, no sleight of hand, no inspired solution, no excuse, no fashionably late (although you can blame it on your preschooler; on some level every mistake you make is somehow attributable to the kid. Milk that while you can!)
There’s a quote from somewhere that states: “Cooking is an art. Baking is a science.” I dropped high school Physics in the first quarter with a D, but came very close to going to art school.
Therefore, I approach every baking project with a bit of anxiety. And when I have anxiety about something, I try to get someone else to do it for me. So, when my friend, Beth, had a few minutes to hang out when dropping off my son’s best friend for a playdate, didn’t I just enlist her to help me make pound cake?
She’s an experienced baker whose grandmother taught her right, while I am from two Caribbean families who quite rightly had little interest in turning on an oven in the middle of the tropics. Freezer pops? They are on it. Grill? Sí señor. But bread? That’s something you buy. Let someone else sweat that.
So in just minutes, I learned a lot from Beth. Measure the flour after you sift it. Dredge the blueberries before folding them into the batter. This is how to flour a pan.
However we did – and I am not throwing blame here, but I don’t think it was me! – invert the order of a critical step a, missing the wet ingredient before dry. My stomach sank. Did I just invest two sticks of butter and six local, organic ($$$) eggs into a disaster? Am I going to have a pile of shit at the end of this?
But no, Beth carried on calmly, added the missing ingredients and moved forward. And wouldn’t you know, it turns out that sometimes, with a bit of calm, even a baking mistake can work out.
This was the best damn pound cake I have ever had and I think you should make it. Now.
And if any of your mistakes turn out to be just fine, let me know. Cause the laws of physics are not always as bad as they seem. And baking is better with friends.
16 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 16 pieces
3 large eggs, plus 3 large yolks, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾ Cups (7oz) all purpose flour (Cook’s Illustrated recommends cake flour, but I didn’t have that)
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ Cups (8 ¾ oz) sugar
1 Cup blueberries (If using frozen, allow to thaw. Drain juice, keeping the berries).
Flour for dredging berries
Place butter in a bowl to soften slightly (20-30 minutes). Use a fork to beat eggs, yolks, and vanilla in a bowl or measuring cup and let stand at room temperature until you are ready to use.
Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
a) Beat butter and salt with a wooden spoon until shiny, smooth and creamy, about 5-7 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, beating steadily, until all sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.
b) Sift flour over butter mixture in three additions with a rubber spatula until combined. Be very gentle!
c) Then add egg mixture and do the same, mixing until just combined.*
Dredge the blueberries in flour until well-coated. Fold blueberries into the batter and pour into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula. Bake cake for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert cake onto wire rack, turn right-side up and cool completely for a couple of hours. Cake can be store at room temperature for about three days.
*Note: The original recipe called for steps b and c to be in the opposite order from what you see here. Beth and I inverted the instructions by accident, but the cake suffered no discernable problems from our mistake. So it’s your call whether you want to try it the Cook’s Illustrated way or The Accidental Baker way. The recipe here is The Accidental Baker way.