Thursday, July 3, 2014

Freedom Party Lemon-Sour Cream Pound Cake

I'm not usually organized enough to post a recipe that coincides with any holiday, but here I am, pound cake in hand, and it is a whole 36 hours before the fireworks are official. This cake was not on my radar at all. It was just one of eleven pound cakes I baked off in preparation for my parents' "Freedom (retirement) Party" last weekend. I was initially more excited about the brown butter cakes I (re)discovered, but everyone else kind of devoured this one. And golly-gee, as I have nibbled over the leftovers these last couple days, bite by bite, this lemon-sour cream pound cake has wriggled its lemony way in to my own home baker's heart, too.

We served the pound cakes with a loose, barely-sweet whipped cream and a choice of crushed blackberries or sliced and saucy peaches with raspberries, but for the 4th I'd hope for blueberries and cream, or smooshed raspberries, or even baked in cake pans and stacked with alternating layers of all of the above, celebration-style.

I am rather sorry I don't have a picture of the whole cake, because these shots don't do it justice. The cake manages a bit of iced classiness in the midst of an otherwise humble cake situation. Think meadow camping circa 1955, with red and white checkered table clothes, little boys searching for frogs by the pond, little girls in pigtails chasing ladybugs, mom and pop in flannel and blue jeans, and a shiny silver travel trailer with a striped blue and white awning. There are fire-blistered hot dogs with mustard for dinner, watermelon for snack, and this lemon-sour cream pound cake for dessert.

That is what I imagine, anyhow. Reality was more like this: Days after the party we ate the cake first, dinner second, and though we tried to eat watermelon for dessert, it was gross and we had to throw it out. In the beginning, Cedar ate huge bites off my mother's slice and then ran laps around the backyard. Eden went all primal and did her grunt-y ape dance after each taste, and we all ended up sitting around the blow up pool with our feet in, sweating profusely, drinking beers, and listening to music. There may have even been some shameless karaoke.

Before I sign off I have to acknowledge the fact that I have posted lemon cakes here before, and recently. But each truly has its own place. This one is far more butter-rich, for one thing, and it goes a little over-the-top on the lemon front. But it converted me. It has a triple dose of lemon, which, until now, I always thought excessive or unnecessary or bothersome in other cakes and tended to skip. But I have been misguided. There is lemon zest and juice in the batter, a syrup soaked into them while still hot, and a lemon glaze poured and spread slow enough to let drip down the sides slightly. Even with all this, it keeps it's sweet-tart balance. 

And the sour cream. For those of you who are well acquainted with the delights of brown-shouldered New York-style cheesecakes, this pound cake is a distant relative. The same deep browning goes on. When I ate my first slice I couldn't get cheesecake out of my head. Finally, while testing a buttermilk version, I figured out that it was the sour cream that gave the cake color. The sour cream version developed the bronzing; the buttermilk one did not. Substitute at your own risk.

This cake could be dressed up with all sorts of herby/floral/seedy delights, but we kept it simple this time. I have in mind for next time the usual suspects: rosemary, thyme, or crushed green coriander; elderflower liqueur or lavender; and a low, round, pretty version packed with poppy seeds. But however you serve it and whatever your reality, may your weekend be filled with cool mornings, lazy afternoons, and at least one star spangled night sky. Enjoy!

Lemon-Sour Cream Pound Cake

A note on sugar: I have been loving the wheat-y color and vanilla taste of natural confectioners' sugar, but a word of visual caution, it doesn't look that great on this cake. I did a half and half combination because I knew guests would be confused to see a less than bright white glaze on a lemon cake. And it was just white enough. Use what you see fit.

Adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups fine grain natural cane sugar, divided
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest from 6 to 8 large lemons
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 2 loaf pans (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) and line with parchment paper. Butter again, coat with flour, tapping out the excess, and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk well. In a liquid measure, combine the sour cream, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and vanilla.
Beat the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir until just combined; do not over mix.

Pour the (very thick) batter into the prepared pans, being sure to push it into the corners. Smooth the surface and slide into the preheated oven.
While the cakes bake, prepare the syrup: bring the 1/2 cup lemon juice and the 1/2 cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring often. Let simmer for a minute, maybe, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Take the pan off the heat and let cool completely. You want cooled syrup on hot cakes. It soaks in more easily.
Start checking the cakes at 45 minutes. I peek with the oven light first. Check it every five minutes or so from then on. The cakes are ready when the tops are a deeply bronzed and springy to the touch, and when a skewer poked in the center comes out clean.
Pull the cakes out of the oven and let rest in the pans for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edges and turning out onto racks bottom side down. Brush the syrup over the hot cakes slowly, on the top and long sides especially. (You can spoon it over, too, but I find a pastry brush is more effective.) Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl until completely smooth. Pour the thick glaze over the tops of the cakes, letting it dribble down the sides. I start with the glaze mounded towards the center and let gravity do most of the work.  If it looks like that won't cut it, spread lightly with a knife.
Let the glaze set and firm up before cutting and serving, about four dry hours. (I have no idea how it sets up in high humidity.) Cut into thick slices and eat as is, or serve with cream and crushed berries, if you like. Enjoy!

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