Buttermilk Pound Cake
Last week, I spent more time in the airport than in school. I was visiting colleges I’d been accepted to, hoping to find the one that spoke to me. I only applied to schools in the east coast, so there was a lot of flying in store.
My dad went with me. We took eight flights in total, and unfortunately, we weren’t lucky when it came to the Russian roulette of flight-booking. Nearly all of our flights were red-eye. I was in the middle seat almost every time, and not always next to my dad. I sat next to a baby – twice. And none of the flights came with food, though that might have been a good thing.
But for me, the worst part about it was the boredom. The amusement of my iPod faded quickly, especially without internet access: no Facebook, no Twitter, no email or WordPress for six hours. I wasn’t able to make calls or send texts. Without my phone, my iPod, and my camera, I didn’t know what to do.
I remember my impatience on our last flight home. The plane half landed, bouncing gently up and down and still moving fast enough to make my head spin. I had my phone turned on before the plane had come to a slow roll, before our pilot could say “Welcome to Seattle” and remind us to keep our seatbelts on. I texted my best girlfriend E- (and also checked to see if airport wifi went out this far. It didn’t.)
E- wasn’t texting back quickly enough, so I impatiently slapped the cell phone screen a few times. I glanced up to see the man in the aisle seat staring at me. We both laughed a little and I told him, “Sometimes she texts like she’s only got one hand.” He didn’t get it, so I added, “Super slowly.”
His expression told me that he was seeing something completely foreign, and I felt embarrassed. I pushed my cell phone into my pocket and worked on lifting out my bags. I didn’t check my phone again until my dad and I were reunited and standing outside, waiting for the car to pick us up.
I think it’s safe to say that people my age truly compose the generation of instant gratification. We say we just like to feel connected and make our voices heard, but that isn’t entirely true. We like the power of feeling up to speed, of knowing everything as it happens. When we decide we want something, we can’t get it out of our heads. We want it now, and if we have to wait, our moods sour.
I’m guilty of it. When the bus runs a few minutes off schedule, I turn up my iPod and pout a little, already impatient at my wasted time. When the mood suddenly strikes to watch a certain movie, I immediately drive out to the local Blockbuster, unable to wait for tomorrow. I hate lines, traffic, and even the amount of time it takes for a soda to fall out of the vending machine.
E-, the friend who I texted after my flight, approached me before class a month or two ago. She handed me a slice of buttermilk pound cake in a Tupperware container. It was as simple as pound cake gets, no frills or distractions – no hints of lavender, no chocolate marble swirl, no vanilla bean glaze or berry puree. Not even a dusting of powdered sugar. As the bell rang and we all found our seats, I tried a little piece.
I shouldn’t have been fooled by its humble appearances. This cake was something extraordinary.
E- told me the secret ingredient was time. She’d discovered that if she waited a day or two before cutting into it, everything about this pound cake improved – the flavor, the texture of the crumb, its dynamics. The slightly sugary crust that formed along the edges, giving it a bit of a crunch? The sweet, gentle tang of buttermilk? All side effects of her patience.
I got the recipe, determined to bake the thing and let it sit. But the trouble started even before the oven preheated. I love the taste of batter, and this batter tasted amazing. After two little dips into it I told myself I had to stop or there wouldn’t be any cake to age. I showed some uncharacteristic restraint and slid the pan into the oven.
An hour later, the house smelled incredible. Like sugar and butter and cream and home. When I opened the oven door, the kitchen filled up with warm, fragrant air. I turned the cake out onto a rack and breathed in the sugary steam rising up from it. I really, really wanted to try it. I thought about taking a little crumb from the bottom where nobody was sure to miss it. But I let the cake cool and then packed it up so I wouldn’t be tempted.
I didn’t think I could do it, but two days later, I cut the first piece of pound cake. I could feel how richly dense it was as the knife sank through. I broke off a piece the way I had a couple months ago. Completely and utterly worth waiting for.
Appearance-wise, this pound cake is certainly humble. If you’re like me, the kind of person who judges recipes on the photos and likes baked goods with an impressive air, you might be surprised. This pound cake is everything you’d want in a real pound cake. It’s not a delicate strawberry short cake kind of pound cake – it’s unabashedly dense, heavy in exactly the right way.
If you like buttermilk, the flavor is wonderful. It’s sweet, with just a little bit of tang. By the second day, the pound cake gets a little sugary crust around the bottom. If that doesn’t sound appealing, believe me, it is. It adds just a tiny bit of crunch and is so, so good.
While this recipe is a great way to use up buttermilk, you don’t need it. I almost never buy it, since it’s so easy to make: just put a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough milk to make it all equal 1 cup. Then let it sit for 5-10 minutes while you prep the rest of the recipe.
I don’t know what the cake tasted like right after baking. All I know is that when I finally tried it, it was perfect. My advice is that you make the pound cake, let it cool, then keep it loosely wrapped for a day or so. Even overnight would work. The cake lasts a long time, but it might not stick around long enough for you to find out.
Cruze Farm Buttermilk Pound Cake
Slightly adapted from the New York Times
Makes a 9″ bundt cake
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted room temperature butter, plus more for greasing the pan
3 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cultured buttermilk (see above to make your own)
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour a bundt pan.
Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and drizzle in the sugar, creaming it well. Add the eggs one at a time, after the egg before it has been incorporated. Beat in the vanilla extract, scraping down the sides. On low speed, add a third of the flour mixture until just combined. Then add a third of the buttermilk mixture until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. Stir in the lemon juice.
Smooth the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick or thin knife comes out clean, about 75 minutes. The cake should be browned and the edges should be starting to pull away. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a rack and cool completely.
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