Anyone who knows me knows that I love food. When I lived in France, I gained the reputation of “La Petite Gourmande”- i.e., the little foodie. Whenever I passed a bakery, nine times out of ten, I’d go inside. If I ended up going in for a baguette, there would probably be an above average chance that I’d emerge with a little “sachet”, or wrapped parcel with an elaborately-constructed pastry inside. My dinner conversations with friends seemed to gravitate towards where I got the best macaron (Cordier , a shop close to my apartment), and where to get the Pain Aux Raisins with the juiciest, plumpest raisins, and most gooey centers (P. Bazille…unfortunately, no website, but if you’re ever in Orléans, visit the bakery on Rue Bannier before 10:30 AM to enjoy this pastry.)
One of my friends who shared my love for French pastries was Julicia. We were both in Orleans to teach English…But I’m pretty sure each of us also had a hidden pastry agenda. While she gravitated towards the Pain au Chocolat aux Amandes (think of a delicate, flaky pastry stuffed with chocolate, and sprinkled with powdered sugar and almonds), I would always take the Pain aux Raisins route, or select other custard-filled creations.
After our time abroad, we both moved back to the U.S., and still keep in touch. We both miss French cooking and food, but have used baking as a way to satisfy our cravings.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a text from Julicia that didn’t begin with words; instead, it contained a picture of a delicious, buttery looking cake- the kind that you would never find in France, but frequently appears in many an American household. She explained that she made it for a neighbor’s birthday, and of course, I asked for the recipe.
North Carolina Pound Cake is southern at heart, and would probably make Paula Deen proud- not only does the recipe call for two sticks of butter, but also half a stick of Crisco, five eggs, and a generous helping of white sugar. After combining the butter, Crisco and sugar, the batter gained a rich, golden-yellow hue.
I had never used a tube pan for a dessert before…But then again, I had never made Pound Cake. I was wondering how far the cake would poof up once I baked it, and as it turns out, it does grow quite tall (and dense…I guess that explains its name).
The only warning I have for this recipe is the baking time. My oven is notoriously unreliable, and I usually have to check what I’m baking every five minutes to make sure it doesn’t get well-done or burnt. In this case, though, I left the cake in for the full hour and 15 minutes baking time…Only to find out later that the very top of the cake (under the crispy, crunchy top layer) was still a little gooey. Julicia said that she didn’t have the same problem, so I guess my best advice would be to start checking the cake after an hour and 15 minutes to make sure it’s baked through.
Despite the one mishap, the majority of the cake turned out well, and tasted as buttery, sugary and delicious as it looked when I was making the batter. I think next time, I’ll add a little lemon zest or lemon juice to the batter to balance the sweetness. I’d recommend serving the cake with berries, or simply sprinkling it with powdered sugar. It doesn’t need decoration, and is rich enough without icing:
North Carolina Pound Cake (slightly adapted from Julicia’s recipe)
3 cup sugar (white)
2 stick butter (softened)
½ cup Crisco
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour (I used unbleached all-purpose)
1 cup milk
1 tsp baking powder
-Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees
– Grease and flour a tube-pan. Set aside.
– Cream softened butter, sugar and Crisco until smooth.
– Beat in eggs one at a time.
– Add vanilla.
– Gradually add flour, baking powder and milk, alternating the flour and milk.
– Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hr 15 min (start checking it after 1 hr 15 minutes. If the cake has a flaky top-layer like mine did, don’t be afraid to stick a knife, fork, or toothpick through it to make sure the actual cake is baked through. )