A few years ago I discovered my neighborhood used book store. It’s a not-so-tiny-but-still-cozy place with a steady stream of previously-loved books flowing in. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that it would be a wonderful source for old cookbooks–maybe I feared that I’d hurt the nice UPS man’s feelings if he didn’t have a delivery for me from Amazon every few days?–but I got with the program. Since this discovery I’ve popped in a few times a year to check out “new” volumes in the cookbook section. The floor-to-ceiling shelves are packed with both old and new editions. Even more books are stacked on the floor for easy perusing. When time permits I park myself in a warm little corner of the bookshop, sit on the old wooden step stool and read, read, read.
While I see popular, new cookbooks and pick them up from time to time, I’m most interested in the older editions. Like clothes, shoes and cars, dishes also seem to fall out of fashion and it’s always exciting (for a food blogger, at least) to rediscover dishes that have fallen out of favor.
But I’m always concerned by the quality of the recipes from unfamiliar (to me) books, especially older ones. Are the recipes accurate? Are the dishes good? This uncertainty almost creates an element of adventure cooking from these lesser-known older cookbooks. Leafing through the pages of a recent find on chocolate cakes, this chocolate pound cake appealed to me for its simplicity but mainly because it was called “Dependable Chocolate Pound Cake”. How’s that for assurance? So I set about making it.
The result? While I thought it turned out just as I’d hoped in many respects–chocolatey, rich, dense as a pound cake should be–I found it a bit dry (don’t leave me yet–keep reading). Even as I folded the dry ingredients into the egg/sugar mixture it looked like there was too much flour. I began to second-guess my kitchen scale but ultimately blamed the results on a bad purchase. But I couldn’t let the matter go for some reason. The cake tasted good. How about just reducing the amount of flour next time, I thought.
What I did instead was compare this recipe against the Joy of Baking recipe for the same cake. As I compared the ingredients side-by-side I noticed close similarities with only minor differences in proportion and types of flour and sugar used. Then I got to the part where it said “1/4 cup water”. I thought, “There’s the problem! My recipe is missing this ingredient.” But lo and behold, my recipe did have liquid on the list.
I forgot to add the liquid!
Sure enough, in paragraph 3, I was instructed to add milk or water as I folded in the dry ingredients. You can believe how relieved…and stupid…I felt for omitting this crucial step. I found the reason for the slight dryness to the cake–the recipe is a winner after all–and shame on me for blaming the book. I am confident that the next time I make this pound cake it will have the moisture that it lacked due to my mistake. Just as its name suggests, I do believe this recipe will be one I depend on for years to come. Even with my omission the cake is almost gone. Just don’t forget to add the liquid!
** For my favorite Lemon Pound Cake, click here.
- 1¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon cake flour (8 ounces)
- Scant ⅔ cup (2 ounces) unsweetened, Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 generous cup (8 ounces) superfine sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ cup water or milk
- Position a rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan, dust it with flour and tap out the excess. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together twice then set aside. Using a hand mixer on low speed, beat the butter for 1 minute or until light. Add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating as you go. Once all the sugar is added, continue beating on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 10 seconds between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute then add the vanilla.
- Fold the sifted ingredients into the batter in three additions, alternating with the water (or milk) in two additions. Once everything is combined beat the batter on low speed for another minute until it's smooth.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter to break up any air bubbles in the batter. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.
- Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.