My first birthday cake – Belt buckle vanilla cake with fudge frosting.

First you might be thinking – first birthday cake? You’re how old, again? I’m 24, thanks, and I don’t mean this is my first birthday cake. (My first birthday cake, incidentally, happened to be a yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting, made by Mom, and I smeared it all over my face. In the picture, I’m quite pleased with myself.) I mean that this was the first real “birthday cake” I made entirely by myself. Sure, I’ve made cakes, and one of them was even for a birthday. But this cake was a birthday cake, if you understand the difference. There are cakes for birthdays, and there are birthday cakes. This one was of the latter variety.

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Someone’s perfect pound cake.

Finally, things are starting to settle down. A new house is rapidly becoming home for us. Three pecan trees in the front – can’t wait for pecans to fall so we can roast and freeze and store them – and a fenced yard in the back for the two furry children, who are thrilled to have room to run and bushes to lay under. Hardwood floors, lots of closet space, and the kitchen – oh sweet kitchen. Open space, with windows to the front yard (and the elderly neighbors’ three acres of flower gardens). New and new-to-us appliances, barely used or loved – until now. I have a brand-new stove and chest freezer – the thrill! The chest freezer has gotten its love and is slowly accumulating frozen meats, unbaked baguettes and the remainder of my birthday DQ icecream cake. (Don’t hate.) And the range has gotten more than its share so far with plenty of sautéing, pan-frying and water-boiling going on. But the oven… the poor, neglected oven has yet to experience any baked goods, so far serving only to warm leftovers or food-gifts for a large family supper.

I wanted a recipe that would showcase my appreciation for this new appliance in my home, something that would fill the house with warmth and love. A banana nut bread thought popped up, but alas – no nuts in the house. A desire for popovers popped up one morning, but I can’t seem to find my regular muffin tins. Breads are intended, but mostly for freezing and baking later, and besides, we don’t need fresh bread right now. No other recipe spoke to me. What recipe would share that feeling I wanted in my house, the homey loving wanted feeling?

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Lemon pound cake.

You may not know this, but a well-made pound cake is a beautiful, tasty, delightful thing. God bless whoever came up with the idea of putting a pound apiece of butter, sugar, flour and eggs (in that order, I understand) together and making a simple cake creation out of it.

Pound cake is nearly a religious symbol in the South. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a different recipe. You’d think a pound cake recipe wouldn’t have nearly so many variations, but everybody’s grandmama or grandaddy or Aunt Bessie or Cousin Alma or Aunt Ellie who’s not really your aunt but she might as well be family… everybody’s got a recipe. Some call for shortening, some call for butter. Some call for vanilla, some for lemon. Some call for chocolate chips or blueberries or peaches. Some are reportedly best baked in loaf pans, while others are better in a tube pan, and still others only work in a 10-inch bundt. (There are folks who would faint if you baked their beloved family recipe in a bundt. I don’t really know why.) Some recipes turn out a fluffy, pale interior with a barely golden puckered crust, while other recipes produce a dense yellow beauty complete with a toothsome outer dark brown crumb. It all depends on your fat, and your means of mixing, and the time spent mixing wet vs. dry and dry into wet…

Such a simple recipe doesn’t seem so simple, does it? Continue reading

Hershey’s Chocolate Cake, by request.

I’ve only made this cake twice – once to try it out, which was a huge success, and the second time for Cullen’s 25th birthday, on request. It was actually quite an honor to be asked to make the cake for his birthday. Normally his aunt makes all birthday cakes for the family, but in this case (and under family circumstances), not so much. He got a piece of the first cake and was smitten from the word “go.” When we asked him what he wanted for his birthday cake, he immediately answered: “That chocolate cake you made and took to the office. It was goooood.”

How can you turn down a man with a wish for his birthday cake?

The only difference between the two was the buttercream that I used. I used a recipe for “drier” buttercream the first go-round – that’s the cake that I’ve been teasing you with for weeks on end. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t remember where I found that particular recipe, so I had to go searching for another one. I finally settled on the SMBC from Joy the Baker, and though it was tasty, I think I screwed it up. It was very soft, and like to never set up properly. Of course, it may have been divine retribution from the Kitchen Gods for using someone else’s Cuisinart mixer versus my own loving KitchenAid to make the damn buttercream in the first place. I’m sure that’s a cardinal sin, written down in the original kitchen Bible. That’ll teach me, won’t it? Maybe next time, it’ll work out for me.

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Ancestral pound cake.

I promised pictures, and I shall deliver. However, the recipe will thus far remain mostly secret, to protect a selfish sense of pound cake imperialism in my family. I will tell you that it is a massive recipe in and of itself, requiring at least a 4-quart mixing bowl (preferably a 6-quart), a bundt and a classic loaf pan. It is quite literally a pound cake, being heavy and reasonably dense, but still light enough to eat without feeling like you’ve consumed concrete paste, as well as ridiculously moist and flavorful. I generally prefer my pound cake unflavored, unlike most of these heathens I’m surrounded by in Georgia who cling to their iced lemon-flavored cakes – bah. Blasphemy. Great-great-great-poppa had right idea with this unadorned creation.

Ignore that open space in the cake. A cook has to sample her work – or have someone else sample it for her, in this case.

As I’ve said, this was my great-great-great-grandfather’s recipe on my mother’s side. He owned and operated a bakery in Augusta, GA way back in the day (whenever that was) and this recipe has gone through the years to finally rest with me. I got the recipe (finally) from my mother about a year and a half ago, when I was looking for a pound cake recipe to make and couldn’t find one that I liked in my limited number of cookbooks. I adore this recipe, and I’ve only made it twice. The first time I made it, I actually managed to screw it up, probably by following the recipe according to very specific directions. Somehow, it never rose to its proper height in the pans, leaving an abominably tasty but ridiculously dense cake. (It made for wonderful grilled breakfast toast, by the way.) This time around, I did things my way and got a cake that overflowed it’s bundt boundaries just enough.

I took half the cake to the picnic concert last night, which was fun. Jessica made chicken salad (I want the recipe) and pimento cheese (I REALLY want the recipe) and brought hometown salsa, roasted tomato and olive oil Triscuits (tasty!), pop, a bottle of reasonably local wine that was very sweet in a good way, pitas, and macerated strawberries for the pound cake. The music wasn’t really bluegrass – I’d call it folk, but it was good. It was definitely an awakening experience. I had never known that so many hippies lived in the town I’m moving to. Or that none of them knew how to teach their kids proper manners.

At least they didn’t try to steal my cake. Them or their rude little young’uns.