Monday, December 5, 2011

Simplicity and Surprise

I love simplicity, like sauces that only require five ingredients and an hour of unobtrusive cooking on the backburner. I also like the elements of surprise and contrast, and will put disproportionate amounts of effort into creating them. It took me four tries to figure out how to hide lemon zest in an asparagus bisque so that the smooth, creamy earthiness ended on a bright, acidic note. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as seeing people’s faces light up with surprise and delight while eating freaking soup.

I enjoy these aspects in books as well. Simplicity makes it easy to fall into a new world. Maybe I’m a lazy reader, but I like to tumble in and not blink until about page 30. Surprise and contrast produce tension and conflict. They make us root for the battered underdog, cry for the broken hero, and cringe from the villain. Achilles with that tender heel. The daydreamer who’s a virtuoso with a blade. The uptight CEO with his secret appreciation of doilies. Okay, I haven’t seen that last one yet, but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

In the spirit of simplicity, I offer up a pound cake. It’s not quite as simple as the original, a pound each of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and remorse. But it’s close (minus the remorse).

Vanilla Pound Cake
(adapted from the amazing All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook)

1 ½ cups butter or margarine (3 sticks), softened
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups cake flour

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 10-inch Bundt pan.
  • In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until just blended. Increase high and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes), frequently scraping bowl with spatula. Reduce speed to medium; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and salt. Increase speed to high and beat for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl.
  • With large wire whisk, stir in flour until just smooth.
  • Spoon batter into Bundt pan and spread evenly.
  • Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  • Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run the tip of a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Invert onto rack to cool completely. Try not to eat until cool.

If you want to add something surprising, try drizzling the cake with the following sauce, or fold the sauce into whipped cream for added decadence. This requires some elbow grease, but makes a fine foil to the pound cake. Or ice cream. Or a dull muffin.

10 ounces frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
2 tablespoons red currant jelly
1 teaspoons cornstarch

  • In 2-quart saucepan, push the raspberries through a fine sieve using the back of a spoon. Discard seeds.
  • Stir in jelly and cornstarch. Heat to boiling over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute until it thickens.

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  1. *Moan* I'm going to get fat(ter) reading this blog...

  2. Oh, Yum!

    I appreciate the simpler things too. Or, yeah, maybe I'm just lazy :)

  3. That looks sooo yummy! Thanks for sharing the sauces too.

  4. Yum. I think I need to make this. :)

    Great post -- thanks!

  5. Pound Cake is one of my most favorite desserts. I have a recipe that uses McCormick's Vanilla Butter Nut flavoring, something I have to special order, but ooh, is it good. :) Thanks for the reminder... tomorrow may be pound cake day!