Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Sunday, June 15, 2008

We’re back from Australia and New Zealand, and we had a fabulous time. However, crossing the International Date Line seems to be hard on a person’s body, at least on this person’s body, so I’ve been a little under the weather.
First, a few days before we were scheduled to leave, I was trying out my new exercise ball. I’d had a few glasses of wine (you can already tell that the combination of a few glasses of wine and an exercise ball are not going to lead to a happy ending, can’t you?) and decided it would be an excellent idea to do a backbend using the exercise ball. Not surprisingly, the ball slid out from under me and I flew through the air, whacking my leg on the corner of a door. I watched in awe as the leg turned purple and swollen before my very eyes. By the next day, I could barely walk.
My own personal physician, Dr. Liz, my new doctor-daughter, told me she was worried I might have a deep vein thrombosis or a tiny fracture, either of which might interfere with our trip, to put it mildly. But a visit to a real doctor revealed that all I had was a big fat hematoma, which is sort of a fancy name for a bruise. I was a little alarmed at first because I remember from my soap-opera watching days that people are always dying of hematomas, at least on soap operas, but then I remembered that those were subdural hematomas—bruising on the brain, I think—which is a very handy thing to know about if you’re a soap opera writer and are often required to kill of characters quite suddenly. Anyway, my clinic doctor (the doctor I have to pay for) told me to wear a compression stocking on the flight, but the bruising and big goose-egg lump on my leg was going to last a good long time.
So I limped all over Australia and New Zealand. Then I got blisters on my other foot, probably because I was walking funny; then I could walk only by doing a sort of shuffle-shuffle-hop, which was even a funnier walk than before.
I also developed a urinary tract infection while I was in the outback, about 500 miles away from anything else.

Royal Flying Doctor Service to the rescue! They had a little clinic at Ayers Rock resort that gave me some antibiotics.

The next day I woke up with a big spot floating around in front of my eye. Jim said, "Oh, that's just a floater--I have them. It happens when you get old." Dr. Liz said, "It could be a sign of a detached retina--but probably not." So I had spots in front of my eyes for the rest of the trip, but apparently it is just a floater, and it is just one of those things that happens as you get older. Dr. Liz says it must be hell getting old.

Then I got a cold and a sinus infection as soon as I got back—probably from breathing all that airplane air with billions of germs floating around in it.
You thought you were going to get a mini-travelogue, or at least something about a pound cake, and all you get is a tale of woe.

Despite these woes, the holiday was amazing. (I’m going to start saying holiday instead of vacation and rubbish instead of trash, in order to sound more cosmopolitan). I loved Sydney, and would like to go back there for several months, in order to explore the city and some other areas in Australia.

The south island in New Zealand was perhaps the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, especially the trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

We did a tour of some wineries on the south island, and I’m trying to track down some of those wines, especially the pinot noir, to buy locally. Jim will probably post some pictures eventually, but now it’s time for me to get back to the subject at hand—baking.
On Mother’s Day, I baked the first project of the Lazy Bakers’ No-Rules Club. The second project was a vanilla-bean pound cake recipe from The Cake Bible. It seemed only appropriate to bake another project for Father’s Day. Since it was my choice, I guess I have to post the recipe, so here it is:

3 tablespoons (45 grams) milk
1 vanilla bean
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) cake flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
3/4 teaspoon (3.7 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons (184 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise, place it in a small saucepan with the milk and scald the milk. Cover pan, remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Remove vanilla bean and scrape black grans from its center into the milk.
In a medium bowl, combine the vanilla-infused milk, eggs, and vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. Add butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until dru ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for one minute.
Scrape down the sides and add the rest of the egg mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.
Scrape batter into a buttered and floured 8" x 4" x 2 1/2" loaf pan and smooth the surface. Bake 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover looselyly with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and invert onto a greased wire rack. Reinvert so the top is up. Cool completely.

Melinda Pickworth won a massive amount of vanilla beans in a vanilla-bean-lottery she participated in, and she generously shared them, so I have a bunch of vanilla beans to use before they dry up and wither away. Since I love Rose’s recipe for pound cake, it seemed like a good idea to bake the vanilla-bean variation. And it was a good idea.

Here is why I like Rose’s pound cake: 1) it’s easy; 2) it tastes magnificent, with a tender but still substantial texture, a rich, buttery taste, and a slight buttery crunch to the crust; 3) it’s not so big that I will gain five pounds if I should happen to eat the whole cake; and 4) pound cake is the best excuse in the world to add fresh fruit and whipped cream to the dessert plate. The pound cakes are best made in a small loaf pan. Rose says they’re better if they’re kept small, and she advises against doubling them, so I never have, but I’ll bet if you wanted a cake that would fill a whole bundt pan, you could double the recipe anyway and it would still be delicious.
I was hoping that the vanilla beans would be a little bigger, so they’d be more noticeable in the cake, as in Edy’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, which our family always called “ant gut ice cream.” But, since you can’t really see the vanilla beans very well in this cake, I can’t very well call it Ant Gut Cake.

Served with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries, this cake was a very satisfying end to a casual Father’s Day dinner. Jim said it was more than he deserved, and he is probably right.