Okay, if you like baking, or just looking at recipes for baking, or just looking at pretty pictures of baked goods, then you should own a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours. If you don’t already, you should zip down to your local public library to at least take a gander at it (I’m trying to get brownie points from Pookie for plugging public libraries…). For many years my go-to “I want to try a new recipe, so I’ll just riffle through this one book until I find something that strikes my fancy” baking book was Baking With Julia (also written by Dorie Greenspan), but Baking: FMHTY has completely supplanted it. In fact, my copy of Baking With Julie is now covered with cobwebs and spends its days bitterly getting drunk on cooking sherry and grumbling under its breath about what horrible fate it hopes befalls its usurper.
The latest recipe to support my faith in B: FMHTY is the “Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes”. A couple weeks ago we had lunch with Kristin at Artisanal, and for dessert we had an outrageously good Baba au Rhum. Immediately after getting home that day, I started looking around for recipes to make my own. I found one in, of all places, Baking With Julia, but it seemed overly fussy (on top of being a yeasted dough that gets soaked with rum, this version had a pastry-cream filling); instead, I set my heart on the “Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes” in my newer, favoriter book.
Dorie (since her cookbook and I are BFFs, I feel like we’re on a first-name basis…) describes these cakes in the introduction as having a texture like Sara Lee pound cake, and really, who doesn’t love that? I have never been very good at making pound cake (I either end up with soupy wrecks, or dry, sawdusty loaves), but if Dorie says the recipe will yield perfect Sara Lee-y cakes, then I’m game to give it a try.
The recipe is as follows:
FOR THE CAKES:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 1/3 cups sugar
2 plump, moist vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved, OR 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
1 stick plus 7 tablespoons (15 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
FOR THE SYRUP:
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 (F). Butter two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-x-2 1/2-inch loaf pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. (Even if the pans are nonstick, it’s a good idea to butter and flour them.) Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular sheets stacked on on top of the other.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Put the sugar and the pulp from the vanilla beans, if using them, in a large bowl and, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and thoroughly imbued with the fragrance of vanilla. (If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you’ve added the eggs.) Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract, if you’re using it, then whisk in the cream, followed by the rum. Continuing with the whisk or switching ot a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. (As soon as the cakes go into the oven, make the syrup.) After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color — if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with foil tents.
MEANWHILE, MAKE THE SYRUP: Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the ehat and stir in the rum. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.
When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.
Seriously, could that be ANY easier? This recipe was so much fun because it turned out totally bad-assed, but was actually ridonkulously easy to make. You don’t have to cream anything, or even use use an electric mixer! And all the talk of the insanely perfect texture was just truth in advertising — I am in love with this cake. I may have gone with too light a touch with my pinch of salt, but that’s easily fixed next time. And oh yes, there will be a next time. Because not only is this version of the cake perfection (especially with a hot cup of tea), but Dorie has a handful of variations to play with, like lemon loaf cakes, orange loaf cakes, and candied ginger loaf cakes. I see a taste test in our future.
(Post by Schnookie)