A Baker’s Dozen: A Cake for All Seasons—Sour Cream Pound Cake

by Dianne Boate

This story could be compared to a Spanish soap opera that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but the conclusion resembles a football game fumble …

Discovering the sour cream pound cake

Years ago I found a little recipe with an unassuming name, Easy Pound Cake. With just eight ingredients, there could not be a more humble approach to cake making than this one, in which everything is beaten together for three minutes, poured into a pan, and baked. It was a whole new style at the time and very popular.

The recipe the way I do it:

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon each salt, baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream

Cream butter and sugar together four to five minutes; add eggs, one at a time. Sift flour, measure; add salt and soda, sift again. Add vanilla, add sour cream and sifted flour alternately on low speed. Pour into prepared pan(s). This single recipe will make one bundt pan cake.

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I discovered this recipe doubled very nicely; handy for large orders. Most cakes for the Balboa Theater Birthday Bash every February were made with this recipe. Three hundred people? Nothing to it: Six double batches. But with years of experience making other types of cake, came technique discoveries that I began to employ in making my favorite, resulting in the following rules:

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All ingredients at room temperature.

Eggs are extra large.

All-purpose flour is sifted first, then measured.

Salt and baking soda are added to flour and sifted again.

Butter and sugar are beaten unmercifully, about 5 minutes.

Eggs are added one at a time, beaten well after each addition.

The sour cream and flour are mixed in at very low speed.

Pans are sprayed with baking spray.

The oven temperature is 325 degrees, preheated.

When you begin to smell the cake it is nearly done.

The cake rests in its pan on a rack until you can comfortably put your hands on the pan.

The Big Idea

I belong to the tribe of January Aquarians that love the new recipe, the New Idea, whatever it is. At the end of August, I was waiting in a doctor’s office, letting my mind swim in an ocean of birthday cake ideas. Opera In the Park was coming soon; I was fishing for some novel ideas for husband Robert Meyer’s birthday celebration. A vision came, whole and complete: A cake shaped like a big wine bottle with an edible label featuring a picture of Robert holding a wine glass.

Good ideas will find you wherever you are. They drop in your brain often unexpectedly from unseen elements, just like your computer mouse picks up a document from desktop and down it goes into an email. And so, voila, the big idea had arrived.

I hurried home, eager to start baking right away; shaping was easy with a long loaf pan and a short loaf pan. The long and short loaves on the left were what I used; a double batch made all these cakes.

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I carefully put the batter together and baked the cakes. Three important things to remember: How the batter looks, how it smells, and how it tastes. Top scores from the toughest critic, myself, with a verdict that it was the very best sour cream pound cake I ever made in years and years of making it.

Fellow baker Kandi Kerchum graciously offered to get the label done, and then she found champagne grapes at Berkeley Bowl. A luscious chocolate frosting would cover the “bottle” and the grapes would surround the bottle on a tray, then the label placed properly. Cake fit into a big box; foil was securely placed and cake went into the car. It was in just one dark moment transporting the cake from car to picnic that the foil slid down on top of the label.

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I was heartsick after so much effort. But the happy part is that the idea was still visible and 52 guests ate their way through—not a crumb left.

The last gasp

I am no stranger to unusual cake configurations. Once I made a cake in the shape of a fantasy City Hall to feed 2,000 visiting mayors. The surprise part for the guests was getting up on a ladder and pouring chocolate sauce over the whole thing in the middle of Union Square, downtown San Francisco.

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DBoate
Dianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area.  Between cake assignments, she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at www.boatecollection.com

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