I’ve been really into baking lately. Not only because we are in the middle of the holiday season, but because it’s an area of cooking that I’ve always felt I lacked solid skills. Baking has been more intimidating to me than savory cooking because it’s a science. It requires patience and precision; dutifully measuring out ingredients, and not making fly-by-the-seat of your pants changes. I’m confident that I can come home and whip up dinner with whatever I have in my house, but ask me to bake a cake without a recipe and I have no idea where to start.
I see a lot of great recipes online that I would love to adapt to my favorite flavors. I would wonder if I can reduce the sugar so the end result was less sweet, or even if I could cut the recipe in half without throwing off the texture. So many unknowns and questions that just ended in feeling overwhelmed! As I did more research into different areas of baking, I found anecdotes of cooks out there who didn’t share my sentiment that baking was some rigid, scary monster. What I found that they all had in common was a basic understanding of the underlying principles and chemistry involved with baking. No, they weren’t detailing out equations in their writing or constantly referencing the periodic table. They simply understood the role that each component played in baked goods. That was the knowledge I was lacking.
I reached out to some peers in the food photography world and asked for recommendations on cookbooks that would step through the science behind each baking ingredient. I’m sure you are thinking, “Well Nik, you can find all that information online”. You’re right, I can; however, I wanted this information to come from a singular source of authority so I didn’t get caught up in different explanations of the same process. Also, confession, I have somewhat of an obsession with cookbooks; more on that in another post.
Based on recommendations, I decided to purchase The Fearless Baker by Erin Jeanne McDowell. I really appreciate how each chapter starts with an explanation of the building blocks of a particular baked good. The recipes are super easy to follow; the pro tips given along the way really help in clearing up confusion, and providing usable “shortcuts”. Overall, it has really helped me in terms of understanding why certain ingredients are necessary, and which parts of the recipe allow for wiggle room. It’s definitely given me more confidence to go out and make baked goods my own!
The vanilla pound cake recipe below comes from The Fearless Baker. It is easy to pull together, and not at all fussy or time consuming. Best of all, you can easily sub out the cranberry puree for a different flavor! After baking, I drizzled an orange glaze over the top that really brought the whole cake together. A fun fact I learned while researching complimentary flavors, lemon enhances the flavor of oranges and adds another level of brightness to the citrus fruit!
Try out this recipe and let me know what you think in the comments! Share your pictures on Instagram by tagging #cleanplateclb
Vanilla Pound Cake with Cranberry Swirl
Recipe from The Fearless Baker by Erin Jeanne McDowell
Total Time: 80 to 85 minutes
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Inactive time: 65 minutes
Yields: 1 10 inch Bundt cake
Shelf Life: 1 week tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or frozen for up to 3 months
361 g all-purpose flour
298 g granulated sugar
6 g baking powder
2 g kosher salt
227 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
170 g eggs (about 3 large, room temperature)
181 g whole milk (room temperature)
5 g vanilla extract
102 g cranberry puree (recipe below)
1 serving Orange Glaze (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the middle. Butter and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Note: I rubbed unsalted butter oven the pan, then dust with a light coating of flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, on medium-low speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Note: you can also use a hand mixer if you don’t have a stand mixer.
Continue with the mixer on medium low speed, adding in the eggs one at a time. Let the egg fully incorporate before adding in the next egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add in the vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.
With the mixer on low, add in a third of the flour mixture from step 2. Once the flour has just combined with the other ingredients, add in half of the milk and mix to combine.
Continue alternating flour and milk until the remaining ingredients are incorporated. Do not over mix.
Add the cranberry puree to a Ziploc bag and cut off a small part of one corner. Note: I found it easier to pipe the cranberry puree onto the cake batter (results in a more even distribution of cranberry), but you can also use a spoon to drizzle it onto the batter.
Pour about a 1/3 of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Pipe a 1/3 of the cranberry puree over the cake batter. Note: try not to pipe too close to or on the edge of the Bundt pan as it can cause the cranberry puree to burn while baking.
Continue alternating cake batter and cranberry puree in 1/3 increments.
Place the Bundt cake into the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The cake is finished when a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Note: in my oven this took about 53 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Place a wire rack over the Bundt pan. Turn the Bundt pan oven, while holding onto the wire rack. The cake should slide out easily. If it doesn’t slide out, lightly tap on the bottom of the Bundt pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the cake.
Let the cake cool for another 20-30 minutes. If serving immediately, poor the orange glaze (recipe below) over the top. If you aren’t serving immediately, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Total Time: 25 to 30 minutes
Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Inactive time: 20 minutes
Yields: about 1 cup
Shelf Life: about 1 to 2 weeks airtight in the fridge or frozen for about 3 months
8 oz fresh cranberries (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup water
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
Cook over medium heat until cranberries pop, about 5-10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook an additional 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens. The mixture should be on the thick side and coat the back of a spoon without running off.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
Adapted from The Fearless Baker by Erin Jeanne McDowell
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yields: about 1/2 cup
Shelf Life: about 1 to 2 days airtight in the fridge
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
1.5 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp heavy cream + 1 tbsp if needed
In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. If the glaze is too thick, add in an additional ½ tablespoon of heavy cream (up to 1 tbsp) until the glaze is thick, but you can still pour it easily.