A few days ago, I attended the 2012 Food Bloggers' Picnic, organised by Grab Your Fork and Chocolatesuze. I feel slightly embarrassed admitting just how excited and honoured I was to have been invited. Although I've had this blog for over a year now, I'm still slightly hesitant to introduce it to people as a 'food blog', simply because I see it more as a mish-mash of random tid-bits from my life. But since I was invited, I bloody well was going to attend! I spent the week leading up to the even brain-storming what I wanted to bring, and decided on some form of cake. A few more clicks around the net for inspiration, and I came up with...a pound cake!
How was that for an anti-climax? In one moment of madness, I did consider whipping up this awe-inspiring meringue and mango construction that I saw on the cover of one issue of Delicious magazine. And then the voice of reason took over - I mean, whipped egg whites and fresh fruit in the humidity of the Australian summer? It's a virtual recipe for disaster (pun intended!). But the pound cake - good, ol' trusty pound cake with its dense, dense crumb and seemingly interminable shelf life - was perfect for the occasion by contrast.
Not that there's anything wrong with vanilla, or chocolate, or even orange and poppyseed, but since this was to be a very SPECIAL picnic, it was obvious I had to deviate slightly from the well-trodden path. I did this by substituting the butter in the recipe for browned butter, an ingredient that seemed all the rage a while back but has somewhat disappeared from the foodie scene lately. In addition, I incorporated some stewed apple into the batter, and topped it all off with cream cheese frosting spiked with real maple syrup.
What is "browned butter"? The "browned" bit refers to the fact that the butter is heated until the milk solids and butter fat separate, and taken off the flame when both components acquire a nutty aroma, and a deep, oaken-brown hue. It is also known as beurre noisette. In this case, "noisette" (literally: "hazelnut" in French) obviously derives from the scent of roasted hazelnuts that appear when the butter is done browning.
Solidified browned butter, bearing a striking resemblance to a golden iceberg!
When I took my first bite of the cake at the picnic, my heart sank in disappointment. The crumb was very dry, and for all intents and purposes, it appeared that I had over-mixed the batter. The saving grace was definitely the cream cheese frosting. The maple flavour was not prominent, apart from adding sweetness, but the soft, sweetened cream cheese mixed with a dash of cinnamon made me want to lick the whole surface off of the cake.
Tasting a slice of my cake at the picnic.
HOWEVER, when I tasted it again the next day, when I took over some of the leftovers (and trust me, there was a lot) to a friend's tea party, the cake was unbelievably moist. Whereas the previous day I'd been reluctant to finish even that tiny square I cut for myself, I couldn't help but go back for forkful after guilty forkful at my friend's party. My theory is that the time it spent chilling in the fridge overnight somehow helped it to develop moisture, or because that first slice I tried at the picnic was an edge piece, and was dried out from being in contact with the cake tin. Whatever the reason was, I was wrong to dismiss this recipe. I only hope that some of my fellow bloggers got to try a bit that was closer to the middle :D
A visibly moister crumb. Picture taken the day after the picnic, two days after baking.
Before I move onto the recipe, I would like to direct your attention to the pattern over the frosting. Pretty, is it not? It's obvious that I used a stencil for it, but did you know that I carved out the stencil by myself? After I copied down the pattern by hand from a picture I saw on the internet? Without tracing paper? Okay, okay, I'll stop bragging. I am awfully proud of it, though.
Okay, so moving onto the recipe! There are quite a few separate steps, but they're all very straight-forward. Hopefully you'll find this tutorial useful, and have a go at making this (very SPECIAL) pound cake yourself! Click the "Read More" link below for a full tutorial on making the cake.
Tutorial for Browned Butter Apple Pound Cake with
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
For the browned butter:
1kg unsalted butter
For the stewed apples:
7-8 apples, suitable for baking (such as Granny Smith and Pink Lady), peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
Juice of 1 large orange
45g unsalted butter
110g white, granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
For the pound cake:
500g browned butter
4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup white, granulated sugar
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the maple cream cheese frosting:
300g cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 1/4 cup confectioner's/icing sugar
130g raw hazelnuts
Step 1: Browning the butter
The reason why we're using a whole 1kg of butter here is because the yield of browned butter will vary depending on several factors: the quantity of water that gets evaporated during heating, whether or not you choose to strain the liquid, etc. Therefore, it's better to err on the side of caution and make too much browned butter than not enough. Besides, there are so many uses for browned butter, and not all of them sweet! For example, I used some leftover browned butter the next day to saute cabbage in a quick stir-fry. It certainly added a new twist to an old favourite.
To brown butter:
1. Cut butter up roughly into 2cm cubes.
2. Place butter in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan, and heat over medium heat until butter turns liquid, and the liquid starts to boil. STIR CONTINUOUSLY, scraping the bottom. The liquid will get foamy and it may be hard to see underneath it. Push aside foam to check on the status of the contents beneath.
3. Butter is done browning when liquid and foam has a brownish tinge to it, and the smells nutty. You may recognise it as the same, intoxicating scent emanating from the popcorn machine at the cinema. Remove from heat, still stirring and scraping the bottom.
What the contents should look like once removed from the heat, and allowed to cool slightly. The foam recedes as the contents cool down, showing the browned liquid underneath.
4. Once liquid is cool enough to manoeuvre without doing yourself an injury, you can tip the liquid (butter fat) part into a heat-proof container, while leaving the milk solids behind.
Ignoring the reflected bunny ears on my iPhone case, you can see how the butter fat liquid is amber in colour, while the burnt milk solids are almost black have sunk to the bottom of the pan.
Browned butter (fat) on the right, and milk solids on the left.
5. Put the heat-proof container holding the liquid browned butter into the fridge, and chill until it solidifies. The butter will become a lighter shade of brown, but still darker than it was before browning.
In its liquid state
Browned butter, once solidifed
6. The browned butter is ready to be used in the pound cake recipe once it is solid, but still soft. At room temperature, if you will. It needs to be soft so that it can be easily creamed using an electric beater or mixer.
Step 2: Making the stewed apples
1. Put the peeled, cored, and thinly-sliced apples into a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan, along with the freshly-squeezed orange juice, sugar, ground cinnamon and cloves, and butter.
Slice apples like so
Squeeze out juice from one orange, taking care to remove the pips.
Put everything in a pot over medium heat
2. Stir everything together, and cook until the apples are soft and slightly translucent, but not mushy. Around 5-8 minutes.
The apples, done cooking. Notice how they're still retaining their shape.
3. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
Step 3: Making the pound cake
1. Preheat oven to 165 degrees celsius (or 325 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease and lightly flour a 30cm x 30cm square cake tin. Set baking rack towards bottom of the oven.
2. In a bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat softened browned butter with an electric beater or mixer until fluffy. Add the white sugar, brown sugar.
4. Beat together ingredients with beater or mixer on high until fluffy.
The butter and sugar mixture, fluffy after creaming
5. Add the eggs, two at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated into the mixture. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl!
6. Once all eggs have been fully incorporated, add vanilla extract, and beat in.
7. Add the flour (with the baking powder and salt already mixed in) to the wet ingredients in at least 3 batches. Manually fold in the flour with a rubber spatula, adding the next batch of flour when the previous batch have barely been incorporated (i.e. you can still see white streaks). This is to prevent you from overmixing. After the final batch of flour has been added, fold it in well until there are little to no white streaks.
8. Add in the cooled stewed apples to the batter, and fold in.
The batter, once apples have been folded in
9. Transfer batter into the greased and floured cake tin, pushing the batter around into the sharp corners, and smoothing the top until reasonably flat. Tap cake tin down onto flat surface to remove any big air bubbles inside.
10. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the very centres comes out clean. Remove from oven, and allow to cool in the pan before transferring onto a cake rack to cool completely.
Step 4: Making the maple cream cheese frosting
1. In a bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter (both at room temperature) with an electric beater or mixer on low speed until smooth. Add the vanilla, ground cinnamon and ginger, salt, and maple syrup:
This was the brand I used
3. Continue to beat on medium speed until well blended. Again, don't forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl!
4. Sift in the confectioner's/icing sugar. Beat on low speed until everything is blended.
Step 5: Decorating the cake
1. Toast the raw hazelnuts in a microwave, or a skillet over medium heat, until the skin falls off easily and the nut flesh is slightly browned. Remove the skins by putting the still-warm hazelnuts in a clean tea towel and rubbing them together. Once slightly cooled, roughly chop the hazelnuts in a food processor, or with a mortar and pestle.
Toasting the hazelnuts
About to remove the skin from hazelnuts
Using a mortar and pestle to reduce the nuts to smaller pieces.
2. Place the completely cooled cake on a cake board or serving platter, and spread the cream cheese frosting over the top and sides, reserving about 1/4 of the frosting for the sides.
The bowl holds the chopped up hazelnuts
3. Press the hazelnut pieces to the sides of the cake, being careful not to get any on the top surface.
4. Feel free to decorate the top of the cake as you like. I personally used a homemade stencil:
...placed it on top of the cake, and sprinkled cinnamon all over.
The job was a bit messily done, but the effect was still there.
Nice, innit? :D
5. (side note) Cake tastes best after two or three days. Keep in refrigerator during the time.