Sunday, 4 July 2010

Gooseberry Pound Cake

Gooseberries are one of the first fruits of the year, usually coming into season before the strawberries. This year, they both appeared at about the same time. I used to buy gooseberries from the farmers' market in Oxford, but out here in the middle of nowhere it's more convenient to have them delivered by Riverford. They appear on the extras list throughout July and - you know me - I couldn't resist ordering some as soon as they showed up on the web site. 

I was going to make a gooseberry pie, but the 300g punnet wasn't enough to fill my pie dish (three punnets would about do it, I think). Instead I made the moist, rich, pound cake pictured above. This needed only 100g of fruit, leaving me enough to put aside for a fool. The pound cake was inspired by Monsieur Audot's Gooseberrry Cake, the recipe for which appears in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book. If the cake is to be eaten cold, Grigson recommends following a pound cake recipe instead. I took her advice, adding M. Audot's flavourings for good measure.

Pound cake takes its name from the quantity of the ingredients: 1lb each of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Hannah Glasse, writing in 1747, gives the following recipe (excerpt courtesy of Google Books):

As you can see, it's quite a labour intensive task. Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking, quotes a Miss Leslie who in 1857 described a technique for beating eggs "for an hour without fatigue"; he notes that she goes on to say "But to stir in butter and sugar is the hardest part of cake making. Have this done by a manservant."

Coincidentally, Ruth asked me last week if I had any references on the science of baking, in particular the importance of mixing ingredients in the right order when making a sponge cake with the creaming method. Ruth's manservant was convinced you could add the ingredients in any order, and he succeeded only in making a treat for the birds (which reminds me of an advert for Bero flour involving sinking ducks, but let's not get distracted).

As usual, McGee tells us what we need to know: "In cake making, the mixing step doesn't just combine the ingredients into a homogeneous batter: it has the critical purpose of incorporating air bubbles into the batter, and thereby strongly influencing the final texture of the cake. [...] The fine solid particles carry tiny air pockets on their surfaces, and the particles and beating utensils carry those pockets into the fat or liquid. Flour is often added only after the foam is formed, and then by gently folding it in, not beating, to avoid popping a large fraction of the bubbles, and to avoid developing gluten."

McGee also explains how modern hydrogenated fats and chlorinated flours can help make sweet, tender, moist, light cakes, but he notes that the flavour they impart is not to everyone's taste.

For a pound cake these days, we usually reduce the ingredients to 4oz each (making 1lb in total) and can cheat by using artificial leavening (self-raising flour and/or baking powder), and a machine to do the mixing. Grigson (this time writing in English Food)  says "Thanks to self-raising flour and baking powder, the ingredients can be flung together in no particular order, producing a dough that will rise as it should, in seconds if you use an electric beater, or in three minutes if you have to make do with your hands or a wooden spoon." (Ruth, is your husband reading this?)

The recipe that follows is a simple pound cake recipe, with ground almonds added on Grigson's advice ("to improve the texture") and orange flower water and nutmeg added at M. Audot's behest.

Gooseberry Pound Cake Recipe
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g vanilla sugar
  • 125g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp orange flower water
  • 1/3 nutmeg, grated
  • pinch salt
  • 100g gooseberries, topped and tailed
Pre-heat the oven to 180℃. Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin. Place all the ingredients   except the gooseberries in the bowl of a Kenwood chef, and give them 3-4 minutes on medium speed with the K-beater. Gently fold in the gooseberries, then spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for about an hour (test with a skewer). Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

The verdict

The texture is good, and the sharpness of the gooseberries adds a nice balance to the rich, sweet sponge. Definitely one to make again. The throw-it-all-together method worked fine, but it would be interesting to try this recipe without the baking powder, using the traditional creaming method instead.

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