An Asian Inspired Pound Cake

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Condensed Milk Pound Cake

I love condensed milk. I have not used it much in baking, but really, I should experiment with it more often. It is a common sweetener in Asian countries. I remember drizzling it in between a hot pandesal to have as breakfast or as a nighttime snack. It’s great drizzled on fruit too, from papaya to avocado and to the popular Filipino Fruit salad. I also know it makes a great pastry cream without cornstarch and this method is widely used in the Philippines.
I am happy that Pichet Ong frequently employs this sweet alternative to sugar throughout his book “The Sweet Spot” . I’ve always wanted to make his condensed-milk pound cake and was waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
This past weekend, we visited “hungry” hubby’s aunt in DC. Tea-time is a favorite in-between/after meal custom at her house and slices of pound cake with tea seemed like an ideal combination at the moment. The rain that hounded us all weekend even added to the desire to just hang out and drink tea.

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Caramel: The Pleasure and the Pain

Caramel_apple

I must confess that I am deathly afraid of two things, deep frying and making caramel. So it was with much trepidation that I approached this recipe. If only it did not sound so delectable I would have gladly skipped over it, and where have you heard of an ambitious home baker cringing at the thought of making caramel? Unacceptable! I blame my anxiety on all those recipes that warn of sugar burns and keeping a bowl of ice water close by to soothe these “molten sugar” accidents. I have made caramel before for my Creme Caramel and I tell you I was watching that boiling pot of sweetness closely wondering if it was going to spit up and stick to my fingers or splatter all over the kitchen taking my well-groomed eyebrows with it. Hah! That should take “sugaring the brows” to a whole new level! I even went so far as asking my dental hygienist where they got those fancy face masks and if they make them with glass so hot sugar or hot oil have no power to melt and penetrate it ( I have worn goggles while deep frying before but I looked so silly I stopped).  Since I am writing this post now, I’m sure you’ve all surmised that I survived this round of caramel making. I am determined to conquer this fear of caramel and learn to tame the beast so to speak. I really fancy making spun sugar next, it didn’t seem that hard since I unintentionally made them anyway as I was stirring my sugar mixture. I kept lifting my wooden spoon and strands of caramel kept drifting here and there; it was driving me nuts!

I better stop rambling here before I discourage you from making this wonderful dessert! Although it was not without its disasters, it had nothing to do with the caramel but more from my desire to experiment. More in my cooking notes that follow the recipe.

            

Apples Confit with Caramel and Pound Cake

Recipe adapted from “The Notebooks of Michel Bras”

1 cup sugar

* 6 tbs corn syrup

* 6 tbs water

4 tbs butter

2 lbs 2oz  of Golden Delicious apples

Pound cake batter (see recipe)

10 inch oven proof pan with cover.

Apples

Caramelize the sugar on the stove in an oven proof pan or a baking dish. When the caramel has a good color, add 2 tsp. water to stop the cooking, then add the butter.

            Peel the apples and quarter them. Place the quarters, touching one another, on top of the caramel. Cover, leaving just a small opening, and cook for about 1 hour, until the apples are completely candied and puffed up in their juice. To speed up the process, remove the cover when cooking is nearly finished. Allow to cool for 30 minutes. There should be very little juice left.

Pound Cake batter

            Prepare the pound cake batter as directed in the recipe, but cut all the proportions by one-third.

            In the same skillet or dish, cover the apples evenly with pound cake batter. Place in a 325 °F oven for 45 minutes.

            After cooking, allow to cool.

            Before serving run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the dish. Cover the cooking dish with the serving dish and flip them over quickly to remove the cake. Lightly reshape the apples with a spatula and serve immediately.

Cooking Notes:

            I used a larger 11 inch pan (this was all I had) so I decided to make a half recipe for the pound cake instead of the third it called for; this made the thickness of the pound cake just perfect! I also decided to use the corn syrup and water method of making caramel instead of straight sugar; I find this more manageable. My troubles started when I decided to experiment with the type of apples to use. Please do not do this. I tried to mix golden delicious with Fuji apples and the latter could not hold up to the cooking time and could not absorb enough caramel, I was left with more liquid than I wanted. What this does is make the cake stick when unmolding. I could see where I used the golden delicious apples, the cake freely released. I was left with a third of a cake stuck to the pan; not a pretty sight. The Fuji apple pieces were barely discernible as they were decimated into a dark amber mush.  So unfortunately I could not take a picture of the whole cake. And with the “Notebook of Michel Bras” bearing mostly line drawings, his recipes are open to interpretation anyway. I was ready to just dump the whole thing until I decided to have a taste. Oh my goodness, this was so scrumptious! The apples were sweetened just enough and went so well with the pound cake which was bathed now in a nice layer of caramel nirvana. I neatly sliced the remainder of the cake in triangular slices and kept them for dessert the next day.

            As of now I really have no tips in making caramel. I guess you just have to make it often enough so you get used to the handling of it. It also helps to cover the work area with foil to catch those caramel drips because they are difficult to clean up. Also for caramel stuck pans and utensils, soaking it in warm water should do the trick. Oh, before I forget, don’t even attempt to taste the caramel while it sits innocently on your stirring spoon; caramel stays hot for a while and you could have numbed taste buds for days to come … trust me … I know.

A Pound Cake Without Butter?

Poundcake

Pound cakes, served bare, have never been a favorite of mine. A pound cake is typically made with a pound of butter, sugar, flour and eggs; artery cloggers for such a simple cake which makes them less likely to be made as I myself would prefer to spend my calories on a decadent chocolate cake. But the picture of it served with crème anglaise and some fresh raspberries somehow paints a very appetizing image in my mind.  So it was with much interest while perusing “The Notebooks of Michel Bras” that I find a pound cake recipe that called for no butter but milk skin. I did not fancy making milk skin and opted instead for crème fraiche which the recipe mentioned as a worthy substitute. And what do you know; I have a big tub of it sitting in the refrigerator begging to be converted into a pound cake! Of course I was fresh from the success of making banana bread so I had more confidence in making anything in a loaf pan now. Besides, the cookbook labeled the recipe as quick and easy so how difficult can this be? The pound cake turned out quite creamy and surprisingly light on the taste buds… read kind of bland. However, a dressing of crème anglaise turned out to be the perfect combination to the unobtrusive taste of this cake. Add to it a couple of raspberries and you have an elegant dessert or afternoon tea pastry.

For the Pound Cake

1/2 cup crème fraiche

4 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

1 ¼ cup flour

1 tsp. baking soda

Beat the eggs and sugar until mixture turns pale. Gently fold in the crème fraiche. Sift the flour and baking soda, and stir them into the mixture with a spatula. Butter the pan and dust with sugar. Tap the pan lightly to remove the excess. Pour in the batter.

            Bake in a 325 °F oven for 45 minutes. Insert a skewer to check that the cake is done. This pound cake will keep longer if wrapped in plastic.

For the Crème Anglaise

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)

1 cup whole milk

½ cup heavy or whipping cream

5 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

Salt

            Pry the vanilla bean open with the tip of a knife and scrape some of its grainy black interior into a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean itself, milk, and cream. Heat over medium heat until the mixture just begins to steam. Stir the egg yolks, sugar, and a generous pinch of salt together in a bowl. Drizzle the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Strain the yolk mixture into the top of a double boiler.

            Bring about 1 ½ inch water to a boil in the bottom of the double boiler. Make sure the water does not touch the top pan. Stir the custard mixture constantly until it just begins to thicken. Remove from the double boiler and continue stirring. Dip a large spoon into the custard, then remove it. The custard should be thick enough to leave a line when you drag your finger across the middle of the spoon. This is what recipes mean by “thick enough to coat a spoon”.

            Transfer the custard to a bowl. Dot the surface with butter or cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard. Refrigerate until needed.

Cooking Notes

            As expected the pound cake was relatively easy to make however you need to make sure that the eggs are at room temperature so you can whisk enough air into it. The crème anglaise, recipe from “Cookwise” by Shirley Corriher, was not difficult to make but took a while to thicken. It is important to whisk constantly as the custard might thicken unevenly and to use a rubber spatula so you can get all the cream and not leave a coagulated mess at the bottom or sides of your pan. I just spied another promising recipe for crème Anglaise from Sherry Yard’s “Secret of Baking”. I know it’s not going to be long before I try that one J .