Recently, I could not stand the thought of watching any more political news, or another re-run on HGTV, the Food Network, or City Confidential. “Enough!” screamed by brain.
So, I turned to the Discovery Channel, and found myself riveted by a new series called “Verminators.” Sounds promising, doesn’t it? This particular episode highlighted bedbugs.
Ach. When I was 17, we were on our way to Argentina via Rio de Janeiro. In our Rio hotel, we were bitten up by . . . bedbugs. Needless to say, the ol’ Copacabana has never held the same mystique for me since then.
So, being a sensible girl, I decided that the way to deal with those nasty memories was to bake. I turned to my favorite vanilla pound cake recipe and decide to use Kerrygold butter.
Some of you may remember Amanda Hesser’s book from a few years back, Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes. Unlike some Amazon reviewers, I liked the book: I really enjoy the recipes and Ms. Hesser’s love of food, even though at times I felt sorry for Mr. Latte as he ventured deeper into the world of New York Times foodies. I can’t stand it when people tell me what to eat, what not to eat, that I’m destroying the earth by what I eat, etc., etc. You get the idea.
I was a strict vegetarian for about 20 years (now, I will occasionally eat fish), and people harangued me about not eating meat. Within the vegetarian circles in which I moved, there was constant oneupmanship going on between vegans, raw foodists, fruitarians and the like. Bottom line: my feeling is that what you choose to eat is your business, but I encourage you to educate yourself so that you can improve those choices. Along those lines, I strongly recommend that you use a premium butter in this cake.
Now that I’ve rambled a bit, back to the recipe. It’s my favorite vanilla pound cake recipe – rich, flavorful, moist, yet a bit crumbly at the same time. According to Ms. Hesser, the texture is reminiscent of the French “Quatre-quart.” It’s so good that I think it doesn’t even need the vanilla syrup, but many would disagree with me, arguing that it’s the best part!
Warning: (1) You will need at least 1 vanilla bean, preferably 3, and (2) plan ahead because you have to make the vanilla sugar. No, it is not a cheap cake, but it is oh so worth it. In fact, the first time I made it, some egg shells made it into the batter. I ate the cake anyway, crunchy eggshells and all. It’s that good. Recipe after the jump . . . .
Vanilla Bean Loaves
Adapted from the Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, Massachussets, via Amanda Hesser’s book, Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes
Makes 8 generous servings of cake (about 16 hearty slices)
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature (use a good butter)
4 1/4 cups sugar
3 vanilla beans (or 1 vanilla bean and 1-2 Tbsp. of vanilla bean paste)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
8 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Three days before baking, make vanilla sugar. Split one vanilla bean, scraping the seeds into 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Place the split bean pod in the sugar and stir well.
Heavily butter two 8x4x3 inch (or similarly sized) loaf pans and preheat your oven to 325 F.
Using an electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and vanilla sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Split open and scrape one vanilla bean and flick its seeds into the mixture. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs and beat to mix.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add to the batter and mix just until smooth, using a spatula to scrape the sides and the bottom, making sure everything is well blended.
Divide the batter between the two buttered pans. Place pans on a baking sheet and put in the center rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the pans around and bake until a cake tester or skewer comes out almost clean, another 25 to 40 minutes.
While loaves are baking, prepare the vanilla syrup. In a small pan, dissolve 1 3/4 cups sugar in 1 cup of water over medium heat. Add the 2 remaining vanilla beans and stir so their seeds and fragrance disperse (alternatively, use 1 to 2 Tablespoons of vanilla bean paste – it’s cheaper than the beans and still tastes great.) Take pan off heat.
Place a baking rack over a baking sheet. When the loaves are done, cool for 10 minutes on baking racks, then turn them out of their pans and set back on the racks. Brush loaves generously all over–bottoms, tops and sides–with vanilla syrup. Repeat the brushing process a couple of more times as they cool. These cakes store and freeze very well.