When a boy goes to science camp for a week, and his mother really misses him, and his little brother really misses him, too, and they want to celebrate his return, they might, perhaps, bake him a cake.
Sure, they could make him a welcome-home-veggie-platter or a glad-you're-back-pea-soup, but if they really want to soothe him after a week away, cake's the thing. A tall one, too -- dense, and buttery, with a swirly cap of cream cheese frosting.
This cake comes from radio producer Melissa Gray's award-nominated cookbook All Cakes Considered (Chronicle, 2009). Anyone who listens to NPR (and please tell me you do, because then I will really like you) will recognize the pun in the book's title, for Gray works on the radio program All Things Considered. Her cookbook, with dual forewards by both Robert Siegel and Steve Inskeep, is filled with quirky stories and funny tidbits from her work on the show. I don't know Gray, but I'd like to meet her, because there's a humor and energy in the entire package...
In the writing:
Do not molest the cake while it is in the oven. Do not open the oven door. Do not even THINK about opening the oven door. Cakes are shy by nature. They get embarrassed very easily and will collapse like fainting Southern belles under your greedy, lusty gaze.
... in the recipe titles (like The Man Catcher, a sour cream pound cake, or The Naughty Senator, a peppermint and chocolate marble rum cake); and in the descriptions (you'll have to read about how Senator Larry Craig's men's room antics influenced the cake that bears, sort of, his name).
Mostly, though, I love the book for its recipes.
And for the reaction a big, fat slice of cake elicited in my son when he returned from camp.
The pea soup wouldn't have gone over quite as well.
Recipe for Melissa Gray's Brown Sugar Pound Cake with cream cheese frosting
Adapted from All Cakes Considered (Chronicle, 2009)
Please note: I often make twists and turns on recipes, adapting them to my own tastes, adding unique or creative flourishes. This time I did not, and therefore I obtained permission from Chronicle Books to publish the recipe pretty much as it appears in the book. The only changes I made were in condensing some of the recipe language for space and omitting the pecans.
Also, feel free to cut the frosting recipe in half if you only want to frost the top, as I did.
Yields one BIG 10-inch tube cake, easily feeding 12-16 people
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
1 pound brown sugar, about 2-1/4 cups
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 ounces confectioners' sugar (about 3 3/4 cups), sifted
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with the rack in the middle. Line the bottom of a 10-inch tube pan with parchment and coat the pan and paper with nonstick spray.
Cut the butter and shortening into thick slices and add to an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream for 3 or 4 minutes on medium speed, then add the sugars, 1/2 cup at a time, beating 1 to 2 minutes between each addition. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat 1 to 2 minutes between each addition.
Whisk the flour and baking powder together. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and milk, alternately, to the batter, in 3 additions. Raise speed and mix for an additional minute. Lower speed again, add the vanilla, and beat another minute.
Scrape batter into the prepared tube pan. Bake for 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted close to the center withdraws clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.
For frosting: Wash the mixing bowl and paddle, then re-attach to the mixer. Cream the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and creamy, then add the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. When cake is completely cool, frost.
I store this cake in the fridge, then bring it to room temperature before serving.