At the risk of sounding tacky or cliche, I loved Julia Child. Now I was not around in her heyday, but rather I made an appointment every Sunday afternoon to see her series on PBS entitled Baking With Julia. She was not in her prime, but rather plunked other prime bakers/chefs like Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart and Charlie Trotter into her kitchen to show her a few things. It was a fun series, and when I wanted to become a real baker I bought her companion book. Sadly, my skills as a baker suck, and this book is rather complicated to use even with the simplest recipes. My genoise was always about as heavy as a brick and forget the other things I tried. Tonight…tonight I wanted it to be different.
I have a theory. The theory is that we really only need to be able to produce three distinctly different desserts. Really, how often do people expect you to offer a new dessert with every visit or luncheon; if anything the dessert is the safe dish they keep coming back for. Learn three, learn them well and you will be stellar. My three dishes are Bananas Foster, Creme Brûlée and Martin Picard’s Maple Syrup Pudding Chomeur. Each is warm, inviting and rich, and I have never, ever had a single complaint about dessert at my table. Still, one good cake would add a lot to my ability to take a dessert out of the house to someone else’s table. Hence, my midnight rendez-vous with the ghost of Julia Child.
I want simple goodness to come out of a cake. I want to be able to mix and walk away. I want nothing fancy and temperamental. I wanted Vanilla Poundcake. Ignore what the naysayers say about vanilla – great vanilla is better than anything else. Fortunately, Child has a recipe in the daunting Baking With Julia, and I felt like giving it a whirl. I took the butter, eggs and Balkan Yoghurt [I changed the milk for this to add my own twist] out to sit at room temperature. I fired up the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, which I seem to be using all of the time now, and we were off to the races.
How did it go? The flavour was spot on: rich, moist, warm. The preparation was simple and in the over in less than 20 minutes. The problem: my pan option. Julia’s recipe required a shallow Bundt pan, which I do not presently own. I decided to use my plum pudding pan, which, while Bundt-like, is way too deep for this cake. While no disaster occurred because I am only eating this cake myself, the cake would not release from the deep dish properly and came apart. I am not bothered in the least, because the actual end result is exactly the type of cake I imagined baking. One botched cake release does not mean I will forsake the recipe in favour of another. All good things require practice, and I am willing to bake this a dozen times until I get it right. Perhaps the biggest flaw in young bakers these days is the belief that the process is easy. Believe me, your grandmother ruined a dozen pies before she learned how to make the one you would let her pinch your cheek before eating it. Mmmmm, so this is my number four, and I would be happy to have close friends connect this cake with me. I hope you all have a similar dessert that will become your own for the people you love.