A Pound Cake for the Table

easterpound.jpg Along with the first calls of the loons, the chirping of birds, the bright sunshine and the earthy fragrance of the woods, comes my desire for pound cake. Most years, these signs of spring in northern Minnesota coincide with Easter.

This year, though, snow still covers the grass around my house and it's cold enough outside to warrant a warm jacket. But even an Easter with no sign of spring in sight does not prevent my thoughts from turning to the tantalizing aroma of a baking pound cake wafting through my kitchen.

Every year, during the week before Easter, the pound cake season begins. Using the best butter I can buy, lots of eggs, flour and sugar along with my favorite flavorings, I bake at least one cake in an old cast-iron lamb mold that has been handed down to me through generations of use in my dad’s family. I nibble my way through pound-cake season as I bake that same batter in a bundt pan and serve it with clusters of fresh grapes or topped with fresh strawberries. I cut generous chunks from the cakes and wrap them up tightly in clear plastic wrap to share with friends.

lambcake.jpg Pairing pound cake with spring is a tradition in my family. As long as I can remember, a little frosted lamb with a coat of coconut would rest in the middle of the table during every Easter dinner. I have the original recipe that my Aunt Elinor wrote out for me in her perfect script. Just as you would expect, the ingredient list includes a pound of flour, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs. The cake was flavored with just a bit of salt, a little ground mace, almond extract and vanilla. Believing that it is the lamb that must live on each Easter and not the original pound cake recipe, I’ve come up with my own version.

Flavored with almond and apricot, White Chocolate Amaretto Pound Cake is full of delicate springtime flavors. Although it is not a traditional pound cake recipe, its elegant fine-grained, moist texture cannot be described as anything else. Golden brown on the outside, buttery melt-in-your mouth lushness on the inside, fragrant with vanilla, apricot and almond -- the first bite always sends me into a swoon.

Since the cake gets its rising power from eggs, it is best to use eggs that have been out of the refrigerator for a while. Warm eggs beat to greater volume, holding more air than cold eggs, resulting in a higher cake with a lighter texture. Mixing this cake takes a little patience. Use an electric mixer to thoroughly beat the butter and sugar. Be sure to give extra beating time after adding each of the half dozen eggs. Then, at a lower speed, gently blend in the flour and liquid flavorings.

I’ve discovered the wonderful flavor of this cake blooms with a couple of days of rest sealed in air-tight storage. This is one you’ll find yourself making for special spring celebrations and then again during summer’s fresh berry season.

In my house, though, the recipe comes out only once a year. This year, once again, an Easter lamb will adorn the table that gathers my family for dinner. I’m sure my ancestors would be pleasantly surprised at the new flavor it has taken in its old age. And the lamb lives on.

White Chocolate Amaretto Pound Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, divided
6 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, chopped
2-1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/4 cup amaretto
1/4 cup apricot brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Thoroughly grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with solid shortening. Dust the pan with flour and set aside.

Melt white chocolate with 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of the butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently until mixture is completely smooth. Set aside to cool. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside. Measure amaretto, apricot brandy and vanilla into a 1-cup glass measure.

In a large mixing bowl, beat remaining 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) of butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until light. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat for 8 to 10 minutes. This is not a problem with a stand mixer, but if you’re using a hand-held electric mixer, try to give it a good 5 minutes. Add the cooled melted white chocolate mixture and beat until it has blended into the creamed sugar and butter. The mixture should be light in color and texture.

Scrape down the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sifted flour mixture alternately with sour cream and liquid ingredients, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Use a low speed to gently mix the ingredients into the batter. Once the last of the flour mixture has disappeared into the batter, the mixing is over.

Turn the batter into the prepared Bundt pan, spreading evenly. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a thin knife poked deep into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn the cake out onto a platter. Allow to cool completely before covering tightly to store.

Tips from the cook

--If you prefer to bake without alcoholic flavorings, replace the amaretto and apricot brandy with 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract and 1/2 cup apricot nectar.

--Technically, white chocolate is not really chocolate because it doesn’t contain chocolate liquor. The finest white chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and vanilla. Less expensive white confectionary products will contain no cocoa butter and will have noticeably inferior texture and flavor.

Sue Doeden is a popular cooking instructor, food writer and integrative nutrition health coach. She is the host of Good Food, Good Life 365 on Lakeland Public Television. Her own hives full of hardworking bees and her love of honey led to the creation of her recently published cookbook, Homemade with Honey.