[Disclaimer: this is not the lemon loaf cake from this week’s TWD. Orange Cardamom Cheese Pound Cake.]
This week’s TWD recipe is an easy-peasy lemon loaf cake. Initial reviews on the TWD blog site seemed mixed; most people found it dry and/or lacking in lemon flavor. Since I had just baked a pound cake not too long ago (pictured above), I didn’t feel particularly excited about this one either at first. But the technique used here is a bit different from other pound cakes and while my first pound cake was fairly good, it was also quite dense and erred on the drier side. So I was eager to learn a different technique as I wanted to achieve a lighter texture while keeping the cake tight as pound cakes should be.
Most pound cake recipes will have you cream the butter with sugar first, before adding in the eggs and finally the dry ingredients. The shape and size of your sugar crystals may actually matter in getting that lighter texture. You see, our leavening agent, i.e. baking powder, releases carbon dioxide as it comes into contact with liquids. This carbon dioxide needs a place to go and that’s where the air pockets that your sugar has made in the butter creaming process come in. When your batter heats up, bubbles form, the moisture from the cake creates steam and the air pockets get filled leading to the seemingly magical rise of your cake. So you need sugar that will cut through the butter properly and create appropriate air pockets. This also means that you need to make sure you start with soft butter and that you cream the butter thoroughly. Adding more baking powder won’t necessarily do you good; overleavening can make the bubbles run to the top and pop, and you still won’t get that wonderful rise.
[Homemade buttermilk and butter flavored with piment d’esplette]
After learning about buttermilk substitutes, I actually realized that I didn’t know a whole lot anything about buttermilk in the first place (for my French readers, buttermilk is called babeurre, lait battu, petit lait or lait de beurre). So what exactly is buttermilk? Traditional buttermilk refers to the slightly sour left-over liquid from the butter churning process. Hence the name, butter-milk. Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk does not contain butter and is in fact low in fat.
Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional buttermilk in your regular supermarket. Most often, you’ll see cultured buttermilk, made from adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk (whole, skim or non-fat) and left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours. The fat content of the buttermilk will usually depend on the fat content of the milk from which it was made.
The good news is, making your own buttermilk the old-fashioned way, and by extension making your own butter, is a breeze. Well, almost. Bear with me. The recipe involves heavy cream, a jar, and a lot of shaking. You put the heavy cream in a jar, close the lid tightly, then shake until the cream turns into whipped cream, then shake some more until the whipped cream separates into a solid, butter, and a liquid, buttermilk. Tada, that is all.
I mentioned in my first post that I joined Tuesdays With Dorie because of this whole concept of community learning. So after my first TWD baking experience, I was looking forward to reading other bloggers’ comments on the recipe. I decided it would be nice to do a sort of lessons learned post afterwards. So here’s what I learned from fellow bloggers.
The majority of TWDers loved the bread although some thought the basic recipe was too plain. Most bloggers actually altered the recipe, with the addition of raisins, currants (both often soaked in some kind of liquor) and/or carraway seeds the most common. Another common addition was that of cheese. Delectable Delights with Rebecca recommends adding about 2 cups of grated cheese to Baking with Julia‘s base recipe. Some other people also used a mix of whole weat and regular all-purpose flour in order to obtain a more wholesome loaf.
My favorite variant came from The Double Trouble Kitchen. She added sundried tomatoes, rosemary and sprinkled it with sea salt and black pepper. Salt plus pepper, a common flavor profile in Chinese cuisine, is pretty much a sure winning combination in my book (incidentally, Costco sells these amazing salt and pepper pistachios that we’re addicted to).
But what I love most is the learning of techniques, tips and tricks. And this time, I learned that if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can easily substitute it with one of several things: