Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Cold Oven Cake on a Hot Summer Day
Much to DH's dismay, the name of this delicious cake is a bit of a misnomer. It's not like this miraculously bakes in a cold oven, but it is placed in a cold oven (and then you turn the heat up to 325 degrees). As you might imagine, this is not ideal in 90 degree July temperatures. In New York City. In a house without air conditioning. Ah, the sacrifices one makes for pastry.
There seems to be a whole genre of cold oven cakes. I have many in my collection; most are from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I selected this one because I found two cards, each written in a different hand, each bearing this exact recipe. Cold oven cakes go against the prevailing baking chemistry that the batter needs to be placed in a hot oven so that it can properly rise. Baking powder, for example, reacts with heat to help raise the cake. But this cake has no leavening in it -- save for the beaten egg whites folded in at the end. Yet, rise it did.
The key to easy cake and cookie baking is having the butter at room temperature. This way, you (or your mixer) need not fight with it, but instead beam with pride as it whips easily, smoothly blending with the sugar. (Of course, I just this minute realized that I misread the recipe and used just two instead of three sticks of butter.* I also mistakenly used the skim milk instead of whole milk. I even can't blame the heat of the preheating oven for clouding my judgement.)
Even if I was a stick short of butter, the five egg yolks added a rich texture to the cake.
Although this recipe doesn't mention it, I'd advise greasing and flouring the pan. It makes releasing the cake so much easier, and practically eliminates the possibility that you'll be scooping out chunks of stuck cake from the pan. If that should happen, as it did to me once during a dinner party, simply put the cake pieces in large wine goblets, and spoon fruit or chocolate sauce over them and pretend this was your intention all along.
Most tube pan cakes are turned out from the pan and served as is, so that the cake at the bottom of the pan becomes the top. But, as you can see (above), the cake looked upside down when I did that, so I just flipped it over (below), to create a more pleasing presentation. Don't be afraid to buck convention and flip your cake.
This was an absolutely wonderful cake, with a dense texture and nice, subtle flavor reminiscent of Sara Lee pound cake, only far better as homemade cake tends to be. I can't imagine how much this cake will rock when I make it again -- using the right amount of butter and whole milk. I look forward to turning on the oven for this cold oven cake -- as soon as it's November!
*This recipe, like so many others, calls for Oleo, but I always use unsalted butter.