NUTMEG POUND CAKE
This pound cake recipe is such a favorite of my daughter, Erika, that I made it for one of the tiers of her wedding cake. The nutmeg flavor is nutty, slightly sweet, and just intense enough to create a warm spiciness. Erika has always loved this and enjoyed this “no special reason” surprise dessert that I brought to her house. Not too sweet, but light and flavorful, it is perfect to have on hand for afternoon tea—or morning coffee, for that matter.
Even though I keep lots of dried herbs and spices on hand, I always use fresh nutmeg rather than dried whenever I cook or bake with nutmeg. I ran out of fresh nutmeg once and had to use dried nutmeg instead. The difference is significant enough to make me want to stick with fresh nutmeg.
My little nutmeg grater is so old and well-used, it looks like it was passed down many generations ago, but I guess that just gives it character, right? Besides, I like the fact that it has a little compartment on top to store the whole nutmeg.
But, as I am prone to do when I want to post a recipe, I started thinking more about the ingredient(s) and equipment I use regularly. I don’t know about you, but I have wondered who in the world decided that nutmeg–that hard, round little knob that smells good—was something to be ingested? I could not find one specific individual who was responsible, but I did find some interesting facts:
- Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense.
- However, nutmeg contains myricitrin, a natural compound, that is good in small doses. Nutmeg’s myricitrin, in large doses, can cause hallucinations. In fact, some countries, like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have banned nutmeg because it is considered an illegal narcotic.
- The first claim of nutmeg intoxication dates to the 1500s when a woman ate more than ten nutmeg nuts. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but then I found out that she was pregnant, so maybe it was just one of those “prego” cravings. I’m glad I craved green beans and milk instead of nutmeg.
- Around 1600, nutmeg became important as an expensive commercial spice in the Western world and was even the subject of intrigue, plots and spying until
- Finally, sometime in the late 1700s/early 1800s, nutmeg seeds were transported and transplanted enough to become affordable and useable throughout the world.
If you would like to make a “killer” pound cake, with NOT TOO MUCH nutmeg, consider this recipe; it only uses a teaspoon.
The original recipe used a tube pan and made enough for about 15 servings.
Since I wanted to take some to my daughter and have some for photos for this post, I divided the batter between a couple of pans. A Bundt pan holds about 8 cups of batter, and a loaf pan holds 4 cups of batter, so that is a good combination as a substitute for a large tube pan. The cake freezes well, so it is easy to bake and serve one smaller cake and freeze the other, if desired.
I remember the adage, “generously grease, lightly flour” for cake baking, and it is especially important when using a Bundt pan with lots of crevices, like this one. I also use Wondra for the flour because it is very light and distributes easily and consistently when sprinkled in the pan. If you don’t have Wondra, it is a good idea to use a sifter to help distribute a fine layer of flour throughout the pan. This is important so the beautiful crust does not tear when you invert the baked cake.
Sift the flour with the baking soda, salt and freshly grated nutmeg, and set it aside. I think cake flour gives the best texture, but if you only have all-purpose flour, you can create your own cake flour from all-purpose flour. For each cup of cake flour, you need to remove two tablespoons, substitute it with cornstarch, and sift it together. So, since this recipe uses 4 cups of cake flour, you can sift together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup cornstarch. Sifting is crucial for even distribution and lightness.
Make sure the butter is at room temperature for maximum volume. Cream the butter, and slowly add the sugar. This helps make the cake light and gives it a smooth texture. Don’t hurry this step; I usually spend about 5-8 minutes on this. You can see how light it is is in the photo above on the the left. Beat the eggs in, one at time, and the vanilla. Do not overbeat this, just mix it long enough to thoroughly combine it all. The second photo shows that it is still creamy and fluffy, but emulsified, after adding eggs and vanilla.
Reduce the speed and slowly incorporate about half the flour, then half of the buttermilk. Repeat with the other half of the flour mixture and finish with the buttermilk.
When the cake is done, a toothpick will come out clean, and it should have cracks on top. Let the cake rest on a wire rack for 10 minutes. I always set a timer for this. If taken out too soon, it will be floppy and compress upon itself. If you wait too long, it will stick to the pan and tear. Let it finish cooling on the wire rack.
Sprinkle confectioner’s sugar over top, and serve as is, or add fresh fruit or whipped cream to make it even more sumptuous.
Pound cakes store best at room temperature with an airtight cover. The flavor will remain fresh and delicious for about 5 days at room temperature.
NUTMEG VANILLA POUND CAKE
- 4 Cups Cake Flour
- 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1 Teaspoon Table Salt, Not Kosher Salt
- 1-1 1/2 Teaspoons Freshly Ground Nutmeg
- 1 Cup Unsalted Butter, Softened
- 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- 2 Cups Buttermilk Or Sour Cream
- Confectioner’s Sugar
Generously grease (butter, shortening, or cooking oil spray) and lightly flour (I recommend Wondra) a 12-cup tube pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together.
Cream butter to soften and gradually add sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5-10 minutes. Add eggs, one at time, then vanilla. Beat just until incorporated.
Beat in half of the sifted flour mixture, then half of the buttermilk. Finish by beating in the second half of flour and buttermilk, just until combined.
Scrape batter into prepared tube pan (or a Bundt pan and a small loaf pan) and bake until a wooden skewer inserted 2 inches from edge comes out clean: about 1 hour for the tube pan; 45 minutes for a Bundt pan; 30-40 minutes for a small loaf pan.
Cool cake in pan, on a wire rack for 10 minutes; invert onto the cooling rack and remove pan. Allow to cool completely before serving. Dust with confectioner’s sugar prior to serving. Store in a covered container at room temperature. Makes 15 servings.