Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chocolate Pound Cake (and the Lost Art of Visiting)

Over the past few days, I’ve dropped in unexpectedly on some friends out of last-minute necessity. Both times I couldn’t get a hold of them on the phone so I just showed up on their doorstep, which is a very odd feeling these days. It ended up being fine and I don’t think I bothered anyone, but even with good friends, I feel a bit awkward and like I must apologize a million times for invading their privacy. I know that the rare occasions when people show up unannounced at my house always send me scrambling – kicking toys out the way, stuffing clutter under beds and making sure I’m decent. I guess that’s why my Granny always kept her house picked up. You never know when someone might come over and sit for a spell.

 Cake all ready for company.

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While I certainly value my privacy and the ability to live in a dirty house half-clothed if I feel like it, I do kind of mourn for the lost art of visiting and just being “real.” So what if your house is a mess and you don’t “have your face on?” In the age of emails, cell phones and all manner of technology that virtually connect us, I fear that we are forgetting how to just be people – imperfect, uncalculated, spontaneous beings that enjoy spending face-to-face time with other beings.

As a kid, I remember hearing crackling gravel and peeking out the window to see who was driving down the driveway – often unannounced. Usually it was family – we rarely called each other. Or sometimes it was friends who just happened to be in the neighborhood. Even now when I visit my grandparents, sometimes a big Cadillac or Buick will pull into the driveway and Papa will grab his walker and amble over to the kitchen door to see who’s come for a visit. Sometimes they are there for reason – maybe to drop off a pie or some extra tomatoes for their garden – but usually it’s just because they happened to be driving by. Granny, like all good Southern hostesses, will make sure they are offered something to eat.

In honor of a dying art form, here’s a pound cake for you – something you can have on hand in case company comes by. When I was really young I called my grandmother Granny Cake (her name is Kate) – partially a mix-up with the name and partially because she often had a fresh baked cake sitting on her avocado green kitchen counter. My youngest still calls her Granny Cake maybe because when he was born she came down to visit and brought us a chocolate cake. What is more hospitable than a pound cake? Or a pie – I’ll take either. It’s always good to have something good to eat and to share – because you never know when people like me might show up on your doorstep!

Chocolate Pound Cake with Boiled Fudge Icing
Adapted from Alton Brown’s, I'm Just Here for More Food, found on NPR’s website. Read for some great nerdy tips on baking a perfect cake.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, plus more for pan
3 cups sugar
5 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I prefer Hershey’s)
1 cup milk (whole milk preferable)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Sift together dry ingredients (including cocoa powder) and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs and vanilla slowly until well-mixed. Gradually add dry ingredients add to bowl, mixing alternately with milk. Beat until glossy and smooth. Pour into a greased and floured tube or bundt pan. Be sure to tap the pan on the counter a few times to make sure the batter is evenly distributed.

Bake for roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the sides of the cake start to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the pan rest on a baking rack for about 15 minutes before turning the cake out to cool. Allow to cool completely before icing.

Boiled Fudge Icing
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup milk (I used a mix of half-and-half and 1 % milk to add more richness)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
½ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together sugar, milk, salt, cocoa powder and butter in a pan over medium heat until butter is melted and the mixture begins to boil. When it reaches a rolling boil, do not stir and let it boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. Whisk it until your arm hurts and the mixture begins to thicken (probably about 2 minutes).

Place the cooled cake on a baking rack with a plate or wax paper underneath it to catch spillage. Spoon icing over the cake quickly (and I mean quickly) because the icing will harden upon contact. Allow icing to harden and transfer cake to your favorite serving platter. Eat the fudgey remains.

Look at the mess I had to eat up!

Tips and Ideas:
  • Grease your pan well – especially the top. My cake ended up a little ugly because parts of the top stuck to the pan.
  • Use plain all-purpose flour if you want a traditional pound cake taste. I substituted 1 ½ cups of the plain flour for white whole wheat flour which ended up working out fine as far as the consistency goes, but did change the flavor a bit. It didn’t taste quite like Granny’s!
  • Use real butter. Butter, baby! (That’s my mantra.)
  • Have the cake all set up and get ready to spoon the icing on FAST. And spoon it or maybe use a small cup. I made the mistake of pouring it directly from the pan and a lot of went through the hole in the middle and I didn’t have quite the amount of delicious icing I wanted.
  • Also, don't mess with the icing or try to add more to the cake once the initial layer is on the cake. I made the mistake of trying to spoon more on after it had already started to set up. It gets sugary and lumpy and isn't pretty.
  • Serve pound cake with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you want to be ultra-decadent, dribble hot fudge sauce on top of the ice cream!


  1. Yum! What a sweet story. I can tell you're using your new camera!!

  2. This is a beautiful cake and your boiled frosting does look wonderful. I've made it once (the frosting) and I know how quickly you have to pour and work with it.

  3. @Angela, thanks! I took 100 pictures of this cake trying to get it right. Yikes!! I'm learning. @Paula - Thanks so much! Your creations are so beautiful, my pound cake pales in comparison! :)