[Pan] Size Does Matter

Baking has become way more polarizing than it should be.

Academy Award monologues, Jay Carney’s facial hair, Pitchfork Festival’s freshly announced headliners. Those can be polarizing. But, honestly, what the hell did cookies ever do to you? (Unless you’re plagued by gluten intolerance in which case, let’s not go there today.)IMGP4706

It’s always the same argument: People love cooking because you can “improvise,” it’s OK if you mess up, there’s no error a little sea salt and/or parmesan can’t fix. People hate baking because it’s scientific, because there are numbers involved (worse, fractions), because you can’t just let the cake sitting in the oven slip your mind when you’re busy doing work and balancing your checkbook on that very luxurious couch.

People don’t understand that baking is a non-threat. It can be much more forgiving than you think.

On a particularly snowy Saturday not long ago, I had every intention of making scones.

I could envision the Joy the Baker recipe in my head when I scurried around the produce nook at Whole Foods…then I got home and realized I didn’t have anywhere near the necessary amount of butter. (I’m always overestimating the amount of butter in our fridge…I buy it so often and yet, that Land O’Lakes Native American girl/logo is constantly disappearing from my dairy shelf.)

Plan B: pound cake. The recipe called for “Honey Whole Wheat Pound Cake,” but all-purpose flour and the addition of my new WF raspberries seemed like acceptable edits.

All went well until – when pouring the batter into the loaf pan – I realized there was enough to fill the entire damn thing (not just 3/4, the acceptable fill-level in order to prevent chaos and allow room for the cake to rise.) Against my better judgement, I put the way too full pan in the oven, figuring that Joy knows best and I should just let it go.

Pre-disaster

Pre-disaster

…Until the sound of sizzling, overflowing batter hitting and smoking from the bottom of the oven filled the living room. Until the kitchen that only an Ewok could fit in started hazing up like L.A. on a “clear” morning.

There are a lot of things I let go to waste (leftover chicken, potatoes that I forget are in my produce drawer, etc.) but a baked good is too coveted to give up on. Amid the burn and haze and constant threat of our old building’s hypersensitive smoke detectors, I  ladled out a few scoopfuls of semi-cooked batter until the remaining portion looked like it should have before I ever put it in the oven.

An hour later, we had beautiful, moist pound cake. And an oven that smelled like hell.

Moral(s) of the story: Even the worst baking experiences can be salvaged halfway through. Also, know the actual size of your own pans. Despite my loaf pan “looking” 9×5 (as the recipe called for), a postmortem examination revealed it’s, in fact, 7.5×4.5. Oops.

Honey Raspberry Pound Cake
Makes one 9×5 inch loaf. Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook.

2.25 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 c softened, unsalted butter
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c honey
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c buttermilk (Pro Tip: I’ve never bought buttermilk. You can make your own quickly by pouring 1 cup of milk over 1 tbsp of lemon juice or white vinegar. Stir and let rest for 2 minutes.)
3/4 small carton of raspberries, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 350° with a rack lined up in the center. Grease your 9×5 loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, powder, soda and salt.) In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, sugar and and honey until soft and well-incorporated. Stir in the eggs one at a time, mixing for a solid minute in between each. Add the vanilla.

Next, add half of the dry mixture to the buttery bowl. Slowly pour/mix in the buttermilk and stir well. Then, add the remaining flour mix and stir until smooth. Finally, pour in the berries. You don’t want to mix these in too hard because they’re pretty fragile and you want them to retain their shape, not explode and turn your batter blue before baking even begins.

Gently pour the batter into you 9×5 (PLEASE) pan – the batter should only fill the pan 75% of the way up. If you somehow find yourself with a surplus, make a second small loaf or throw it in a muffin tin, just don’t overfill the pan.

Let the cake bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out crumb-less. Let it cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before popping it out.

Of course, before you try any of this, you might want to make sure your oven has a self-cleaning function.

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