I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing – chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn’t sounds like something I want to eat.
While we’re talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery’s my thing) and I don’t disagree with her – medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation – which is really what cooking is all about.
Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter – nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language – brown butter.
I think it’s impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn’t been completely seduced by it. I say “seduced” and not “won over” because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion.
For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it’s my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn’t the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I’m a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical “we like bourbon here” by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke.
So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven’t ever tried brown butter, then you’re in for quite a treat, and if you have – then I’m surprised you’re still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me – being ruined never felt so good.
Brown Butter Pound Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tsp bourbon (of course, I did!)
1. Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle. Butter and lightly flour an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.
2. Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until milk solids on bottom are a dark chocolate brown. Transfer to a shallow bowl and chill in freezer until just congealed, about 15 minutes.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Beat together brown butter and sugars with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and then the bourbon (!). At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.
5. Transfer batter to pan, smoothing top, then rap pan on counter to settle batter. Bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then invert cake onto a rack and cool completely, right side up, 1 hour.