Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My first cake...from scratch!

So, I'm at my parents' house for a visit and they have tons of food demands given my blog.  I decided to wow them and make a pound cake with a summer fruit compote.  Pound cake because its something familiar to them, the summer compote because the strawberries, blueberries, and mangoes look great this time of year!

Before I go any farther, let me explain: I run from baking from scratch, it frightens fact, I've never baked from scratch.  I've always viewed it as time consuming, delicate, finicky, and daunting so I'd much rather pull out my saute pan over a cake pan. 

Oh, another reason I run from baking is my lack of a snappy stand mixer, so this was a test: can a hand mixer and a lot of hope do the job?  Despite all of my fears, I'm on a mission to build my "from scratch" baking skills, and I figured a pound cake was a great, simple starting point that could either boost my confidence or damn me to cake mix for the rest of my life.  I ended up choosing Paula Deen's Southwest Georgia pound cake recipe because it seemed to be straight forward, yet traditional.

Before doing anything, I pre-measured and prepped all of the ingredients, its a little tip I learned from Jen, my roommate's friend and the author of How To: Simplify.  I also put the eggs and butter on the counter to heat up to room temperature, a tip that I saw on another blog. After I got the cast of characters ready, I sifted my flour then measured it and whisked in the salt and the baking powder. Now, it was really time to get started.

I poured the sugar into a large bowl and added the butter.  I cut the butter into little pats so that it would be easier to cream.   Using my hand mixer, I blended the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Then I started adding the flour and heavy cream in, alternating between the two, starting and ending with flour.  I'm not going to lie, this got annoying with a hand mixer because I had to stop to pour the wet and dry ingredients.  I think this was the only time in the process that I wished I had a stand mixer...Nonetheless, it got done and this is what my cake batter looked like once all in the pan, I'd also like to note that this is my grandmother's bake pan circa the 1950s!:

I have to admit, I was pretty impressed.  My batter actually looked legitmate, and into the oven it went for over an hour! In the meantime, I got started on my summer fruit compote.

Compotes are wicked easy to prepare and can make you look like a fancy pants cook in a heartbeat. I used strawberries, blueberries, and a mango but you can use any fruit you like.  The point of a compote is to combine water, juice, liquer, or all of the above with a bit of sugar and fruit (or more) until it cooks down and thickens.  Compotes taste great alone, over ice cream, or in this case...over pound cake.  The recipe for my summer fruit compote is at the end of this post and is tempting you in the photo below.

A few things to keep in mind if you end up making my compote:
  • I quartered my strawberries and added the mangoes in the last 10 minutes of cooking because I didn't want them to become unrecognizable mush
  • I peeled the mango over the bowl of fruit so that the mango juice would drip in and mingle with the berries.  I also used the back of my knife to scrape the mango after I diced it, which gets even more juice out of it.
While the compote simmered, the cake finished baking so I took it out to cool.  Just look at it:

I was pleasantly surprised.  My cake rose and everything! I thought to myself, this is how they make cakes from flour.  I finally decided to flip the cake and then disaster cake stuck.  When I attempted to pry, it began to break.  After it broke, it finally emancipated itself from the pan...this is a bakers nightmare.

Despite being a broken little cake, it still needed a glaze!  I made a really simple one like the one my grandma used to make composed of  confectioner's (powdered) sugar, unsalted butter, and milk.

See, look how sexy my cake looks with glaze, it kind of makes you forget it fell apart?

My first baking from scratch experience wasn't all bad, but I definitely made some mental notes of things to do next time:
  • I will preheat my oven next time, regardless of the directions.  I thought the top of my cake was a bit too brown...
  • Apparently its key to invert the cake after 15 minutes, according to my best friend (whose mother bakes a ton) thats probably why my cake disintergrated because I did grease the pan!
  • I felt that the pound cake recipe was way too sweet!  Next time I will reduce the sugar.
  • My glaze needs a bit more butter.  My grandma did it by using a splash of this and a bit of that.  My measured version is good, but its not quite hers :)  Perhaps its because I used unsalted butter?
  • Baking isn't that scary!  Of all the things that could have gone wrong, I think I emerged relatively unscathed with just the cake breaking.
After all the simmering, whisking, stirring, and baking, this was my final product:

All and all, I'm happy with my first baking experience!  It definitely made baking less intimidating and it proves that a $300 stand mixer makes you no more, or no less of a baker.  Hopefully you've gotten a good laugh over my trial, and if you're interested, the recipes for the summer fruit compote and cake glaze are below.  Happy baking!

Summer Fruit Compote:
Yield: 1.5-2 cups 

  • 1 ripe mango, diced
  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries
  • 1 package of fresh strawberries, stems removed and flesh quartered
  • Juice and zest of one lime  and one lemon.
  • 2 1/4 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or more/less to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of flour, for thickening

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and stir until all sugar is dissolved.  Add the juice and zest from the lemon and the lime.  Introduce the fruit to the simple syrup except for the mango. Turn heat down to a simmer/low boil for 40 minutes.  Depending on the thickness of the compote add up to 1 tablespoon of flour to the liquid for thickening.  Add the mango and let simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Serve warm over cake or ice cream.

Simple Glaze
Yield: enough to ice a standard bundt cake

  • 1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • splash of vanilla

Melt butter in a saucepan and once melted, remove from heat.  Add powdered sugar and milk until smooth.  Return to low heat, continue to whisk, and add a splash of vanilla.  Stir mixture to incorporate vanilla and pour over warm cake.


  1. Ohh, you did a pretty awesome job for making your first cake! I made my first Swedish Princess Cake in the latest episode of my online cooking show. You can check it out if you want to!

  2. Congratulations on your cake!!!! It still looks fantastic - I'll bet it tasted great too! I have never had anything other than a hand mixer and have never even doubted its capability. This will be the beginning of many more exciting and wonderful baked goods for you to enjoy. Well done!!!

  3. I enjoyed reading about your first cake baking experience, it's true there are a lot of details involved in baking. Your finished cake with the glaze and the compote look delicious and I'm sure made the whole process worthwhile. I think you will find baking from scratch is a rewarding process that you will want to do again and again!

  4. Who cares what a cake looks like if it tastes scrumptious! You did a stupendous job of covering any flaws with the glaze. I just want a piece more than I should since I'm on a diet!

  5. What a fabulous job of saving your cake! I was shocked when I saw that it had stuck to the pan, because your photo of the glazed cake is so beautiful!

  6. @Linn, I'll check it out! Thanks for the letting me know!
    @socada2: Thanks for praising the stand mixer. There won't be a stand mixer in my life until I'm married (you know, gift registries), so I'll just have to work with what I have!
    @Pacheco Patty: Thanks, and yes, I already like baking from scratch a ton more!
    @Anonymous: Forget diets, life is too short!
    @Kath: Thanks, I'm pretty pround of the save myself!



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