I have finally learned how to use the espresso machine that Brandon chased down on eBay and gave me for Christmas in 2011! The best part of this development, however, is not the double espresso that I can now enjoy each morning while sitting on the living room floor with June, reading Madeline or singing along (poorly, loudly) to our favorite song, “On the Road Again.” No, no, the best part is that while I make said double espresso, I get to recite aloud for June and Alice, in my best/worst Italian accent, the molto gag-worthy slogan written in loopy script on the side of the machine:
In other news, do you know what goes nicely with espresso? Cream cheese pound cake. CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE! (Holy holy holy, finally. Delancey and Essex have been needy lately, heedlessly gobbling up my time. Stupid restaurants. My sincerest apologies.)
Listen: I’m not normally pound cake person. Not a real pound cake person. I may have gotten riled up about a pistachio pound cake last year, and there was that sweet potato pound cake a few years ago, and I may have put a berry pound cake recipe in my first book, and I may have even found my way around a few Sara Lee frozen pound cakes as a teenager – remember the crust on top? The way it was soft and spongy and eerily uniform in its brownness? I loved that part – but those were all special cases. I don’t get wildly excited about pound cake as a general concept. I can get behind a nice, plain cake, maybe a busy-day cake, but pound cakes are often too plain, too heavy, too doorstoppy. Pound cake, in the classic sense, strikes me mostly as a vehicle for transporting strawberries (or other fruits) and whipped cream from a plate into my mouth. I know that, in the eyes of many, there’s all kinds of sacrilege in this paragraph, but I’m feeling daring.
All that said, this pound cake is exceptional. It caught me off guard. I was looking for a way to use up some cream cheese that I had lying around, and I came upon the recipe in the excellent book Southern Cakes, by Nancie McDermott. That’s the same book that gave us the sweet potato pound cake, so it’s not surprising that this cream cheese version is spot-on. But really, it’s a keeper. Lovely is the right word for it. There’s nothing revolutionary about the ingredients – just your basic pound cake building blocks, plus a pack of cream cheese – but it’s unusually moist and even-crumbed, with a top crust that crackles like a wafer. And as you begin to chew, here comes the cream cheese, a gentle tang kicking through the sweetness. I love the way McDermott describes it: she says that the cream cheese makes a “quiet little sensation.” Am I alone in being unable to use the word sensation without thinking of INXS, and then having to listen to this song a few times, feeling mopey about Michael Hutchence’s untimely death 16 years ago? Probably?
Anyway, I baked two loaves and froze one of them, and both Brandon and I noticed that the frozen cake, once thawed, was even better than the fresh one had been. This discovery makes me want to bake a half-dozen of these cakes and stash them away for future occasions that demand sweets on short notice. Like tomorrow’s breakfast.
This recipe was shared with McDermott by one Suzanne O’Hara of Burlington, North Carolina, and it comes together with remarkable speed and ease. I think I’ll be making it often.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. (I also lined my pans with parchment, because it makes the cakes so easy to remove.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and cream cheese, and beat on medium speed until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar, and continue to beat for about 2 minutes more, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the flour mixture in three doses, beating only until the flour is absorbed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan or pans.
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (for a tube pan) or 55 to 60 minutes (for loaf pans), or until the cake is golden brown, pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack, and cool completely before loosening the sides with a thin knife and removing the cake from the pan.
Yield: 1 loaf