“I’ve been saving this for you all year long…” explained my friend Sean, of the fabulous blog Hedonia, as he handed me a package during my hectic, crowded holiday party. I opened it up and pulled out glistening bottle of amber liquid. “It’s Extrait de Noyaux. You know what that is right?” I squinted my eyes at him, trying to figure out the appropriate answer to the question. I remember reading a few blog posts, both on his site and a few others about an esoteric extract created from the pits of summer stone fruit like cherries but I wasn’t sure. Turns out I was correct. “It’s an extract I made from the inside nut of apricot pits. I’ve been saving every single apricot pit I’ve had and they’ve been steeping in the alcohol since this summer. This is all I’ve made and it’s all yours.” I was both floored and utterly touched that Sean was giving it to me. I grasped the bottle of liquid gold tighter, fearful that the crowd at my party would jostle me into dropping it on the floor and I promised to put it to good use. After sitting in my cupboard for a month or two, too precious to be used for any old project (cue creepy Gollum voice whenever I lovingly caressed the bottle), I finally got around to using it for a baked good that I deemed worth of it’s use, a Seville Orange & Noyaux Semolina Pound Cake.
I’m not sure what possessed me to make a pound cake with said precious extract. I had actually been toying with different ideas for awhile, ruminating on what I should use it, when the idea of a pound cake popped up in my head. I’m not normally a pound cake sort of guy, memories of frozen Sara Lee bricks from my childhood appearing in my head whenever someone mentions pound cake, something that my mom would occasionally bring out as a “treat” for us. Western desserts were always rather sweet, sticky and slightly heavy to my palate growing up, where we ate fruit at the end of dinner for a sweet treat. The Sara Lee pound cake was no exception, with its tight dense crumb and overly sweet, vaguely buttery yet strangely flavorless taste. I was not a fan.
So I went looking for a different sort of pound cake recipe out there, scanning my cookbooks, looking on the web. My final recipe, an amalgam of three or four different sources, bucked the traditional pound cake recipe and actually used a little bit of leavener in my batter, baking soda and baking powder. Most pound cakes leave those out or just use baking powder at the very most. The original pound cake recipe gets it’s name from the ingredients it starts with, a pound of butter, flour, sugar and eggs with nothing else, using the creaming method to aerate the batter. Clearly the resulting cake was going to be dense and heavy. But because I added the Semolina flour to the cake, I knew that I needed a little extra lift to the cake. What I wasn’t expecting was for the Semonlina flour to give the cake extra moist richness without a cloying heaviness. That moistness continued for days after the cake was baked and left out on the counter under a cake dome. I loved it, and so did my partner AJ.
In the end though, this cake wasn’t just about me in the kitchen by myself. It was about my friend Sean gifting me with his extrait de noyaux. It’s about the different writers and recipe developers out there that wrote about pound cake and passed those recipes down for generations, until I found them in cookbooks and on websites and blogs. It’s about my friend Stephanie who’s gorgeous photographs inspire me to photograph the pound cake the way that I did (she has a way of using draped fabric in her photos that I love). It’s about all the readers who came my blog last week and left a comment about how my post on jealousy resonated with them (I read every and savored every single comment, even if I didn’t have time to respond to them all). It’s even about my mom, who was a wonderful cook but not much of a baker, who would serve up half thawed frozen Sara Lee pound cake for dessert. As much as baking in the kitchen for me is a solitary act, it’s a communal act as well. I bake along side all my friends and family, and for that I take a bite of this cake and say thank you to you all.
For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join my friend Melanie Duve and me as we co-host out quarterly DIY Desserts this coming Saturday March 23, 2013 from 2pm to 4pm at 18 Reasons. The theme is cake, and we encourage everyone to either bring a homemade cake or just stop by to sample cakes that others have brought. I hope to see you all there, so I can share a slice of cake with you in person.
Seville Orange & Noyaux Semolina Pound Cake
By Irvin Lin
This moist and rich but not too dense pound cake uses a number of unique ingredients to create a wonderful cake that can be served with tea, breakfast or pretty much anytime you want a slice of something not too sweet. Seville oranges, extract de noyaux and semolina flour aren’t the easiest ingredients to source however. Traditionally Seville oranges are the fruit used to make orange marmalade. They are sour, bitter and aromatic. If you can’t find them, a combination of lemons and regular navel oranges will work. Extract de noyaux is even harder to source. You can certainly make your own (try Brave Tart’s recipe or Vanilla Garlic’s recipe) but if you don’t feel all DIY or don’t have the patience to wait a month or two for the alcohol to extract the flavor, try substituting an equal amount of almond extract. Finally I used superfine semolina flour in this recipe, which I realize isn’t in most people’s pantrt. I like my alternative flours (you should see under my kitchen table!). If you can find superfine semolina, definitely use it because it’s gives the cake a wonderful dense moistness without being heavy and lends a nicely brown crust to the cake. But if you can’t find it, don’t despair. All purpose flour makes a fine substitute for it.
2 cups (180 g) all purpose flour
1 cup (150 g) superfine semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (340 g or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups (600 g) white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon extract de noyaux (see note above)
2 teaspoon Seville orange zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Seville orange juice
1 cup (130 g) confectioner’s or powdered sugar
2 tablespoon Seville orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F and generously grease then flour a tube cake pan (the sort you would use to make an angel cake with). Place both flours, baking powder and baking soda in a medium sized mixing bowl and vigorously stir with a balloon whisk until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Place the butter, sugar, extract de noyaux, orange zest and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream together until light in color and fluffy, about three to four minutes on medium high speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until the egg has incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions.
3. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the cake batter and beat until it has been incorporated. Add 1/2 the buttermilk to the batter and beat until is has been incorporated. Add 1/3 more of the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated. Add the remaining buttermilk and Seville orange juice to the batter and beat until incorporated. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients to the batter and beat until just incorporated.
4. Spoon and scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake in the oven from 1 hour and 30 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake come out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack and unmold the cake. Turn right side up and let cool to room temperature.
5. Once the cake has cooled completely, move it to the serving platter and make the glaze by mixing all the glaze ingredients together. If the glaze is too thick, thin it down with a teaspoon of milk or more orange juice. If it is too thin, mix in more powdered sugar, at tablespoon at a time until it is the appropriate consistency. You want the glaze thick enough that when you spoon it on the cake, it clings to the surface but also drizzles slowly down the sides. Spoon the glaze all over the cake, letting it fall over the sides artfully. Let cool completely for the glaze to set and serve with tea or coffee or all by itself.
Makes 1 pound cake, serves 12 -16 people