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My grandmother's thrifty pound cake has always been a staple of birthdays and occasions in my family. It is a classic lemon and vanilla cake - somewhat reminiscent of a madeira cake in Britain. We usually frost it with a basic vanilla buttercream, but my dad will claim it is just as good without the icing (each to their own...). Ever since moving to the UK, the pound cake has been my go-to cake recipe. This fall, I wanted to give my traditional version an autumnal makeover. Using maple flavouring in place of lemon extract and adding a sizeable dollop of my homemade praline paste, I've given a seasonal twist to my tried and tested favourite: maple praline pound cake.
How to Make the Maple Praline Pound Cake
To make the maple praline pound cake, first thing's first: prepare your tin and pre-heat the oven. I usually make mine in a 23cm (about 9") round pan. I've also made it in smaller or square pans, as cupcakes or as loaves. Overall, pound cake is a forgiving batter and can handle all manners of bakes!
As with many American cakes, my grandmother's original pound cake recipe calls for buttermilk. Finding buttermilk in a UK grocery store has been hit or miss over the years, so I've just defaulted to using soured milk in its place. Luckily, soured milk is super easy to make! Using a cup measure, add 1 tablespoon of distilled vinegar and fill the rest of the cup with whole milk. Give this a stir and leave to sit for 10 minutes until the milk is starting to sour.
While your milk is souring, mix your dry ingredients together in a medium bowl: flour, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. The original recipe calls for standard caster sugar only. In my autumnal remix, I've split the two cups between caster sugar and dark muscovado. This adds a bit of extra depth and a molasses-y tinge to the batter. Once these are light and fluffy, add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition.
You will want to incorporate your dry ingredients into the sugar mixture in alternating additions with your buttercream/soured milk. Once this is mixed together, add your flavourings - in this case: maple flavouring and a couple tablespoons of praline paste. The maple flavouring I used is Beanilla, which is a good strong maple flavour, but you could use other extracts or syrup as well. Beat until a smooth batter.
Pour this into your prepared tin and bake for about an hour. Your timings will differ dependent on the size and shape of your cake pan. As a rule of thumb, I'd keep an eye on it after half an hour and use a skewer to check - once it comes out clean, its ready! Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for a few minutes before flipping out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.
Traditionally, I've not put much effort into presentation. Usually, I would just whip up a straightforward buttercream and slather this on the cake. At most, I'd reserve some to colour and pipe around the edge of an otherwise plain white iced bake. More recently, I've been trying to work on the decorating side of things and learn what different piping nozzles can do!
For my maple praline pound cake, I made a straightforward buttercream. About a cup of room temperature butter, beaten with a paddle attachment until light. Sift in about 3 ¾ cup icing sugar and beat until smooth. Then I always add vanilla 'to taste' (for me that's an overflowing teaspoon in most cases).
Since I was going to try out some decorating, I figured I would also split the cake into two layers. Normally, for layer cakes, I'll bake the layers as separate cakes rather than cut these. There are pros and cons to both methods. I find baking separate layers a bit less stressful, since you don't have to worry about cutting straight! But, equally, it can make for a slightly drier cake, since you're dealing with more crust technically. For this cake, most of my decisions were spur of the moment, so I had already baked the single large cake before deciding to do layers - leaving me no option other than to cut it.
For cutting a cake, it is important to hold the knife level with the cake plate. I always find the trick of cutting around the cake, progressively cutting in deeper towards the centre, to work best for making straight and even layers. Cutting around the cake lets you have more control while slicing. Unfortunately my official photographer (AKA my husband) was busy, so there aren't any action shots this time!
Once the cake is cut and trimmed, use frosting and filling before sandwiching back together. In the case of this bake, I added cinnamon to some of my buttercream and then topped this with chopped pecans to add texture and accent the praline in the cake itself.
Then, stack the layer on top and add a crumb coat of frosting. This is basically just a thin layer of icing to smooth out the cake and will help crumbs getting in the way of decorating. It is important to chill the crumb coat for a little while before proceeding - I left mine overnight, but you could leave for only an hour or so and it will still work perfectly in serving its purpose!
To decorate, I wanted to try out a basket weave that I've seen on a lot of cake decorating videos. I used a Wilton #48 tip and more of my buttercream mixed with cinnamon to give a light brown shade for the basket. The basket weave is actually fairly easy to accomplish. It does take a bit of patience, as you need to go around the cake slowly building the layers. I would definitely recommend watching a couple of videos on youtube to get the hang of the piping order.
Next, I added some flowers - some roses, that I've been working on and also a selection of others that allowed me to try out different piping tips.
Finish it all off with a few leaves for effect and voila, all that's left now is to slice and enjoy!
Maple Praline Pound Cake
- 1 cup buttermilk or soured milk (250mL)
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (250mL)
- 1 cup caster sugar (225g)
- 1 cup dark brown muscovado (200g)
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups plain flour (385g)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon praline paste
- 1 teaspoon maple flavouring
- Grease and flour a cake tin and preheat your oven to 350°F (165C Fan).
- If using soured milk, prepare this using 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar in your 1 cup measure and top up with whole milk. Stir and leave to sit for about 10 minutes while you proceed with your cake batter.
- Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
- In a separate bowl, mix together your dry ingredients (flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt). Add this to the sugar mixture in alternation with the buttermilk (starting and ending with dry ingredients).
- Add flavouring and praline paste. Beat until smooth.
- Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 1 hour, checking occasionally until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.