Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I try to expand my culinary horizons and improve my technique by cooking a new recipe in my tiny New York City kitchen. (Seriously, this baby is small!) My inspiration and guiding light: Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. Follow along with me, learn from my mistakes!, and let's see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Market Day”

The Set-up: Ina visited the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market and is really jazzed to use local produce to inspire her recipes.

The Menu: Honey Vanilla Pound Cake, Mache Salad with Brie and Apples, Vanilla Extract, Garlic & Lemon Oil, Basil Mayonnaise

0:51 – We get a voiceover tour of the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market as Ina explains how seasonal ingredients determine what she’ll cook. I would love to get in this mindset but 99% of the items I buy at markets are jam related…

1:15 – Case in point: Ina found some local honey (cue a “loving local honeys” joke for my sister in law…) and decided to make Honey Vanilla Pound Cake.

2:07 – Courtesy of Cooks Illustrated magazine we get Pro Tip #1: ‘cool room temperature’ butter makes the best pound cake crumb. This seems like a tricky distinction, but worth trying for?

3:22 – Next, we get a bee keeping tutorial from Frederique Keller of Bee Pharm – the producer of the honey Ina purchased. I swear this looks like a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial (in a good way!) all warm sunlight and golden wheat oat fields.

4:23 – Back to Ina and the Honey Vanilla Pound Cake. The honey seems to be getting the best of her, but she still manages to deliver Pro Tip #2: Adding the honey to the eggs in a measuring cup will make it easier to pour into the mixer.

4:39 – Ina’s using cake flour but offers us a helpful substitute if we only have all-purpose flour in the pantry. Making a note because I literally never have anything other than all-purpose…

5:55 – The cake is baked and Ina expertly turns it out of the loaf pan thanks to the parchment paper liner. She suggests some serving ideas – butter, more honey, berries – but says really she likes it best plain.

9:43 – Next up, Ina’s making a salad using cheese produced by the Mecox Bay Dairy for her staff. Do you think Barefoot Contessa HR lists ‘lunches prepared by Ina’ in it’s benefits package? Who needs paid vacation!

9:55 – During her Ina’s intro to the dairy we get the most idyllic, sun-dappled scenes of cows strolling through a green pasture and munching on hay. For Kate, my one word review: pastoral.

10:37 – She’s baking wedges of a Mecox cheese similar to Brie with honey and pistachios for the Mache Salad with Brie and Apples. This looks truly awesome, but I’m not sure it can really be called ‘salad’ yet…

11:04 – Apparently baked Brie has to be watched carefully or it liquefies “likethat” [finger snap]. You’ve been warned.

13:16 – The mache greens have arrived and are dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. They look pretty similar to clover, so now I suppose it’s a salad.

14:29 – Oooh, nice. Ina asked Art for a cheese-pairing lesson on the Mecox cheeses. Here’s the rundown: Farmhouse cheddar + chutney & malt-y beer; Sigit + salted cashews & dry hard cider; Mecox Sunrise + pears & sweet Sauterne; Shawondasee + celery & crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

15:58 – We’re back with Ina and she’s assembling the salads. The devouring hordes, ahem I mean ladies, from Barefoot Contessa HQ arrive and dive in.

20:12 – We’ve reached the ‘potions and concoctions’ portion of the show. She doesn’t call it that, but I think it’s appropriate.

21:03 – First potion: homemade Vanilla Extract = Vanilla Beans + Vodka + Time. I’d like to point out that the recipe says this takes 720 hours or 1 month. Ina recommends 6 months, which would be 4,320 hours. No big deal.

21:36 – Second potion: Garlic Lemon Oil = Hot Oil + Garlic Cloves + Lemon Peel + Red Pepper Flakes. This does require a little cooking, but I bet this is super flavorful.

22:14 – Finally, a concoction: Basil Mayonnaise. I have to be honest – the closest I’m going to get to making this recipe is if I blend store-bought mayonnaise with basil leaves.

27:32 – Ask Ina Time! The first question is a request for a Roasted Beet recipe. I actually love beets, so I’m paying close attention here and adding ‘beets’ to my grocery list.

28:45 – Second question: how to get the core out of a head of lettuce. I would normally consider this question absurd, but then we get to see Ina smash a head of iceberg on the counter. Twice! The second time is in slo-mo and it’s amazing. Also, this trick totally works, so there’s that.

29:50 – Third question: another recipe request this one for radishes. Ina recommends eating them raw dipped in a pile of sea salt with bread and butter. I’m not kidding. This apparently how French school children eat them? I feel like she’s pulling my leg. Perhaps this is her new way of dealing with silly questions? Anyway, that’s the end!

Final Thoughts:

I love farmers’ markets but I’m always overwhelmed, hence the jam purchases. Time to take Ina’s approach.

The Hamptons seem to have so much great produce – farms, fishing boats, wine – I need a harvest-time visit!

This set of Ask Ina questions must have required a particular amount of restraint. She needed to whack that lettuce. Seriously. 

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

I’ve made sweetbread before, but never Honey Vanilla Pound Cake, which sounded amazing. I had to take Ina’s advice on the cake flour substitute but I did remember to take the butter out in advance to come to room temperature, so progress!

I had no trouble with the measurements or the process, but the baking time is a different question. The recipe calls for 50-60 minutes, but I needed more like 75 before the toothpick came out clean.

I have a few theories that bear future trial:

1.     Typically, I place all baked goods on the middle rack (something to do with even air circulation), but in my oven the heat comes from the bottom. Perhaps placing the pan on the bottom rack closer to the heat source would help it cook correctly?

2.     I’ve never noticed a problem with our oven cooking at the correct temperature, but without a thermometer it’s impossible to know for sure. Perhaps it’s a few degrees off?

3.     It’s pretty warm here in New York and my butter was definitely very soft by the time I started to bake. Maybe that pesky ‘cool room temperature’ butter is more essential than I realized?

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Yes, for a baked good especially. I used two medium sized bowls (butter & sugar, and dry ingredients) and a two-cup liquid measure for the eggs, honey, etc. The recipe calls for a stand mixer, but I couldn’t be bothered to pull it out and used handheld mixer instead.  I also used a glass loaf pan, rubber spatula, microplane grater, and measuring spoons and cups.

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Verdict:

I brought Honey Vanilla Pound Cake and Strawberries (recipe below) to a backyard picnic for my take on Strawberry Shortcake. I got positive feedback from everyone on the results and I personally though the pound cake served as an excellent compliment to the fresh berries.

The flavor is light - I’d probably add a bit more honey and vanilla to the next attempt - however, as a vehicle for juicy strawberries it’s perfect. I’d make this again for an easy summer dessert, or when I needed something portable and easily assembled for a crowd at a Fourth of July barbecue. Try this, but keep an eye on it and let me know how it turns out!

Macerated Strawberries
(serve 6-8 ppl)

1.5 lbs. fresh strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup sugar, or less to taste
1 tsp. lemon zest

In a medium bowl, stir together sliced strawberries, sugar, and lemon zest. Allow the mixture to rest for 45-60 minutes before serving over biscuits, cake, or ice cream.

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberries | Image: Laura Messersmith