My sisters and I kicked off the summer this year by heading home for a long weekend in North Carolina.
Of course we each had an itinerary of must-eat hometown foods, including plenty of barbecue and country ham and biscuits. And while those foods were wonderful, nothing compared to the simple pound cake and strawberry dessert our mother whipped up.
My mother had gone to the nearby strawberry farm and bought a couple of gallon buckets of the reddest, ripest, most fragrant strawberries either of us could remember. To feature those luscious berries, she then baked up a so-called economy pound cake, a rich, flavourful cake so much better than the shortcakes you'll find at the grocer.
The recipe my mother used is from a cookbook my grandmother used to use — "Recipes from Old Virginia Cookbook" published in 1958 by The Virginia Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs.
The authors called this recipe an "economy" pound cake because it's a riff on classic versions of this dessert, which traditionally called for exactly what it sounds like — a pound each of butter, sugar and eggs. But this version calls for just 1/2 pound of butter, 2 cups of sugar and 4 eggs.
While many pound cakes are greasy, the crumb of the economy pound cake is light and moist, yet dry to the touch. And the best part is the slight spiciness and flavour it gets from the addition of mace and nutmeg.
We've tinkered with the recipe, adding vanilla extract and doubling the spices. It astounded me how much those little changes upped the flavour of the cake, turning a good cake into a great cake. These small tweaks made the economy pound cake into the best pound cake that my sisters and I have ever eaten and one that we will make for years to come.
We ate slices of the pound cake with the vibrant red strawberries that oozed tart, sweet summer flavours. Once the berries were washed and sliced, I macerated them in a little bit of sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest and a splash of Grand Marnier, just enough to bring out the best in the fruit, but not enough to mask it.
ECONOMY POUND CAKE
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups superfine sugar
4 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
Powdered sugar, to dust
Fresh berries, to serve
Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat a Bundt pan with baking spray (a blend of oil and flour).
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until fully incorporated. Set aside.
In a second bowl, sift together the salt, mace, nutmeg, baking powder and flour. In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the vanilla and milk.
With the mixer on medium, add a bit of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well. Add a bit of the milk, mixing again. Alternate adding the flour and milk until all ingredients are well mixed. As needed, use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are mixed. The batter should be smooth and silky.
Using a clean bowl and clean beaters, whip the egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted at the centre comes out clean.
Let cool for 10 minutes. Overturn the cake onto a serving plate, then dust with powdered sugar just before serving. If desired, top and surround the cake with fresh berries.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 380 calories; 160 calories from fat (42 per cent of total calories); 18 g fat (11 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 53 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 1 g fiber; 210 mg sodium.
(Recipe adapted from "Recipes from Old Virginia Cookbook" published in 1958 by The Virginia Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."