Sneak-Peek Recipe: Chocolate Pound Cake - No. 136
Try your hands at an unpublished, simply irresistible recipe. Photos of what I’m baking this summer. And you tell me what we’re talking about in today’s Open Thread. The Good Stuff.
Recipes connect us in the most mysterious ways. A chocolate pound cake that my mother made seemed elusive. I couldn’t find her recipe! But when I met Helen Bird at a book talk in Monteagle in June, Helen told me about a chocolate pound cake her mother made while she was growing up in Memphis.
It was too much of a coincidence, and I went on a hunt for that recipe. I searched the hundreds of regional cookbooks and American cookbooks I own, and when I fell short, ordered an old copy of the Memphis Women’s Exchange Cook Book. I dived into Helen Exum’s Chattanooga Cookbook and pulled out Nashville Seasons and The Nashville Cookbook, thinking chocolate pound cake must be a Tennessee cake.
And there it was in the Exchange cookbook, a recipe that unlocked the door. I could bake and taste a cake and see if it was anything like my mother made. And I let Helen know and sent her the recipe so she could unlock some memories, too.
This pound cake is simply irresistible. I know that sounds like some late-‘80s Robert Palmer video where he sings that the love he has for the barely dressed and oddly identical women who surround him is ‘’mythical,’’ and ‘’anything but typical.’’ Was he talking about my mother’s chocolate pound cake?
Because if he was, then I can relate. This cake, a cross between a pound cake and a gooey chocolate brownie, is irresistible. It needs no frosting, no fanfare, and you will remember it.
And if you bake it, let me know what you think! We are in the testing phase right now.
Postcards from this 2022 summer of baking
As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, I’m writing a cookbook about Southern baking, but it’s not your typical book on that topic. It’s more what I didn’t know about Southern baking and how regional styles of baking can influence an entire country and how these styles and recipes came from other places. And it’s an honest look at the baking from the South that someone outside the region might want to read. At least I hope so.
Along the way, I will let the recipes tell the stories, which have to do with celebrating a season but also mourning, doing without, keeping traditions alive, and often raising money to pay rent or to fund a city bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, like that pound cake loaf. Just gave away part of the story…
And this book will share some recipes where the lightbulb goes off, like the sweet potato biscuit dough that baked into something more like a yeast bread. And how recipes can be reinvented just by switching the pans. An old Jewish apple cake, for example, looks even more magnificent baked in a springform pan.
I’m learning a lot about biscuits, baking them in different ways with different flours and in different pans. Repeat biscuits enough times and you’ll figure them out! That’s how your granny did it! The same goes for cornbread.
And there are quick breads, too, that I’m testing because the older, more time-consuming recipes for breads and elaborate cakes are memorable but often they don’t get baked because we don’t have the time to commit to them. But we’ve always got time for quick breads, some of them made with self-rising flour. I’ve baked quick breads of sweet potato, zucchini, blueberries, and pumpkin so far.