American Classic V Transcript

The Kitchen

    [enters in front of an American flag to patriotic music] Good evening, fellow American cooks. Say, I've got a question for you. What in the world happened to cake? Oh I don't mean fussy French gâteaux with their mushy middles or Austrian tortes with all their sugar-dusted almond-flour pastry-ness. Nor do I refer to those fudgy doorstops that American pastry chefs keep fostering under the false moniker of flourless chocolate cake.
    No. No, I mean cake. As in the stuff you get at birthday parties, and for better or worse, at weddings. When, dear viewer, was the last time you baked a cake not from a box? [camera pans down slowly as if we are ashamed] Mm-hmm, just as I expected.
    Well, America, it's time we got our cake groove back in gear. [flag raises and he enters the kitchen] Now each of the 87 cards in this lottery ticket drum bears the name of a classic American cake and we are going to pull one and we are going to bake one. Drum roll please. And today's cake will be ... [looks at the card and rejects it] No. Sorry. I'll pull another one. [repeats with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th card, then picks up the entire drum and shakes it] C'mon, c'mon, get out of there. Ah, there we go.

    Ladies and gentlemen, "fate" has spoken. The ubiquitous albeit often ignored and shamelessly abused pound cake. All right, maybe I gave fate a hand. But believe me countrymen pound cake is the cornerstone of the American bakery pantheon upon which the entirety of our national cake--dom rests. [the British flag falls behind him] Well, like many great American traditions, pound cake was born upon foreign shores. But that doesn't mean it's not red, white, blue, and ...


[Good Eats Theme Music]

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Roman noble
             Scottish Fighter
             Bakers #1 & #2
             Village Idiot

    [AB is reading the fictitious book, "Forgotten Food Folklore"] Historians and anthropologists generally agree that most American butter based cakes, from birthday to wedding and everywhere in between, descend from one great mother cake, the pound cake. They also agree the pound cake was born in jolly old England, which makes a fair amount of sense. After all, to bake a cake you need an oven, and Romans had brought bread ovens to Britannia during their stay that island ...

ROMAN NOBLE: [stands outside window with bread]

... South of Hadrian's wall, of course.

SCOTTISH FIGHTER: [enters and chases Roman away]

    As you recall the Scots would not be ruled, ever.


    Consequently the Scots would also never be really famous for baking cakes.
    Returning crusaders later brought sugar back from the Middle East, ...

KNIGHT & SQUIRE: [enter outside window as if riding on horseback but with the Squire clapping coconut halves together]

... an event which would eventually fuel overland and maritime trade and permanently alter the taste buds of Englishmen everywhere.

KNIGHT & SQUIRE: [are scarred away by the Peasants]
[with very bad teeth] Sugar!

    Those folks have got a serious sweet tooth and the sweet teeth to prove it. And lest we forget Britain was and remains a leading producer of quality dairy goods.

COW: [camera pans to the cow outside the window] Moo!

This includes, of course, butter which despite the protestations of the French, is as good as good eats gets. And of course, everyone back then used to keep ... bwack, bwack ... chickens. Which meant plenty of fresh eggs.
    The last required ingredient, of course, is flour.

BAKER #1: [comes into view holding a big bag of flour after which another bag falls on him and he collapses]

    The starch laden cement of pastry, breads, biscuits, muffins and, of course, cakes.

BAKER #2: [enters and places hot bread on AB's window sill to cool]

    Now with these four protean players in the pantry, it was simply a matter of time before some ingenious Englishman or woman stumbled on the fact that a pound of each could be combined to produce a cake both tasty and robust: sweet, but with a stiff upper lip.  The fact that a pound cake recipe didn't actually make it into print until 1847 is no big surprise, seeing how everyone short of the village idiot could easily memorize the recipe.

VILLAGE IDIOT: [talking to a puppet cat] Let's see, that's one pound of sugar, butter the size of a bird's egg. What? You want to play super cat? [begins flinging the cat around] Meow! Meow!

    Modern recipes writers claiming the classic is heavy or not sweet enough like to tinker around with the pound cake parts list. But I think the proportions are just fine. This skit on the other hand is a goner.
    [at the counter, a balance equals out with sugar and flour on each side, but each with different volumes] Although the balanced scale hints at a symbiotic symmetry, to really understand the inner workings of a pound cake, one must look through the ingredients to the molecular mysteries within.

    Sugar is easy. It's 100 percent sucrose, the most common of kitchen disaccharides.


    Flour is composed mostly of starch and protein.


    Eggs contain fat and protein and water as well as phospholipids, which are natural emulsifiers.


    Butter contains anywhere from 80 to 85 percent fat. And the rest is water and milk solids, including lactose or milk sugar.


Butter Animation

    The important, nay critical, thing to realize about butter is that the fat actually comes in three forms. There is the continuous phase, that is the phase that all the other stuff including the water is floating in. Then there are globules from the original cream that survive the churning process. And there are fat crystals, which will soon be very important indeed.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Moist, Dry, Tough, and Tender Puppets

    Each of these culinary characters assumes a specific role in the baked good drama.
    Proteins play tougheners. If you like chewy crusty French baguettes and the like, thank proteins.
    Sugar and fats on the other hand are tenderizers, which break down or lubricate tougheners so that they aren't so tough anymore. Okay?
    Starches and powdered goods, flours, cornstarch, cocoa powder, that kind of thing are all driers because they absorb moisteners, which are always played by water and water type liquids.


    Now although tough and tender, moist and dry are in fact opposites on the quadraphonic Zen wheel of kitchen life, ...

PUPPETS: [enter and start hitting each other]

... like so many opposing forces they can and should balance each other out. If our formulations are correct and our technique precise, this is what pound cake is all about. [AB brings the puppets together and they stop fighting] It's moist, dry, tough, and tender, all working together.

AB: [to the puppets] Nice, stay.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt celebrated his 1945
inauguration with chicken salad and pound cake.

The Kitchen

    One would think that a cake containing equal doses of four simple ingredients would produce the same cake time after time, baker after baker. Alas, as you can see, this is not the case. [shows different pound cakes] Each of these cakes was prepared with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, a pound of flour and they are all different. That is because the most important ingredient in pound cake, isn't an ingredient at all. It's technique. And techniques can very widely depending on the recipe.
    [opens a fictitious book, "Traditional Cooking Wisdom"] For instance this [quote] is from the mid 18th century. This would make a modern baker's hair stand on end, okay? It's from a book called, "The Art of Cookery." And it reads, "to make a pound cake, ...

Mid 18th Century Kitchen

GUEST: Little Girl

LITTLE GIRL: [continues the quote] ... take a pound of butter and beat it into an earthen pan with your hand until it becomes a fine, thick cream. Then render 12 eggs, but hold the whites. Beat them well and beat them into the butter. Then beat in a pound of flour and a pound of sugar as well, and a few caraways. Beat this all well for an hour with your hand or a wooden spoon.

The Kitchen

    [at the oven] So why is pound cake so classically labor intensive? Because when creamed together diligently, the butter and sugar will produce a light, airy mixture, which will form the foundation of a cake that will rise beautifully in here without any chemical leavening whatsoever. How? Patience grasshopper.

    First thing: oven rack, middle. Second thing: heat 350. Third thing, the pans.

350 Degrees

    Now if you're going to take the classical approach you will need two nine-by-five loaf pans. And you're going to want to properly prep them. Butter all over: edges, corners everything. Then flour, I usually use about a third of a cup. We'll get the excess out later. Just put it in one side and top one pan on the next. Cover with a little plastic wrap just to keep it secure. And then shake the devil out of it to distribute the flour. Unwrap and there you have it.
    Now if you want to use a tube pan, that will definitely hold all of the batter. But it's also a little complicated. You've got to butter and flour everything. By the way, the feet are for inverting an angel food cake. We don't need to mess with that right now. There. The same amount of flour. And then since there's a hole in the middle, we won't use plastic wrap. Just a clean towel, tap it all around. Then remove the excess and you are ready to go.

    Interested in a successful pound cake? Then I've got one word for you, plastic. [shows the mixing bowl with sugar and butter in it] In order to cream, the fat in the butter must be warm enough to be malleable but not so warm that its structure collapses, or heaven help us, flat out melts. Now I removed this pound of unsalted butter from the refrigerator a few hours ago. And have been carefully monitoring its internal temperature until a few minutes ago when it hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Actually anything between 65 and 70 would be fine. And in parts of the world that aren't here, they call that room temperature, not in the south. 1 Pound Unsalted Butter,
    All right it's in the mixing bowl along with a pound of sugar. And I put the sugar on the bottom so that it doesn't fly all over the place. I have the paddle in place and we're going to cream that on medium for five minutes. Which, I might add, beats the heck out of doing it by hand for an hour. 1 Pound Sugar

    So what's going on here that's so gosh darn important? Well, bubbles for one thing. As the mixer paddle turns it's actually shoving all those little jagged pills of sugar into the plastic mass of the butter opening up oodles of little air pockets. Now as the sugar granules begin to dissolve in the water phase of the butter, those air pockets will remain. Supported by guess what? That's right, butter fat crystals.
    [at the refrigerator] Now here's a fun fact: not all butter fat crystals are alike, okay? Now your standard run-of-the-mill grocery store variety of butter is typically churned very, very quickly. Because, of course, time is money and the processor wants to get on with making more butter. Well, fast churning creates very large butter crystals, okay? And large butter crystals support the construction of large bubbles. All right large bubbles make for a, kind of, big rough unrefined texture inside baked goods, okay?


    European butters are different. They're often lauded for being a little bit more fatty than regular butter or because they often contain lactic acid, which gives them kind of a yogurty twang, which is nice. But what's really special about these buttersbesides, of course, their price tag, which can be a little highis that they are slow churned. Okay. Slow churning creates small, little fat crystals. And small fat crystals support, you've got it, small little bubbles. What does this mean? Well, it means a finer texture in your cake. So I suggest that in this case, you splurge for the really good European style butter. Your cake will thank you.

    Now as you can see, we've got a very light and fluffy mixture here because it's full of air. Now turn this speed down to low and add the eggs, okay? Nine of them. Large chicken eggs. We're going to add them one at a time very, very slowly, allowing about 20 seconds for each egg to integrate. Why? Well think about it. Eggs are mostly water, butter almost all fat. We're making an emulsion here. And just like a vinaigrette, you need to drizzle one into the other very slowly so that they can incorporate. Otherwise you're going to have a big broken mess of eggs floating on top of butter. Blah. Take your time. 9 Large Eggs
    I know I said you only need the four ingredients to make a pound cake. And that's 100 percent true. But adding just a little bit of vanilla and salt will up the flavor ante considerably. And, uh, well, I don't think that's cheating now, is it? Uh, uh. 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
˝ tsp. Kosher Salt

Vanilla has more than 350 organic components
that make up its’ distinctive flavor.

The Kitchen

    Okay at this point it's finally time to introduce the dry goods. That is the stuff that is going to absorb the moisture, i.e. the flour. Not only flour, mind you, but cake flour. Why cake flour? Three big fat reasons. One, cake flour is milled from low protein or soft wheat. When agitated with water wheat proteins, of course, create gluten, those bungee-cord-like molecular structures that result in a great deal of chewiness. Not exactly what we want in a cake now is it? The lower the protein the less gluten and that is a good thing. Also cake flour is milled extra fine. Let's take a look. 1 Pound Cake Flour

    If you could enlarge all-purpose flour granules about a gajillion times, it'd probably look a lot like this [a bunch of crumpled up pieces of yellow and white paper]: jagged and irregular in both size and color. Cake flour on the other hand is much finer and more uniform. [tracks over to smaller and more similar balls of white paper] These smaller pieces integrate into batter very easily, and that means less stirring and less gluten production. You'll also notice the cake flour is much brighter. That's because it's bleached. Not only does this result in a lighter product, it changes the pH of the granules so that the starches swell and gel more efficiently. And that translates into a lighter, more pleasing texture.
    Introducing flour to a batter can be a tricky business, and I've made more than a few major messes in my time. The key is to keep the speed at its slowest, work in three even installments, and keep the flour in a vessel that will bend to your will, if you get my drift. So first dose goes in nice and slow. You know this whole operation is going to take a few minutes. Just one third, there we go. Once it has worked all the way inno more flour showingyou can bring the second dose to the party, just take your time. If you do it fast, it'll fly all over the room. When that's completely disappeared, then and only then do you bring the third dose, the final dose, to the party. There, get a little on the mixer it's no big deal. Nice. Now go ahead and scrape down the bowl because it probably will have worked its way up the side. And then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Then you'll have nice elastic and plastic batter just like this. There that looks perfect.
    Okay. Now even distribution between the two pans can be tricky. So just use your scale. Put on the one pan and do a tare function and zero it out. and add batter until you get two pounds. Whatever you've got left, you know goes into the second pan. You can smooth over the top but don't get too carried away, because it'll even out in the oven.
    [at the oven] Whether you're talking a single two-pan or a double loaf pans you'll be baking for approximately one hour, or until the interior of the cakes hit 210 degrees Fahrenheit. You know most baking recipes are concerned with time when temperature is actually a better indicator. Why?
    Because as the batter heats up the air and all those microscopic bubbles expand forcing the batter to rise. At around 140 degrees, water vapor forms expanding the bubbles even further. Then at 180, give or take a degree or two, starches swell and undergo gelation. That is they form gels. That's what starches do. Soon after, the proteins coagulate, forming a lattice-like structure around the bubbles. The final step is, of course, browning, which doesn't set in until 200 degrees. At this point, enough moisture has been driven out or absorbed that the sugars at the surface can caramelize and the proteins can undergo the mallard reactions. In other words, the crust turns golden brown and delicious. And that my friends looks a little bit like this.
    Not only have we obtained golden brown and delicious, but our thermometer confirms 210.5. Close enough. So the baking phase is done. But that does not mean that the cakes are finished.
    Truth is, cooling is as a critical part of the process as the application of heat. You see, the starches and proteins won't be stable until the temperature drops considerably. So think of these cakes as newborns, all shiny and nice and golden brown but very vulnerable. So place them still in the pans on a cooling rack for not one second less than ten minutes.
    Then return and de-pan—they'll be cool enough to handle by then—and place back on the rack for another ten minutes. There you go.
    Now that's a mighty nice looking cake. And the contrast between the crusty exterior and the soft moist interior is especially intoxicating. But it won't stay that way if you don't store it correctly. Unlike most baked goods, pound cake does not like to be entombed. Your best bet, in fact, leave on the cutting board covered in a clean tea towel and eat in three days. Or you can cut it, wrap it and freeze it. In fact one of my favorite breakfast treats is to pop a frozen slice or two directly into the old toaster. One toast cycle on medium will thaw it out. Two touches and you get a little toasty bit of heaven. Want some? Oh, c'mon. I said it was good. I never said it was lean.
    Of course, now that we know the balance of tougheners, driers, tenderizers, and moisteners required for the job, we might just be able to hack this baby on the lean side.

Leftover pound cake is the main ingredient in
English trifle. But that’s another show.

The Kitchen

    Okay, the way I figure it, if we want to reduce, say, the eggs and the butter, we need to replace them with more moisture, some protein and some type of tenderizing agent to replace all the fat. The only conceivable answer is, of course, whole buttermilk. That is milk whose lactose or milk sugar has been converted into lactic acid by the addition of a specific bacteria. If we reduce our original parts list to four whole eggs and say 12 ounces of butter, we should be able to fill the chemical gap with a cup of buttermilk. Batter building will be similar but with some important detours.

    Since we're working with less butter, we will need more creaming in order to generate enough of those tiny bubbles. So boost the mixing time from five to six minutes on medium. Of course, when that's nice and fluffy we'll save time with the eggs because they're only four of them. But they do need to be introduced very slowly just as before. When they're all in it will be the same teaspoon of vanilla extract, the same half of a teaspoon of kosher salt. Then return to medium speed for 30 seconds. 1 Pound Sugar &
12 Ounces Unsalted Butter,

4 Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

˝ tsp. Kosher Salt

    Now we're ready to go slow and with the first installment of flour followed by half of the buttermilk. There. Now at any point when things start climbing up the side of the bowl, stop and scrape it down, especially if there's a lot of dry flour up there. Then we bring the second dose of flour, very nice. Work it in 100 percent. And the final dose of the buttermilk. That allows us to finish, of course, with the final third of the flour. Always begin and end with the dry ingredients. Beat for 30 seconds on medium and you are ready to pan up. Nice plastic and elastic, just what we want. 1 Pound Cake Flour

1 Cup Whole Buttermilk

    [at the oven, uses a tube pan] Baking is still roughly an hour with a thermal target of 210 degrees. Now if you watch closely, you'll notice a lag time between the setting of the cake and the browning phase. That's because acidic ingredients like buttermilk, accelerate setting, which means less moisture loss. But acids also slow browning. So we're going to increase the heat to 375 degrees in order to achieve golden brown and delicious.

375 Degrees

    [at the table] Voilŕ, a tender golden cake with a surprisingly tart twist. Is it pound cake? No, not strictly speaking, but it is good eats. With all the calories you saved you could make a glaze. Go on make it.

    First thing you'll need to do is generate a teaspoon of orange or lemon zest. Then pour on two and a half tablespoons of freshly squeezed orange or lemon juice. Add in a pinch of salt and then start working in six ounces, by weight, of powdered sugar. Go slowly, it's almost like building your own batter here. So just work it in, work it in until it looks like very, very thick milk, there you go. You're going to need to use this quickly before it starts to dry. There. 1 tsp. Orange Or Lemon Zest
2˝ Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Orange Or Lemon Juice
Pinch Kosher Salt
6 Ounces Powdered Sugar

    Now since it makes quite a mess, I like to do this over a cooling rack so the excess can drip away, which it always does [the cooking rack is on a sheet pan which is on a Lazy Suzan, he spins the cake while slowly pouring the glaze on the cake]. Let it set for 30 minutes and you will have made good eats, great.
    [in front of the British Flag] And so we see, fellow countrymen, that what was born of English ingenuity, [walks toward camera as the American Flag falls behind him] reaches its full fruition with the help of American know-how and flat-out dessert self-determination.
    Now go forth and bake, while I enjoy my good eats.

Transcribed by Jennifer Schleicher
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 05/01/2011