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While Flour Girl's away

Editor’s note: Flour Girl is on maternity leave, so look for bakers (pro and am) in her usual Thursday morning slot ….

David Lebovitz's Passion Fruit Pound Cake. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)

Spend enough time popping batters in the oven and you know that the Little Things make or break baking recipes -- perhaps more than any other kinds of recipes. Cookbook authors have taken to adding ancillary nuggets of necessary info as tips and such, but I’ve picked up just as many techniques along the way merely by scanning the way a pro puts together a classic dessert, such as a chocolate chip cookie, a yellow layer cake or a summer pudding.

Recipe Included

Pastry chef-author David Lebovitz’s Passion Fruit Pound Cake has such a nugget, and it has to do with the application of glaze. The recipe’s in his new collection, “Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes” (Ten Speed), which, after spending 10 minutes with, you’ll want to a) own and/or b) call in sick so you can stay home and bake or make ice cream immediately. His headnotes are as bon-vivant engaging as his Tweets and blog. He proves that it is possible to bake and laugh at the same time. But more importantly, you’ll find that his best recipes are, in fact, your favorites as well.

Lebovitz is solidly among the pantheon of modern bakers. You may remember that Joe Yonan got to spend clafouti time with him in Paris a while back. We ran Lebovitz's caramelized white chocolate ice cream recipe with that article, and when I handed out tester samples in the newsroom I had to beat my colleagues off with a stick.


TLTs of this particular pound cake intrigued me on several counts. Lebovitz dribbles in a cocktail of beaten eggs and vanilla extract instead of the usual one-egg-at-a-time incorporation, and prefers to combine wet and dry ingredients by hand to eliminate the danger of overmixing. Those steps created a pound cake batter unlike many I've tried, but I trusted the recipe. Like the author, I’m a big passion fruit fan; a slab of PF pulp is usually in my freezer. Yet this is a simple pound cake (no “pounds” of anything) flavored with orange zest. The power of passion fruit flavor is used in the glaze.

And that glaze is just a mix of strained pulp and sugar. Lebovitz specifically directs us not to let the sugar dissolve. This is a TLT with benefits: The glaze stays thick. We’re directed to poke holes all the way to the bottom of the still-warm cake: “about 50 times.” More TLT love: Not a few holes, no guesswork about what the baker had in mind. The surface will look like it's been sprayed with buckshot, but the thick glaze will fill in those holes. Not to worry. The glaze must be applied to all sides, including the bottom. There's exactly enough glaze to do the job. Love that.

The result: a pound cake with a crumb sturdy enough to withstand the glaze, with a subtle citrus flavor inside and the sweet-tart smack of passion fruit on the outside – the last taste that lingers due to a slight sugary crispness. Magic.

Which Little Things have you learned from expert bakers and their classic recipes? I may have an extra copy of "Ready for Dessert" to give away....

-- Bonnie Benwick

Passion Fruit Pound Cake
Makes one 9-inch loaf (10 servings)

Serve slices plain or with fresh fruit.

MAKE AHEAD: The cake can be loosely wrapped in plastic wrap and stored for a few days at room temperature. Adapted from Lebovitz's "Ready for Dessert: My Favorite Recipes" (Ten Speed Press, 2010).

For the cake
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges, preferably organic (about 4 teaspoons)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze
1/2 cup strained passion fruit pulp (from about 6 passion fruits) or store-bought pulp, defrosted
1/3 cup sugar

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little butter to grease the inside of a 9-inch loaf pan. Dust the inside of the pan lightly with flour, tapping out any excess. Line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper.

Whisk together the 1 1/2 cups of flour, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the cup of sugar, the 12 tablespoons of butter and the orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, then dribble the mixture into the bowl while the mixer is running, making sure it is completely incorporated. (The mixture will look curdled; that’s okay.) Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Use a flexible spatula to stir in the flour mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Run a round-edge knife around the inside edges to loosen the cake, then invert to remove the parchment paper on the bottom. Turn the cake right side up on a plate. Let cool about 15 minutes while you make the glaze.

For the glaze: Place the strained pulp/puree in a liquid measuring cup. Gently stir in the sugar, being careful not to let it dissolve (the mixture will be a little grainy).

Use a wooden skewer to poke 50 holes in the top of the cake, all the way through to the bottom. Spoon half of the glaze evenly over the top of the cake, then turn the cake on each of its sides, spooning the remaining glaze to coat the cake evenly. Use any glaze that collects on the plate to coat the bottom of the cake.

Cut the cooled cake into slices.

Per serving: 320 calories, 4 g protein, 42 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 27 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  April 15, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Books , Flour Girl , Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, David Lebovitz, Flour Girl, cookbooks, recipes  
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Baking! My husband heard the author of "The Art of Baking" on NPR and knew I'd love the book. I have. But her best little thing has been, that when making cookies, sprinkle a few drops of water into the flour and mix to make a bit more glueten. My cookies are now brilliant!

Posted by: wakeford | April 15, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

My Little Thing: Measure your flour correctly! Spoon flour into your measuring cup, then sweep off the excess. DON'T dig your measuring cup into the flour jar and sweep off the rest. This packs your flour more tightly and gives you more than what your recipe actually calls for.

Posted by: stewartyu | April 15, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Any suggestions for a fruit to use instead of passionfruit in the glaze? I'm not one of those people who has an automatic need to replace major ingredients in a recipe, but I've never had a decent passionfruit where we live (middle of England.)

Posted by: cakewench | April 15, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Cakewench, you can use 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice instead.

Posted by: benwickb | April 15, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I learned from david leb that it's important to use a candy thermometer, and also an oven thermometer if you want consistent results with your recipes.

Posted by: lbernsk | April 15, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the suggestion, Bonnie. (almost called you Ben! oi.) I've no doubt I'll be trying this recipe soon.

Posted by: cakewench | April 15, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

From I can't remember who, but it's worked: Never, ever grease an angel food cake pan. Use a different tube pan for other kinds of cakes.

From Rose Levy Berambaum: Weigh your flour! Let pie dough rest! Dissolve cocoa in hot water - no need to sift out lumps.

From Maida Heatter: Ice box cookies rule! A pound of chocolate chips rather than the standard 12 oz. in a batch of Toll House cookies is not too much chocolate!

From Michel Richard: Puff pastry isn't hard to make.

Posted by: fran426 | April 15, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

From Dave L - candy sometimes just fails and fleur de sel can make everything taste better!

Posted by: Gayu | April 16, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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