If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a pantheon of baking/cooking goddesses. These are women who are such amazing bakers and cooks that I admire them and kinda worship them. They include: Julia Child, Sheila Jenkins, Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), Dorie Greenspan, and Laurie Colwin. Heck, if I met any one of them (the living ones, that is), I’d probably babble and giggle and tell her how much I loved her and then drool on myself and make a scene. You know. The usual when you meet someone you admire like crazy.
Well, today’s post is in honor of another of my baking/cooking goddesses, Edna Lewis. If you don’t know who Edna Lewis is, you must go to the library or bookstore and get one of her books. Any one will do. I own a copy of her second cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking. I’ve also check out her other books so often from the library that I really think they should just give them to me (heh).
Edna Lewis was an amazing woman. She was the granddaughter of slaves. In 1916, she was born and grew up in a tiny settlement in Virginia called Freetown that was founded by her grandfather and other freed slaves. In The Taste of Country Cooking, Lewis describes the rituals, food, and people who made up her life on the farm in Freetown. It is divided by season and it starts with spring. It’s a lovely book–part memoir, part history, part cookbook. It’s fun to cook from and it’s also fun to simply read.
Lewis moved to Washington, DC and then to New York City after her father died when she was 16. She served as a seamstress and worked at a communist newspaper. Over time, she became known for her authentic Southern cooking, which was simple and flavorful. In 1948, with a friend, she opened a restaurant at which she was the chef. The restaurant and her cooking became well-known and she developed a following. Take a moment to think about how amazing this is: a black woman, from the South, making a name for herself and serving as chef at her own restaurant in New York City. Clearly, she was an astounding person.
And another thing: in her cookbooks, she talks about going to the farmers market in Union Square (in NYC) and buying fresh produce around which she would create her meals. Personally, I would credit her with being one of the first “locavores.”
Later, when she left New York, she lived and worked in various places around the South, including North and South Carolina and Georgia, as well as returning to New York at one point to serve as chef at the Gage and Tollner restaurant in Brooklyn. Based on the urging of book editor Judith Jones (who also edited Julia Child), she wrote her first cookbook, the Edna Lewis Cookbook in the late 1960s. She followed it up with her landmark book, The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976. Her next book was In Pursuit of Flavor. Her final book, which was written with her good friend and chef, Scott Peacock, was The Gift of Southern Cooking. In the 1990s, together with Peacock, she started the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, which eventually morphed into the Southern Foodways Alliance. In 1995, she was awarded the James Beard Foundation Living Legend Award (their first such award). She has been called “the South’s answer to Julia Child.” She died in 2006 (more of her biography can be found here).
One of the first of her recipes that I ever made, and that I have continued to make, is her Pound Cake, from her book with Peacock, The Gift of Southern Cooking. This is a simple recipe that is just perfect. What makes this recipe for pound cake different from others I’ve tried is that you gradually increase the oven temperature over the course of baking. This way the batter is cooked slowly and the crust doesn’t form before it is fully risen. It makes for a beautiful, dense, perfectly baked, and delicious cake. To me it is the quintessential pound cake. She serves it with a butter-lemon glaze (the recipe for which I’ve included). I also like it drizzled with a chocolate sauce, or with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. It would also be perfect as an accompaniment to fondue.
Special Equipment Needed
-a stand mixer is really helpful, although a hand mixer will do
-a tube pan
Note: This recipe uses my gluten-free flour mix:
Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix (mix together and store in fridge):
1 1/4 C. brown rice flour
1 1/4 C. white rice flour
1 C. tapioca flour
1 C. sweet rice flour (also known as Mochiko)
2 scant tsp. xanthan gum
(you can also use the gluten-free flour mixture of your choice–just be sure it contains xanthan gum. Or, you can add 1/4 tsp. xanthan gum per cup of gluten-free flour. If you use bean flour, it will add a bean taste to the cake)
Ingredients for the cake
2 1/4 C Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1/4 tsp salt
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 C granulated sugar
1 TBL vanilla extract
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
5 large or extra large eggs, room temperature
additional butter and tapioca flour for pan
Ingredients for the glaze
1/3 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 TBL unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
Note: Total baking time will be 60-70 minutes
Do not preheat the oven
-with the extra butter and tapioca flour, grease and flour the tube pan–shake out excess
-in a medium bowl, mix together flour and salt; set aside
-in the bowl of a mixer, using the paddle attachment (if using a stand mixer), beat the butter for about 5 minutes–until white and very fluffy. Add the sugar and beat another 2 minutes–until fluffy.
-add the vanilla and lemon juice, beat on medium to incorporate
-add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition
-once all eggs have been added, beat for 2 minutes
-with mixer on low, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined
-spoon into the pan, smoothing the top
-thump the pan on the counter once to release any trapped air bubbles
-place into COLD oven
-turn oven on to 225 degrees and bake for 20 minutes
-after 20 minutes, increase the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes
-after 20 minutes, increase the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Start checking with tester at 20 minutes
-remove from oven and cool in pan on cooling rack for 5 minutes
-run a spatula or butter knife along the edge of the cake to release it from the pan and then carefully turn out onto the cooling rack to cool completely–be sure it’s turned so the top of the cake is upright (my tube pan is in 2 pieces, so it’s a bit tricky to turn the cake out onto the cooling rack–just proceed slowly and carefully)
To make the glaze:
-Place the lemon juice, sugar, butter, and salt into a small non-reactive pan and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute–stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
-remove from heat and spoon the warm glaze over the cooled cake
Store in an airtight container. Cake will keep for up to 1 week.
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