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Jerry Di Vecchio is an eminent food expert, a legend in her own time. The Food Editor of Sunset magazine until she retired in 2002, Jerry spent 42 years at the magazine for Western living, shaping and influencing America’s food tastes through wide-ranging food features and recipes, with a nod towards Western culinary sensibilities. Although retired, she is as vibrant, active and relevant in the culinary scene, as ever.
Recently, Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter hosted a tribute to Jerry at Sunset’s Menlo Park facilities. It was a bittersweet event, since the publication will be leaving its beautifully designed test kitchens, test gardens and expansive, gorgeously landscaped grounds to move into new digs at Jack London Square in Oakland this fall.
The luncheon featured a retrospective of recipes, a small sampling of the hundreds that Jerry had created over the years. The dishes were prepared by member Dames, all food professionals, and plated and presented artfully by Taste Catering.
My assignment was to make two recipes of Powdered Sugar Pound Cake, a recipe from the October 1976 issue of Sunset. Originally, the cake was featured as part of a “Church Supper” for 100.
Here’s the adapted recipe, along with some preparation tips that Jerry shared with me for Special Fork readers. This versatile pound cake is moist and tender, eminently portable, and would make a lovely dessert for summer potlucks and picnics.
Powdered Sugar Pound Cake
1 ½ cups (3/4 pound) butter, plus additional for greasing pan
1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¾ cups sifted cake flour, plus additional for dusting pan
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add powdered sugar and gradually work into butter, then beat at high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Blend in vanilla and flour.
Pour batter into a heavily buttered and flour-dusted 10-inch tube cake pan (plan or fluted). Bake in a 300°F oven for about 1½ hours or until cake begins to pull from pan sides and springs back when lightly touched in the center. (You can also test by inserting a bamboo skewer in the thickest part of the cake; skewer should come out clean.)
Let cake cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. If made ahead, cool completely, package airtight and freeze.
For the table, place thawed cake on serving plate and cut into 12 to 16 slices, leaving pieces in place; dust with powdered sugar.
Makes 1 cake.
Recipe adapted from Sunset Magazine, October 1976 issue.
Here are some tips from Jerry for making this cake:
- Making the batter: Be sure to beat the butter well to cream, then beat well after adding the sugar, then with each egg addition. It goes from soupy to much thicker. Then stir in the flour and beat it some more.
- Preparing the pan: Jerry says she has baked this cake in almost every kind of pan but her favorite is a cast aluminum Bundt pan. She greases and flours the pan before she starts the batter. Alternate pan preparation: Instead of buttering and dusting with flour, you can butter the pan heavily, then coat with thinly sliced almonds.
- Baking: Position rack when baking so the bottom of the pan is a little below center of the oven
- Turning the baked cake out of the pan: When the cake just begins to shrink from sides of pan, after about 10 minutes out of the oven, invert a rack over the cake and pan, hold together and invert until the cake falls onto the rack. While Jerry has never had a problem turning out the cake, my recent attempt did not come out clean—if, like me, your cake doesn’t come out of the pan perfectly, take any bits that stick to the pan and firmly but gently press the bits back into the cake while still warm; dusting with powdered sugar before serving will hide any imperfections.
- Presentation: Instead of serving thick pieces, Jerry prefers to slice the cake thinly—it tastes so much better, she says.
- Variations: Jerry often adds 1 or 2 teaspoons grated orange peel and 1/2 teaspoon hulled and crushed cardamom seed to the batter. For another variation, instead of orange peel, she adds some ground cardamom and about 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed. As still another variation, she has sprinkled liqueur on the cake; this cake holds together when soggy with syrup.
- Jerry has baked this cake in empty aluminum cans to make a cake castle and used this recipe for other dessert construction projects.
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