I’m not really into the whole adult coloring book craze. Don’t get me wrong; I am a hardcore rules follower when it comes to things like school and work, and it drives me crazy when I see typos in advertisements or a picture frame that’s hung crookedly on a wall. But coloring inside the lines of someone else’s drawings just isn’t that exciting to me. I’m impatient, and when it comes to creative projects, I’ve never been very good about following exact instructions. I’m notorious for taking shortcuts in craft projects, and I’d much rather freehand shapes or eyeball measurements when it comes to things like sewing and home decorating (often to my detriment—c.f. the seventh grade sewing project that was supposed to be a stuffed rabbit but ended up looking like a slightly queasy llama). I’ve always been “entropically favored” and messy, and my creative process reflects that. I’m a person who can appreciate the order of skill and discipline, but when it comes to creative work, I like to do my own thing.
Maybe that’s why I love baking. While there are techniques that must be executed precisely and general proportions that must be followed accurately lest the final taste or texture be compromised, the “rules,” once established, are only a framework. If you know how to work with different kinds of ingredients and can predict how their flavors might complement one another, it’s endlessly fun to play with the details—changing the flavor of a cake by infusing the milk with different spices or herbs; using ground pistachios instead of almond meal; adding ginger to a chocolate cookie for a warming take on an old favorite. It’s as much an art as it is a science, and I love that there are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to riffing on an original theme—to coloring outside the lines, so to speak.
This past weekend, we attended a church potluck, and when my husband mentioned that there always (to his observation) seemed to be a dearth of desserts at these events, I was more than happy to sign up for an excuse to bake. I’d been meaning to try making a citrus loaf cake for the last several weeks anyway, ever since listening to an episode of the podcast Things Cooks Know in which the hosts had extolled the virtues of olive oil cakes made with seasonal fruit. So I did some research and settled upon one of Deb Perelman’s reliably fantastic recipes—in this case, a recipe for Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake from her book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (via this blog). In an effort to make cleanup and transport easier, I bought some paper loaf pans to use in place of my 9″ x 5″ aluminum loaf pan, but the paper pans turned out to be smaller than my aluminum one, and because, being my imprecise self, I decided to eyeball it, I ended up buttering and flouring one more pan than I needed for the amount of batter that the recipe made. When we got home after the potluck, I wondered aloud to my husband what to do with the extra buttered pan. It seemed a shame to throw it out, but I didn’t see how I would be able to store it.
“Put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake another cake tomorrow,” he suggested. So I did.
The original cake recipe had been well received the night before—sharp and tender and wreathed in a cloud of delicate grapefruit scent, it offered a strong hit of citrus flavor that was both unusual and refreshing. I didn’t think any of the proportions needed tweaking the second time around, so I halved the measurements pretty much exactly. But because I can also never leave well enough alone, I decided to experiment with the flavors. We’ve had a lovely red pomelo sitting around our kitchen for the last couple of weeks, just waiting to be eaten, so I hacked that in half and zested and juiced it instead of the two grapefruits called for by the original recipe. And because pomelo has more of a mellow flavor profile than grapefruit, I decided to crack some black pepper into the glaze for a surprise kick.
The result was an equally beautiful, though slightly different, kind of citrus cake. The olive oil and yogurt lightened the batter and made the cake soft and moist, while the pomelo syrup saturated it with the sweet, mildly floral flavor of the fruit, and the peppery glaze added just a hint of heat. After comparing both cakes, I ended up deciding that I slightly preferred the intensity of the original grapefruit version (in which the flavor of the citrus was much more pronounced), but the pomelo-and-pepper version turned out to be a very nice variation, indeed, and it suggested a wide range of ideas for future experimentation: pomelo curd, pomelo tart, pomelo and black pepper scones . . . the options abound. I can’t wait to play around with the possibilities.
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Pomelo Olive Oil Pound Cake with Black Pepper Glaze
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf, 2012)
Note: This is a halved recipe that yields one small loaf cake baked in a 7″ paper loaf pan. I found that Perelman’s original recipe for grapefruit cake fills two 7″ paper pans and bakes up in about 35 minutes rather than in 30 minutes (simply double the proportions given below). If you wish to make this cake in a standard 9″ aluminum loaf pan, double the proportions and also bake according to the original recipe’s guidelines of forty-five minutes to an hour. Regarding the paper pans: technically, one isn’t supposed to have to grease and flour them, but I find that doing so results in a cleaner release, yielding neater slices that are much easier to serve. As for the pomelo—since it is such a large and unwieldy ingredient, I found it easiest to first halve the fruit, then zest and juice it in smaller sections. (The entire recipe, including the juice and zest needed for the cake, syrup, glaze, and garnish, required just under half of my single medium-sized pomelo.)
For the Cake
butter and flour for pan
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon freshly grated pomelo zest
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup raw or turbinado sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large egg at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed pomelo juice
1/6 cup (about 8 teaspoons) plain Greek yogurt
For the Syrup
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/6 cup (about 8 teaspoons) freshly-squeezed pomelo juice
For the Glaze and Garnish
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed pomelo juice
Generous pinch of cracked black pepper, plus more for garnish
Small pinch of salt
Additional pomelo zest for garnish
Make the Cake
Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 7″ paper loaf pan.
In a large bowl, rub the pomelo zest into the sugars with your fingers until fragrant. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add the egg, and whisk until combined.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a second bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, combine a tablespoon of pomelo juice and the yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt mixture, alternating between them, to the oil-and-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
Spread the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a knife or piece of dry spaghetti comes out clean.
Make the pomelo syrup
Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1/6 cup (8 teaspoons) pomelo juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then poke holes in the cake with a skewer or piece of dry spaghetti. Brush or pour the pomelo syrup over the cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup.
Make the glaze
Combine the confectioners’ sugar, pomelo juice, black pepper, and salt in a bowl, whisking until smooth. Pour the glaze over the top of cooled cake, and finish with a dusting of pomelo zest and a final crack or two of black pepper. Settle a sprig of mint into the setting glaze for additional garnish if desired.