If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in an area that has four seasons, is not to get too excited at the first warm, sunny day. Mother nature always seems to bring several more weeks of frost and a few days of snow. This year the trees, tulips and daffodils were in full bloom while several inches of snow fell. What finally gets me in gear are the few, short weeks that our lilac bushes bloom. The blossoms are a sight to behold and their scent is intoxicating. What I love most is that the blossoms are edible, enhancing baked goods, pastry creams, sorbets, syrups and flavored sugars. Lilacs add subtle floral notes to this cake’s moist, tender crumb, making it perfect for spring and the warmer weather ahead.
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Lilacs grow into huge bushes, lush with hundreds of blossoms that exude the most heavenly scent and range in color from white to purple to pink. Although originally native to Asia and Europe, they are part of New England’s heritage, with mentions by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in their personal gardening notes. Lilacs are a cold climate plant, needing a period of cold-initiated dormancy to flower, so cold, snowy winters bring an abundance of blossoms in spring.
Rich and buttery, this cake can be flavored a dozen different ways. Following a few simple steps will make the difference between a heavy, dry cake and a finely textured crumb that sings with flavor and perfection through the last bite. First, only butter will do and the ingredients should be top notch and as fresh as possible. The eggs and butter should be room temperature or they will seize and separate when mixing. (Microwaving the butter usually has sub-par results.) Creaming the butter and sugar thoroughly is the most critical step in making an exceptional pound cake. A good stand mixer is your best friend, the workhorse that can take on the task of beating/creaming the butter for the mandatory 5-6 minutes necessary to aerate it to a creamy, light consistency that is pale – almost white in color. During the final step of mixing in the dry ingredients and the sour cream, give the mixer a rest and keep it on low speed. I usually remove the bowl when there are a few streaks of flour left and manually fold it in. Overmixing at this point will deflate the batter, reversing all the work done in the previous step, resulting in a tough, dense crumb.
Thoroughly greasing and flouring the pan will avoid the heartbreak of a perfectly made cake that is destroyed trying to get it out of the pan (yes, I’ve shed a few tears over ruined cakes). I rotate the cake halfway through baking and start testing the cake with a cake tester about 12 minutes before the recipe’s baking time. As soon as it comes out clean, I remove it from the oven.
Place the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes to cool slightly. Then place a wire rack over the top and invert the cake, gently allowing it to release from the pan. (Removing the cake too early or allowing the cake to cool too long in the pan can cause it to stick to the pan.)
One bite into this cake will make all that fuss and bother when making it so worth it. A delicate, tender and buttery crumb highlighted by the subtle, floral nuances of the lilacs. Enjoy!