Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Aaaah … spring is finally here. Although the grass is not yet green (or even visible) and we’re far from flowers blooming, there’s a sense of promise that lightens my mood. It’s well represented in this pretty cake. Unlike the dense, heavy pound cakes of yesteryear, this one is light, moist, and tender with a scatter of blueberries and a hint of lemon; it’s as pleasing as a field of daffodils.
Both its ingredients and the process of combining them are simple and straightforward. But, to get the very best results, give them their due: Make sure the butter, cream cheese and eggs are at room temperature, beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar until they’re light and airy, gently stir in the dry ingredients and remove the cake from the oven the minute it’s done.
The cake is as versatile as it is pleasant. Serve it at brunch, dinner or with a cup of coffee. Glaze it, add a blueberry or vanilla sauce, omit the lemon zest or substitute orange zest, or double the recipe and bake it in a six-cup bundt pan. It’s at its best the day after baking, keeps for several days if well-wrapped and refrigerated and freezes beautifully.
Unsure how to determine your pan’s capacity? Use a 1-cup measure to fill it to its brim with water and count how many cups it holds.
Blueberry Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Make in a 3-cup capacity loaf pan (7-by- 3 1/2-inch pan)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (half a stick), at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup wild blueberries, if frozen don’t defrost
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan along the long sides with non-stick aluminum foil or regular foil, letting it hang several inches over the sides to use as handles when removing the baked cake. Grease the unlined parts of the pan (including the regular foil if that’s what you’re using) with a vegetable oil-flour coating.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt to a small bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. Set this aside.
Cut the room temperature cream cheese and butter into half-inch pieces and put in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer, scraping down the bowl frequently, until the mixture is pale in color and very fluffy. Very slowly, sprinkle in the sugar, beating well before adding more; you want the mixture to stay light and airy. Continue to scrape down the bowl when needed.
Break the eggs into a 1-cup measure and stir with a fork until the yolks are broken. Beat into the batter, a tablespoon or two at a time.
Add the vanilla, lemon zest and the flour mixture. Stir by hand or on your mixer’s lowest speed, stopping when about one-third of the dry ingredients are still visible. Add the blueberries (if frozen, do this quickly, so they don’t start to defrost and make streaks in the batter), and quickly fold them and the remaining flour mixture into the batter by hand.
Spoon batter into the prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top. Tap on a counter to settle the batter and remove any air bubbles. Bake until the top is golden, the sides start to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few tiny crumbs sticking to it, about 60 to 65 minutes if using frozen berries, 50 to 55 minutes if using fresh. If the cake batter touching the short ends of the pan starts to brown before the cake is done, then cover it with strips of foil.
If you plan to use the glaze, which makes the cake’s top shiny and adds a little more lemon to the taste, then make it while the cake is baking. In a small bowl, whisk two tablespoons confectioner’s sugar into the lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. The mixture should be thin but opaque. If necessary, add a little more sugar.
Place the baked cake on a rack to cool. If using the glaze, then immediately brush it over the entire top. Cool for 15 minutes and then remove the cake from the pan by lifting it with the foil handles and cool completely on a rack. Serve, cover airtight and store for several days in the fridge, or freeze.
This is a variation of a recipe from “Fine Cooking.”
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds,” (available at the Next Page Bookstore in Frisco and The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.