Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Baking Day

Today was our last baking day! It's been a tradition for us to bake lots of pound cakes every Christmas using an old buttercake recipe that we always enjoyed while growing up.  Come to think of it, I've actually been baking all these cakes for the past 25 Christmases! (No, I'm not that old, I just started baking at 10 years old--hehe)

The whole mass-baking production started when I was single and living at home. There was one year mom and dad were abroad until December 23 and  nothing was happening in the house in the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas.

Ursula, our long time cook of 35 years (at that time) was so bored she had no parties or gatherings to cook for and kept asking me to invite friends over so she could cook. I asked her if she was willing to bake a number of her famous-with-my-friends buttercakes and gift it to all the relatives on mom's Christmas list (and my list too). Her enthusiastic reaction was all I needed to mobilize everyone else to get the kitchen humming.

It was an instant hit with the people who received it and after that year, dad also decided to give it as his company's Christmas gift.  Now he can't stop, because the people he gives them to look forward to receiving it every year!

Last year, instead of the traditional pound cake, I gifted everyone on my list with the cookbook I published for our high school class, and scaled down kitchen production.

I got a number of texts saying "Merry Christmas! Thanks for the book, but WHERE IS THE CAKE?!? It's not Christmas without that poundcake!!!!" I stepped up production again and delivered second gifts to all those who "complained". That was flattering validation, considering everyone receives tons of food for Christmas. Apparently many of my friends have created their own traditions around this much-awaited poundcake!

 cooling on the dining table

For a home kitchen, we churn out an insane number of cakes. Everything in the house stops for about 10 days while we bake up all these cakes for people on my list, and for the list of dad's company and a number of close friends. My friends like that  I never put my name or number on the cake packaging because those who receive it don't know where they source it.

I'm happy to disrupt my house schedule for dad and these few close friends--and only at Christmas time. So it's really a Christmas treat!

When we were building the house I made sure there was going to be two ovens

All the cakes are made with one very old Kitchenaid--the very same one I started with 25 years ago. This year I worried that it might finally conk out on me so I invested in another unit--a beautiful red one which I got from Focus Global, the local distributors of Kitchenaid. I love how this red one matches my kitchen! I'll keep it on the counter throughout the year and admire it.

Btw, one of my most favorite blogs, The Pioneer Woman, is having a contest and she's giving away three of these red units! (just so you know, she already has 44,000+ comments on her post as of now)

 The kids love to help out and they're getting pretty good at it too!

The kids are old enough to help too. Two years ago, they started by adding eggs, or alternating flour and the milk into the batter. Then last year, I could trust them to measure the dry ingredients with precision. This was like an introduction to fractions for them--half and quarter cups, tablepoons and a half and all that fun stuff. 

Finally this year they could actually make the whole cake by themselves including folding egg whites into the batter. (but we're not into child labor (yet) so they only did the parts they enjoyed until they got tired).

 From school, they eagerly change into proper kitchen gear and get to work!

I'm  obsessive about hygiene and when pound cakes are being made, no one can enter the kitchen unless they have a hairnet and a mask on.

The most exciting part at the start of production is the moment we cut up one of the cakes to see if it's been baked properly. With great excitement and anticipation, we cut through the middle--and then we keep picking on it until it's all gone. On each baking day, we will "test" one random cake and then gobble it all up immediately. I think that's the real meaning of "pound" cake. You just pack on the pounds as you bake it.

It's a simple straightforward recipe, but as they always say, the secret is in the quality of the ingredients. The best butter, the freshest eggs. I think it's also about being in the "zone"--making the cakes in small batches, mixing a recipe of two cakes at a time, but baking them in ovens that have been on the whole day and the heat is well distributed.

We practice economy of movement in the kitchen--one person stays in one place separating eggs, one is just measuring dry ingredients, and another person is just mixing it all together. The  kids can take over any "station" and help out until they want to try another station. It's really quite efficient. After 25 years, it better be!

G was about 4 or 5 when she started to help out

When I got married and moved out of the house, I was actually tempted to stop pound cake production because it adds stress to an already stressful season. But the husband encouraged me not to stop because it was a nice tradition to hang on to. He was right as usual. The first thing the kids ask when December starts is " when are we starting the pound cakes?", and won't stop bugging me until we finally do!

This is the finished packaged product. The packaging has evolved over the years, but I settled on this more than ten years ago. My BFF and most loyal customer, Liza, is also my number one critic. She gives me the best feedback. Long ago, the packaging was too soft (foil and cellophane) and hard to deliver because it would get finergprints on it. A cake in a basket looked too a bit too cliche for Christmas (and the baskets got very expensive right away).  Finally, with this food-grade box, the cake looks more professional but still home-made, is very easy to handle, and even stackable in the car!

Liza was also the one who discovered that if you keep the cake in tinfoil and refrigerate it, it becomes really dense and stays moist. My other friend Tina, likes to keep the cake in the freezer and have it for Easter! She removes the box and reinforces the foil to prevent freezer burn. Amazing what these friends discover.

Ursula retired from mom's household more than 15 years ago, and has gone back to her province. I've taught my own staff how to make the pound cake, and along the way we've discovered more efficient ways to crank them out. My champion baker now is Levie, who originally joined us as the yaya of C when C was only a year old. The bonus is that Levie has always had a knack for baking so it was very easy to get her up to speed.

 Baking in our old kitchen

It's nice to have started a new tradition for our own family--even though it seemed like an overwhelming one at first. The tradition not only takes care of everyone on my list, it has also helped the kids become more comfortable and confident in the kitchen.

For us, the Christmas season starts when the aroma of poundcakes baking in the oven fills the house.


Katrina said...

This was such a nice post! I'm impressed with the masks and hairnets, and now that I know that these cakes freeze well, i'll order some next year as well! :)

Marivic said...

Let me give you a cake to freeze and let me know how long it lasts with you. I still owe some people who were out of town and will make some after the new year.


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