I woke up directionless. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to do—no, not that. I have deadlines and edits to make, errands to run, things to do, just like every other day. And goodness knows I could certainly stand to pull those furry tomato plants from last summer out of the ground.
I just couldn’t get anything started.
I walked to the bathroom, and back into the bedroom. “I’m having trouble envisioning my day,” I told Jim. “Tell me what to do.”
Normally, this is not a problem. Normally, I have three days’ worth of Post-It notes fluttering around inside my brain. But we moved my office downstairs this weekend, and the little deer paths I’ve tread between rooms upstairs no longer lead me to the expected destinations. The Post-It notes are hidden under layers of thoughts about paint colors and blue sky days and all the little pieces of paper one finds behind a desk when one finally moves it.
“Go north,” said Jim. Smartass. I looked around—north was right back to bed. But I wasn’t really tired.
I headed to the kitchen, and took two sticks of butter out to soften. There, I thought. Now something will get done.
Butter has authority that way, in my kitchen. Put an apple on the counter, and it might just sit there for days, but when butter comes out to soften, it doesn’t stay long. Butter gets me moving.
Again, it worked. I puttered, and found a groove at the keyboard, and went for a walk, and when I came back, I needed pound cake.
I’m not talking about anything related to Sara Lee. I didn’t want it to be too heavy, and I wanted something that was as comfortable under a cloak of plain yogurt as it might be with a splash of heavy cream and a spoonful of lemon curd.
I know, I hear you: It’s pound cake. It has to weigh something.
Of course. But I knew there was a pound cake that sat more lightly in the stomach, one that was a smidge healthier. It wasn’t so long ago that we finished those cookies, after all.
I turned to a favorite pound cake recipe, one on the lighter side, from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book, The Vineyard Kitchen. Hers is soaked with a sugary lemon glaze that’s delicious, but not so healthybreakfasty. I brought in the whole wheat pastry flour, and scrapped the glaze, and by golly, didn’t it smell just like pound cake in about 30 minutes.
I was disappointed, though, by how it looked. All that whole wheat meant there was no sunny yellow top (I skipped the food dye, too), and no obviously spongy texture. It was not a cake I could physically wring the butter out of, and when it came out of the oven, I sort of missed that. I don’t think I’ve ever had—or even heard of—a whole wheat version, and I was afraid, at first, that I’d messed with something that should simply be enjoyed in its original state, or not at all.
So I left it, for a few hours. Until I needed a snack. I sliced into it, and its texture—like a hybrid of pound cake and cornbread textures—crawled around in my mouth, exploring, breaking apart. It wasn’t heavy, but it was still sweet. Onto the plate it went, with that dollop of yogurt, and a good drizzle of Kathy’s maple syrup.
I sat. I ate. Then I had another piece, this time plain. And now, midway through the day, I’m grateful there’s no buttery sheen hanging around the corners of my mouth. It’s about time I found a pound cake that doesn’t ruin my dinner. Or my lunch, for that matter.
So it ain’t no Sara Lee. But I still love it—especially how without being soaked with a singular flavor, like lemon or almond, it has more flexibility to go from dessert to breakfast to snack, changing flavors every time. So no matter how much direction you have (or don’t), it works.
Adapted from Maria Helm Sinskey’s glazed lemon pound cake recipe in The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Seasons (Cookbooks), this whole wheat pound cake makes those who can’t skip dessert feel a little less guilty—and makes those who can simply look forward to breakfast. Serve it drizzled with maple syrup and dolloped with Greek yogurt; for a treat, toast the bread with a little butter in a nonstick pan and serve with chopped fresh fruit.
You can also substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla extract for the vanilla bean.
TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 9”x5” loaf
Butter and flour for greasing the pan
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
Seeds from 1 (6”) vanilla bean
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan and set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
In the work bowl of a standing mixer, whip the butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, if necessary. Add the dry mixture and the buttermilk in three additions, alternating between the two, and mix until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Smooth the top down, and bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and a knife inserted into the very middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store cooled cake at room temperature in a sealed container, or wrapped in plastic.