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The $100 Pound Cake

August 11, 2011

There was a big brouhaha in Albany yesterday about one of our local bakeries. The short version is that a local baker was competing on Cupcake Wars and lost in the first round. She made a mistake in the heat of a nationally televised competition, under especially intense and arduous conditions. It could happen to anyone.

My guess is that had she won, people wouldn’t have cared so much about this baker talking trash about the other local bakeries. Or maybe they would have cared, but they would have been forced to let it go, since she proved to have the skills.

But that’s not how it played out.

I’m not a fan of the local cupcake shop that lost. But I’m not really a fan of cupcake shops in general. If I were going to profess a favorite, it would be Bake Me a Cake Next Door, although I have yet to try Fluffalicious. And really, there are so many places to get cupcakes in the region, it could take me a year of weekends to try them all.

The point I wanted to discuss today is actually not about cupcakes, our losing hometown bakery, or even the outpouring of animosity that surrounded the airing of the show, but rather what it takes to bake something that is truly remarkable. You know, to achieve a sufficient level within the craft of baking to claim some well-deserved bragging rights. And for that I need to tell you the story of the $100 pound cake.

No, it’s not made of gold and it’s not the size of a Buick. It’s really very much like any other pound cake. But it hails from Los Angeles, and it happens to be the pound cake of the stars.

L.A. is a weird town.

Now, I’m not sure if it even still exists. This all took place about a decade ago. But my good friend S is a dog walker out there, and one of her clients was the baker of this super-deluxe cake. One day, another animal threatened the baker’s dog and S got bit defending her client’s pooch.

I do not know if there was other hazard compensation, but I do know that S got her hands on several hundred dollars worth of pound cake. And I got to try some of it on a visit to see her. You should also know that the baker suggests toasting slices of the cake and topping them with ice cream and Kahlua.

There are two reasons this isn’t completely ridiculous.

One. If you can get twelve slices out of a cake, that comes to under $10 a slice. In the world of private chefs and catered dinner parties, a dessert at $10 a plate isn’t entirely beyond the pale for those of sufficient means.

Two. The pound cake is perfect.

Perfect is not a word I use lightly. Naturally, the cake had no cracks or blemishes. It was a shapely and beautiful mass. But it was perfect in every sense of the word, from the density of the crumb, to the sweetness, and the deft touch of spice that accentuated but didn’t overpower. The thing that was most striking to me was the deep, even, golden brown crust that permeated the entire loaf by just a millimeter or two.

This was a high wire act of baking, and she wasn’t afraid to admit it. She proudly disposed of more cakes than she sold, because she would only sell the ones that were indeed perfect.

Ones that were less than perfect would go to her friends and neighbors.

The obvious question is, was it worth it? Well, the truth is I’ve never had a better piece of pound cake before or since. Although I couldn’t imagine buying an entire cake for $100, I could easily imagine going into a bakery and buying a slice with a cup of coffee for $10. And if I had the means, I would certainly consider it as a worthy dessert for a special dinner party, especially if I had some great Chino Farm strawberries.

But the point is that for this baker the standard was nothing short of perfection. And you know what, that’s something worth bragging about. The only problem is that when you can produce truly perfect results, you don’t have to brag about it, because your work is just really that good.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. monica permalink
    August 12, 2011 6:08 pm

    sorry to disagree about bake me a cake. first try i was not impressed. weeks later tried again after the cupcake hubub. i am sad to report the ones i tried were very mediocre. they had no hint of vanilla or butter and the frosting tasted like oversweetened shortening.
    i really wanted them to be outstanding, and at 2.75 each i will not be back. even if they cut prices i’d decline. my recollection is that bettie’s beats them by a mile, and those at the place in saratoga on the hill were outstanding. have not tried cocca dotts or fluffalicious yet however. i’d be willing to try one of cocca’s just to see for myself – a huge cupcake lover.

  2. September 9, 2011 11:52 am

    So where can I find this pound cake of the stars? I’m headed back to LA this Fall, and I’m curious.

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