When I first visited San Francisco, I was walking down a shady little avenue somewhere and looked up. I was under a fragrant canopy of trees, all with dark, shiny green leaves I recognized as bay laurel. Amazing! My whole life I’d only seen those leaves preciously packed in small glass jars in the spice aisle, and here were literally millions of them just growing wild on the street.
At the time, I had a 4-inch pot in my apartment back home containing a struggling wisp of a bay laurel plant. It was a sickly skinny stick with maybe a handful of leaves on it when I bought it. One by one, the leaves withered away and then the plant died. I tried a few more times to grow my own little tree as a houseplant, each time while living in various places that had lots of things going for them but for the unfortunate lack of a Mediterranean climate.
I’ve since learned that the plant I was trying to grow was the not Umbellularia californica I saw in abundance in that state, but Laurus nobilis – same species, different variety. Both kinds thrive in the kind of climate where olives, rosemary and artichokes also thrive (as I’m absolutely sure I would, too).
David Lebovitz has a really beautiful book out now, My Paris Kitchen, and his recipe for Bay Leaf Pound Cake made the top of my to-make list. Most of all because of my kids – I let them eat cake. That way I can sample a bit and they take care of the rest before I do major damage. I made my version of the cake without the gorgeous glaze and grated citrus that David uses in the original, just to simplify it even more.
David points out that California bay leaves are twice as strong as the imported ones (which are sometimes labeled “Turkish”), and they will make this cake even better because of it. I used the puny dried ones I had on hand, and they still managed to infuse the cake with a subtle but enchanting aroma of eucalyptus. The cake is simple to mix by hand using just a few bowls. Another nice touch is piping butter down the center of the batter, which makes a nice bakery-style crack in the baked cake.
On another note, My Paris Kitchen is the first ebook I’ve ever purchased. I embrace technology of all sorts, but I’ve been swearing up and down that I will never give up on actual books, with their front and back covers, pages to turn, distinctive printery smells and ribbon bookmarks. I do love looking at magazines on my iPad – the quality of digital images is stellar and I don’t miss the piles of unread issues stacking up around the house. But reading this cookbook as an ebook was disappointing. I miss seeing the layout of the book unfold as I turn the pages and the photos seem undersized; when I try to zoom in on images they become distorted.
I saw the actual book while browsing at a bookstore the other day, and I picked it up. I was taken in by the beauty of the design and the stunning photography in a way the e-version doesn’t even come close to. Plus it’s so annoying to try to follow a recipe on a tablet when it insists on going to sleep while getting ingredients ready.
What do you think? Are cookbooks on your electronic devices?
bay laurel pound cake
- 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter, sliced; at room temperature
- 8 - 10 small to medium sized bay laurel leaves, fresh or dried
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
- Powdered sugar
- Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Take the pan off the heat and add 3 bay leaves. Let steep 1 hour; remove bay leaves and discard.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a standard loaf pan with some butter; dust the pan evenly with flour and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper (easiest way to do this is to place the pan on the paper and trace all around the bottom edge with a pencil; use scissors to cut it out).
- Dab one side of the remaining bay leaves in a bit of butter and lay them evenly along the bottom of the loaf pan, buttered side down.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
- Combine the eggs, crème fraiche, and melted butter in a medium bowl; gently stir into the flour mixture just until the batter is smooth, without over-mixing.
- Scrape batter into the pan carefully over the bay leaves. Put the remaining butter in a small zip-top bag and snip off one corner. Pipe the butter in a line down the center of the batter; bake 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes; run a knife around the edge of the pan, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar.