Over the past few years, as S and I have been travelling, visiting and sometimes staying with friends, we’ve noticed a very interesting shift. Not too long ago, we would have been offered a foldaway couch, or some uncomfortable cot in a friend’s living room. Most recently, though, friends have pleasantly surprised us with very well-appointed guest rooms. Not only have they been clean, comfy and functional, there has also been ample closet space and fine linens. Some have even come stocked with a wide range of toiletries to choose from. Obviously, we’ve all been getting older — which is something we usually complain about. But one of the nice by-products of getting older (and hopefully more successful) is we all eventually move into larger and nicer homes.
One of the things that S wanted to do when we built our new home was create a really nice guest room. Ours is on the ground floor of the house. It’s done up in neutral colors and planned very much the way a hotel room would be set up. In addition to the comfy queen-size bed, there’s a nice wood desk, two vintage chairs, a small flatscreen TV, and loads of closet space. S has also kitted out the bathroom with a full range of… well, whatever someone might need, be it toothbrushes, band-aids, even contact lens solution. Overall, we felt that the room was pretty darned stylish and we’ve been eagerly awaiting our first house guests.
Until, that is, we went to stay with two friends. Two friends, who I might say are ex-hoteliers. A few weeks ago, we had escaped Singapore to spend a couple days with these friends; they had just moved from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. Upon arrival, we were shown our room. In it, we noticed a small box of cookies, with an envelope with our names on it. The envelope contained a short note from our friends expressing their gratitude for our visit. Now, I’ve previously received dozens of such notes, with fruit baskets, chocolates, pastries, and other edibles. But only at hotels. Never in a friend’s home. The next day, we woke up to a breakfast of freshly squeezed juice and freshly baked muffins. Then, to top things off, that afternoon, while we were resting in our room, our friends knocked on our door and passed us a tray with a carafe of water, a couple of glasses and some more yummy treats. The last time S and I had felt so pampered was on our honeymoon in Paris. Then, and thanks to the generosity of a friend who hosted us, we spent a fantastically decadent week staying in a suite at the Georges V Four Seasons Hotel. Every afternoon around 430pm, a valet would bring a tray to our room. It was filled with freshly-baked pastries. After missing the delivery on our first day, we made sure we were in our room at that time for the rest of our stay. And each day, the pastries were different.
Since returning from our friends’ home in KL, S has been adamant to be as good a host. Which, to her, means ensuring that every future visitor also gets his or her fill of freshly-made fare. And over the past week or two, we’ve been trying to decide what should be our “house cake”. Our rationale is instead of trying to make a different cake or cookie for each friend — and probably only doing a half-baked job (pun intended) — we should pick one recipe and perfect it.
We quickly decided that we’d prefer to make a cake than a cookie. A house cookie is great but it’s just not as cool to display as a house cake. After a bit of deliberation and experimentation, S has come down to three candidates: a lemon poppy seed cake, a deep chocolate sour cream pound cake, or a banana cake. The recipes for the first two come from Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book. The second recipe has been adapted from a recipe my mother gave us and which S has posted about before. The banana cake is a favourite among friends and family. And while it is delicious and comforting, we eventually decided that perhaps it was too simple. Plus not everyone like bananas. I personally love the lemon poppy seed cake. When made properly — and we make it in small friand moulds, it has a rich, tart and moist centre. But I like any cake or pastry with lemon. The deep chocolate sour cream pound cake is superb. It is, despite its name, a light cake, perfect on its own or with whipped cream, some homemade vanilla ice cream, or (for chocoholics) some chocolate sauce.
At the moment, the deep chocolate sour cream pound cake is in the lead. It’s an easy enough cake to make — which is vital for a house cake. But you never know. By next week, S might have found 3 even better candidates. Not that I am complaining. So long as she’s making them to test and taste, I get to try them.
That said, I would love to know what your dream house cake would be, either to serve or be served.
Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake
from Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book
1.5 cups (181g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (57g) cake flour
1 cup (92g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2.25 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups (340g) unsalted butter, softened
2.5 cups (500g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (242g) sour cream
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan. Dust with flour.
Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is well-blended and light, about 4 minutes. At medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the sour cream. If your mixer has a splatter shield attachment, attach it now. At the low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream mixture in 2 additions and mixing just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for 65 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then invert the cake onto the rack and let it cool completely.