Christmas Countdown: Pumpkin Pound Cake and a tale of three – no, four sauces

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Dulce de Leche Sauce

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Dulce de Leche Sauce

Whether you like to bake or not, at Christmas there are lots of reasons to do so. Sometimes it’s because you’ve been asked – or you’ve volunteered – to bring dessert to a party. Last Friday I did just that – offer to bring dessert for a dinner with friends.

I’ve been making pound cakes lately, and thought that would make a nice dessert.

I had tried a recipe for an eggnog pound cake made with a cake mix. The end result was okay, but the recipe really wasn’t special enough to share.

Then I made a pumpkin pound cake from Company’s Coming new cookbook, Tonight! (Magical Meals on Short Notice). This pound cake was definitely better, but the accompanying sauce was nothing to write home about, or write about at all. Well, I’ll write a little about it.

Strike one…..

The first time I made the sauce, the consistency was great, but I burnt it. In the recipe (see below), the brown sugar and butter are to boil gently together until thickened (about 5 minutes). The key words in this concept are gently and about. Obviously neither word registered with me the first time around. I should have kept a closer watch on the sauce as it thickened – then blackened! – before I checked in on it. Sadly, I was too busy trying to multi-task: clean up the kitchen, pay some bills, feed the dog….while a sauce was boiling out of control, then burning on my stovetop!

Strike two…..

I made the sauce again, but this time the butter and brown sugar never quite melded together. I probably over compensated for the first disaster and didn’t boil the mixture long enough. I added the brandy anyway, hoping for a miracle. (What was I thinking??) When I tasted the concoction, I decided 2 tablespoons (30 mL) was either way too much brandy or, maybe I really didn’t care for brandy all that much! The sauce had a strong, harsh and unpleasant taste.

With the second attempt nearly as disastrous as the first, I looked around for another recipe. Lesser, perhaps more intelligent(?!) cooks would have given up and just drizzled a commercial caramel or even chocolate sauce over the cake, but not being one to give up easily I forged on, scouring some of my cookbooks for another recipe.

Strike three…..

I found one that called for cornstarch as a thickener. This should give me the right consistency, I reasoned, and then I’d just add less brandy than called for to minimize and mellow the brandy flavour. Of course, smarter cooks would have opted to try flavouring the sauce with some thing they liked, like rum or amaretto. But I seemed determined to make myself like the taste of brandy.

And so a third round of sauce-making began. Sadly, it too was unsuccessful. The sauce, although nicely thickened, was thin in flavour and very pale, almost sickly looking. Surveying the mounds of pots and wasted ingredients, I felt like a sauce-moron.

Home run??

Since I was bringing the cake to a friend’s place for supper, I needed a solution – immediately! A raid of the fridge produced a jar of dulce de leche (a caramel creme spread – pronounced dool-say de lech-ay). I spooned some of it into a small bowl and warmed it briefly in the microwave – just enough to thin it slightly and make it easy to stir. Into the sauce I stirred a little half and half. (Milk would have worked as would whipping cream -35%M.F.) In mere seconds, I had a smooth, creamy, not too sweet sauce. I sliced off a piece of cake and spooned a little sauce over top for a test run. Mmmm. Home run! At last!

There was enough cake to enjoy for supper at my friend’s home that night, and to serve to guests at home the next day. A set of small gravy boats doubled beautifully as mini pitchers for the sauce so each person could serve themselves as much or as little sauce as they wanted.

Dulce de leche is basically cooked sweetend milk. You can make it yourself or buy it commercially. The brand I used was President’s Choice. You can use it as a spread for toast or as a topping for cakes, waffles, crepes, etc. Here are some additional recipes using it.

Pumpkin Pecan Pound Cake with Brandy Sauce
(Makes 12 slices)

When making the sauce, the brown sugar and butter should boil gently for 3 to 5 minutes without stirring, but keep watch over it. Instead of the Brandy Sauce, serve with warmed butterscotch or caramel sauce or maple syrup, or warmed dulce le leche spread thinned with a little milk or cream. A spoonful of sweetened whipped cream (add a little ground cinnamon if desired) or vanilla or butterscotch ice cream would also be a nice accompaniment.

1 cup (250 mL) butter or hard margarine
2 cups (500 mL) sugar
4 large eggs
1 can (14 oz/398 mL) pure pumpkin
2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
2 teaspooons (10 mL) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans, toasted

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and vanilla in two additions, beating well after each addition. (Mixture may look a little curdled.)

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Slowly add to pumpkin mixture, beating on low until combined. Fold in pecans.

Spread evenly in a greased and floured 12 cup (3 L) bundt pan.

Bake in a preheated 350F (175C) oven until wooden pick or cake tester inserted in centre of cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let stand in pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire rack to cool slightly.

Brandy Sauce: Combine 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter in a small saucepan. Heat and stir over medium heat until boiling. Boil gently, uncovered and without stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) half and half  and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) brandy. Drizzle over individual slices of cake.

Recipe Source: Company’s Coming Tonight! (Magical Meals on Short Notice), Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, 2008

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