Spring and autumn come together in this pound cake, made moist with baked sweet potato and topped with a maple syrup glaze that tastes as if it came straight from the sugarhouse.
Wind your way through New England and points north in late winter or spring, when subfreezing nights give way to warming days, and you’re liable to see great plumes of steam billowing up from wooden structures tucked in the trees. Slow down — it’s sugaring season, and with a little bit of luck you’ll be invited to watch the uniquely North American ritual of maple sap being boiled down to make maple syrup.
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of maple syrup. Not long ago, all of it was collected by hand; today, for the most part, networks of tubing deliver sap to the sugarhouse, where the boiling takes place in large pans called evaporators. It’s a small concession to modern times that in no way diminishes the magic of real maple syrup.
The earth may be buried under several feet of snow and frozen solid. But this is farming in the truest sense of the word: the harvest and processing of a great natural resource, skillfully transformed into maple syrup by dedicated men and women, many of whose families have been at it for generations.
Tender, moist, and faintly spiced, this pound cake is pretty enough to grace your most elegant cake plate and down-home enough to serve at a wood-cutting party or tailgate event. There’s a bit of autumn (the sweet potatoes) and a bit of springtime (the maple syrup) in every bite.
De-Panning a Tube Cake: Tips and Tricks
Big pound cakes and other cakes baked in a one-piece tube pan can be tricky to remove from the pan. Here are a few tips for doing it successfully.
First, cool your cake in the pan. It’s okay if there’s a touch of warmth still in the cake, but thorough cooling lets the cake settle and shrink a little, making it easier to remove.
If your cake pan has straight sides, carefully run a knife down and around the edge between the cake and pan to loosen it. (You can do this with a Bundt pan, too, but the curved sides make it a little more difficult.) Go easy; you don’t want to hack up your pretty cake.
If your cake has risen up close to the top of the pan, you can simply place a platter on top and invert your cake onto the platter; it should drop right out. If your cake sits down in the pan by much more than half an inch, you need to support the cake when you de-pan it. Here’s my suggestion: Cut out a sturdy cardboard template that you can slip right onto the cake. It will look like a flat doughnut, with a hole in the middle to slide over the tube. Slip the cardboard template over the cake. Supporting the template with one hand, turn the pan over and slide the cake out of the pan.
At this point, if you’ve used a straight-sided tube pan, the cake is upside down, so you will need to invert it again, directly onto your serving platter. If you’ve baked your cake in a Bundt pan, there’s no need to re-invert it; the cake will be right-side up when you turn it out of the pan.
Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Maple Syrup Glaze
Turning on the oven just to bake the potatoes is a bit of a pain, so plan ahead and put them in the oven earlier in the week at a time when you’re using it.
Makes 16 servings
- Butter for the pan
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1½ cup sweet potato purée
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1½ cups chopped pecans
- Maple Syrup Glaze (recipe follows)
- To make the sweet potato purée, preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. I like a rimmed sheet so nothing flies off the edge at an inopportune moment. Have your oven rack positioned in the middle.
- Scrub your sweet potatoes under running water, and leave the skins on. Poke each one two or three times with a paring knife, about ½ inch deep. Space the potatoes out on the baking sheet.
- Bake the potatoes until a knife glides easily all the way through them. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes for small potatoes to an hour or more for large ones. Transfer the sheet to a cooling rack. Cool the potatoes thoroughly, and don’t cut them open while they cool; you want to trap the heat, just in case the very centers are a tad underdone.
- Cut open the potatoes, scoop out the flesh, and transfer to a food processor. Process, using long pulses, until the purée is smooth. Don’t overdo it, unless you want a sweet potato smoothie.
- To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Adjust your oven rack so it’s one position below the middle. Butter a 12- to 14-cup one-piece tube pan and dust it with flour.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg into a large bowl. Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, and oil in a separate large bowl. Using an electric mixer — a stand mixer, if you have one — beat on medium-high speed until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sweet potato purée. Continue to beat until evenly blended.
- Beat half of the dry ingredients into the liquid on low speed, until thoroughly mixed. Beat in the buttermilk on low speed. Add the remaining dry ingredients and blend them in on low speed, until the batter is evenly mixed. Stir in the pecans.
- Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spoon. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a tester inserted deep into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for a good hour, until the cake is barely warm. Invert the cake out of the pan and onto a serving platter.
- Spoon the Maple Syrup Glaze over the cake and allow to cool.
Note on making sweet potato purée:
For every pound of sweet potatoes, you should get about 1¼ cups of purée. Always bake an extra one or two if you’re in doubt; no use cutting it close when you can freeze leftover purée in small freezer containers and use it later in soups, stews, pancakes, muffins, and other baked goods.
Maple Syrup Glaze
Makes about ⅔ cup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- Combine the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Gently heat the mixture until the butter melts, then whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Use right away.