By Guillermo Porras
Baking is an adventure! It is exciting to see different ingredients transformed into something both beautiful and delicious. The last few weeks have been perfect for baking, with lots of free time and weather that invited me to be creative.
In the beginning of my baking apprenticeship, I was inspired by my grandmother in Costa Rica. She was a great cook: no recipes, no cookbooks. Everything she cooked was from her heart. Her hands were the measurements she used to make the most delicious food around, making her famous in her town. Every day, she would go to the market to pick up the fruits and vegetables and meat that she would use to make that day’s meals. Using natural ingredients, she cooked by the season, with different kinds of food according to the calendar.
The family used to get together at my grandmother’s house in Alajuela on holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day. She was the pillar of the family, and it was a perfect way to bring us together. She was a hard worker, spoiling us with her love. On celebrations like Christmas, she made the most delicious tamales I have ever eaten. One of my sisters was smart enough to write down my grandmother’s instructions on how to make tamales. It’s a long process that requires lots of dedication. But my grandmother never baked. In her time, baking was considered an art for ladies from high society. One Christmas, my uncle gave my grandmother a cookbook. She gave it to me, saying “I want you have this book because I know it will help you develop your talent for baking.” She was a poor woman, who had raised three kids by herself, and she had nothing valuable, so she wanted to give me the book as an inheritance, a remembrance of her. After that, at every family event, I was in charge of the desserts.
During the same years, when my mother tried to make a cake for coffee in the afternoon, I was always next to her, interested and watching. She was trying to learn how to bake herself: sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. My mother was like an artist who didn’t want to follow the rules, but I was more precise. My mother saw my interest in learning how to bake, and she wanted me to get good instruction. So she introduced me to a TV cooking show with Tía Florita, an elegant Costa Rican chef with great style. We loved her personality and recipes, and with time and practice, I became more adventurous in baking, trying out different recipes.
Ever since, I have enjoyed baking. I don’t do complicated, sophisticated recipes, just basic baking, but I have gotten good at that. This month, I have been trying different dessert recipes. My favorite is a very simple pound cake, which is easy to bake. The recipe below is from Tia Florita’s show, which I still watch; she is still very stylish, but not pretentious. I enjoy sharing it with my husband Todd and our close neighbors, all of whom have a sweet tooth. The cake is delicious, and if you follow the recipe exactly, the results will be a perfect summer dessert to serve to family and friends. Buen Provecho!
Have all ingredients at room temperature 70°F
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Oven rack at third level.
Grease and flour one 12-cup loaf pan.
In a large bowl, beat until creamy 2 sticks of unsalted butter.
Gradually add 2 cups of sugar, sometimes scraping the sides of the bowl, and beat on high speed until the mixture get lightened in texture and color.
Then, one at the time, add the egg yolks and beat until the mixture get fluffy and light.
Still on high speed, add the 1 cup of sour cream until everything is mixed.
Reduce the speed to low and gradually dribble 1 tablespoon at a time the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Add to the batter 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest.
In a separate bowl beat the 6 egg whites on high speed until the peaks are glossy and stiff and add into the batter, in 4 parts, stirring by hand using a rubber spatula. Be sure it is well mixed .
Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 40 minutes at 350° F and 15 minutes more at 325°F until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes.
Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach from the pan. Invert the cake and let cool right side up on the rack until room temperature.
Guillermo Porras was a New Year’s baby, inaugurating the great decade of the 60’s. He was born in San José, the capital of Costa Rica and went to school at the University of Costa Rica, where he graduated as an architect . Guillermo worked as an architect with the top architects in Costa Rica; additionally, he taught architectural drawing in a technological high school for students training to be architects. In 2000, Guillermo moved to New York City looking for opportunities in architecture. In 2002, he got what he describes at “the big project of my life, meeting his future husband, Todd MacDonald, who is also an architect. Says Guillermo, ‘’We got married in 2012, thanks to Edie Windsor , Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who always supported civil rights for the LGBTQ community. We love to enjoy desserts and pastries as part of a good meal . And anytime we have the opportunity to travel overseas, we enjoy tasting local food and of course sweets.”