Rushing the season

Sep. 10, 2013 @ 11:36 AM

It’s a fashion term.  If in early September you’re sweltering in suede boots, turtlenecks and sweaters, you might be rushing the season.
As much as I love our Bull City, summer here is a Dante’s circle. I’m over it and yearning for fall by the day after Memorial Day. Summer is hot and sweaty, but the fall’s a smorgasbord of delights.
There’s a nip in the air and the landscape is a palette of vibrant reds and yellows, punctuated by jade and rust. The air is dry and crisp; you can take the dog for a walk without the disconcerting feeling of wading through warm Jell-o.
It’s time for the State Fair. When visiting I transform into a euphoric 6-year-old.
Once climatologically appropriate, I adore cool weather clothing. Wool, velvet and tights? Yes please. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I own way more boots, sweaters and jackets than any non-Kardashian should. 
And fall food.
Each year, the first time I spy Brach’s Mellowcreme pumpkins for sale, I grab a bag or two and subject my poor family to a warbling rendition of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I just love those artificial, neon delights.
Real, actual fall fare thrills me, as well.  Thick, creamy soups, hot cocoa, and anything with barley all taste better when it’s chilly outside. In-season produce like apples, pecans, butternut squash, and cranberries make me giddy.
I know it sounds weird, but to me, flavors have corresponding colors.  Spring foods, like asparagus and fresh peas are pastel Easter egg colors.  Summer bounty has hues like Kelly green, and cobalt blue.   
Autumnal foods are warm, rich, earth tones.
My mom loves any and all pound cake. Over the years her addiction has probably built an addition onto Sarah Lee’s house. Me, not so much. 
There are really only two pound cakes for me. At Foster’s Market (2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.), they make a cream cheese pound cake that is sweet and moist with a delicious crispy crust. I’d forgo chocolate for a slice of Sarah’s yummy cake.
The other one is my homemade brown sugar pound cake. It’s buttery, rummy, vanilla-y, and studded with pecans. The crust is both chewy and crispy, with a hint of caramel.
Because of the color and flavors of this warm and cozy cake, I only bake it in the fall and winter. It’s perfect on a cold day, with a hot mug of something.
If you’ve never toasted pecans, it’s really simple.  Drop them in a dry skillet, turn on medium-low heat, and stirring often, cook ‘til they are browned and fragrant (7-10 minutes).

 

Brown Sugar Pound cake
3 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla powder
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1lb box light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs at room temp
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup golden rum (can substitute dark)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup toasted pecan pieces

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Seriously grease and flour (the cake will stick badly if pan isn’t well prepared) heavy 12 cup Bundt pan.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla powder.  Set aside.
Beat butter in mixing bowl until light in color.  Gradually add sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until just incorporated.  Don't over-beat here or batter will have too much air, and overflow pan while baking. 
Mix milk, rum, and vanilla extract.  Add to batter alternately with dry ingredients, beginning and ending with dry ingredients (3 additions of dry and 2 of milk mixture). 
Off mixer, fold in nuts.  Pour into pan.
Bake 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and slightly moist.
Cool in pan 20-30 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to finish cooling.  The warmer the cake is when turned out, the crispier and chewier the crust will be (you want this, I promise).
Wrap and store overnight before serving.
Truthfully, this really is culinarily rushing the season. I can’t help it. At least I’m still wearing T-shirts and sandals. But only because I don’t relish heat stroke.
Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.