Nearly a year ago, at the newly opened Metrovino restaurant in Portland, Oregon’s Pearl district, I spied a dessert on the menu that sounded so implausible that I was honestly expecting NOT to like it. I mean seriously, parmesan cheese in a pound cake? I had never heard of, much less tasted, such a combination–even though I have a library full of dessert cookbooks and am always on the lookout for creative, out of the ordinary flavor combinations.
Of course I ordered the cake and it was, well, mind blowing. The texture was dense (almost clafouti dense), yet moist and tender. The flavor was intriguing, compelling even. I simply couldn’t stop eating it. I could taste the Parmesan but perhaps only because I knew it was there. The cake had a savory quality, but nothing jumped out as strangely exotic or odd. The flavor profile was difficult to describe. Which made me think of you dear reader. You simply must taste this cake for yourself. If you live anywhere near Portland, definitely get over to Metrovino as soon as you can and after ordering the Smoked Trout & Cucumber Salad,
Gazpacho with Popcorn,
and New England Style Seafood Chowder,
order the Parmesan Pound Cake.
But for those of you who live in other parts of the country or world, I secured the recipe. I want to tell you that I begged and pleaded and offered my first born on your behalf, because that would be way more dramatic, but alas, as it turned out, a quick phone conversation with amiable Metrovino owner, Todd Steele, secured MauiJim a photo shoot later that same day. It secured me a lively conversation with Executive Chef Gregory Denton and the recipe from Chef de Cuisine Gabrielle Quiñónez. And if all of this were not enough, we even got to eat the cake.
I tested this recipe 3 times and made some very minor changes to the original directions to assist the home cook to get the best results possible. Be forewarned, however, that this is not a classic pound cake recipe. No matter how I tweaked the procedure, the cake fell slightly after baking, creating the dense texture that I find so appealing. (In a moment of self doubt, I checked my photos of Metrovino’s cake, but sure enough, the texture looked similar to my tests.)
The weight of the parmesan and atypical quantity of crème fraiche compared to the other key ingredients works against a lofty cake structure. I toyed with the idea of “correcting” the formula, but that would be a decidedly different cake. What’s special about this cake, besides the gorgeous flavor, is the texture. Even though perhaps not classic, I pronounce it perfect as is.
Now, about my last post, Fresh Strawberry-Tomato Dessert Sauce, and the FANTASY Chopped dessert round, in which I am competing against Bobby Flay and Mark LaPolla (@LifeByChocolate). You may recall that the dreaded black basket contained Parmesan, tomatoes, strawberries, and basil.
My finished dish then is Parmesan Pound Cake with Fresh Strawberry-Tomato Sauce & Basil Syrup. How did I do all this within the 20-minute time limit you ask? Uh, what part of FANTASY don’t you understand? And yes, of course I won!
Gabrielle Quiñónez’ Parmesan Pound Cake
This most delicious and unusual cake is Chef Quiñónez’ interpretation of a Salvadorian cake called Quessadilla Salvadoreña, and is now a specialty of MetroVino restaurant in Portland, Oregon.
Chef Quiñónez and Chef Denton vary the accompaniments to this cake with the seasons. The first time I sampled it, in the summer, it was garnished with fresh local raspberries; the second time, in the fall, with caramelized apples. Both times, it was served with Stumptown Coffee Anglaise.
It’s also delicious, however, served simply, with perhaps just a dusting of powdered sugar. It is the quintessential afternoon tea cake. Sealed tightly with plastic wrap, it’s almost as good a day after baking.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups sugar
4 ounces cream cheese (½ cup)
whipped cream, lightly sweetened
2 fresh strawberries per serving
Fresh Strawberry-Tomato Dessert Sauce
Fresh Basil Syrup (will post next)
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to thoroughly distribute the baking powder. Whisk in the Parmesan. Reserve.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, a full 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times in the process.
- With the mixture running a medium speed, add eggs to butter-sugar mixture a small amount at a time, incorporating well after each addition. If at any time the batter appears to be on the brink of curdling, increase the sped of the mixture and add egg more slowly.
- Add cream cheese and mix until smooth.
- On slowest speed, alternate adding a fourth portion of the flour mixture and then a fourth portion of the crème fraîche, ending with the flour mixture. Stop the machine and complete the mixing by hand, folding the ingredients together with a large rubber spatula. Do not overmix.
- Add the flour and gently incorporate without overworking.
- Butter and lightly flour (tapping out excess flour) a 9- by 12- by 2-inch metal baking pan.
- Add cake batter and spread to evenly fill the pan. Tap the pan down sharply on the countertop a couple of times to release any air bubbles.
- Bake at 350° (or 325° for a convection oven) for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove the cake to a wire rack to cool.
- To serve, invert the completely cool cake onto a cutting board, trim the edges away, and then with a serrated cake knife, cut the cake in half lengthwise. Cut widthwise into 1½-inch slices. You will end up with fourteen 4- by 1½-inch slices. (Or cut slices only as you need them, keeping the cake well sealed in plastic wrap).
- Serve with your choice of garnishes.
Makes one 9- by 12-inch cake; fourteen 4- by 1½-inch servings.