This song has been on continuous repeat in my mind, playing over and over ever since it kicked off my youngest sister’s wedding reception on a stormy beach on Hilton Head Island in March. It played over and over as I packed us up for a vacation back to Hilton Head – one of my favorite places – just a few weeks ago. And it plays in my head still, beckoning me back to the sea pines, to the sandy beaches, and to the lazy harbors I’ve come to love in the more than 15 years since my first visit there. Sadly, a return trip isn’t in the cards in the immediate future. But if I do a little baking and close my eyes, you’ll find me going to Carolina in my mind.
There’s a hidden little gem on the island that’s known, at least amongst my family, for their pound cakes. My newlywed sister called as we were vacationing to make a few requests: a shrimp po’boy and a slice of key lime pound cake. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of packing shrimp alongside my flip flops and sunscreen for the return home, so instead I set out to at least provide the key lime pound cake so we could have a little taste of the Palmetto State whenever wanderlust strikes.
There’s something magically “vacation-y” about the flavor of key lime for those of us in landlocked states. The simultaneously tart, sweet and almost creamy flavor instantly refreshes and reminds us that we’re in a warmer, sunnier place. The palm trees don’t hurt, either. Key lime has been one of my favorite flavors for as long as I can remember. Every time we’d go to visit my grandparents when they were living in Florida, I’d always have to stop for a slice of my favorite key lime pie. Super tart and creamy with just a hint of frost from the super chilled refrigerator, it was the perfect way to combat the heat of the summer sun. To me, key lime is as refreshing to my palate as a sudden jump into the pool at 4:00 on a hot and sticky afternoon.
I was intrigued by this key lime pound cake and set out to make a lighter, less dense version than the traditional pound cake. Disclaimer: I don’t bake much. I don’t like to measure. Therefore, as I willy-nilly added ingredients here and there, I wasn’t so sure of what the final product would look or taste like. To be honest, taste was good. It was pleasantly tangy, perfectly flavored with the key lime and sweetened condensed milk. Looks were good too – at least for the first five minutes out of the oven. My lightening attempts (whipping the egg whites into soft peaks before folding into the batter) resulted in a concave center to my lovely cake when I returned to see how the cooling process was progressing. Mistake #2 was leaving the cake in the pan for a full 24 hours, covering with plastic wrap, and transporting across state lines so my little sister could have a taste. My advice would be to follow the directions as written below. Hopefully you’ll have better luck.
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 large eggs
3/4 c. plus 2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. grated key lime zest plus 1 Tbsp.
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. key lime juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour a loaf pan. Sift 1 1/2 c. flour onto waxed paper. Spoon the flour back into the sifter and add baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Sift the flour mixture two more times. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs until light and lemon colored. Add in 1 1/2 tsp. key lime zest, sweetened condensed milk, and key lime juice. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Gradually fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Combine remaining key lime zest and 2 tsp. sugar. Sprinkle over the top of the cake and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick pierced in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a baking sheet. Serve in slices.
Here’s to Carolina dreamin’!
PS – even as I loaded these pictures to Flickr, an ad for visiting Charleston appeared as my photos uploaded. It must be fate!
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house