My kind of town

Marble Pound Cake

Air-Conditioned Marble Pound Cake

It was recently brought to my attention that, as much as I write about my New England roots, I have lived in New York—Manhattan—as long, if not longer than I lived “up nawth.” Or is it “Down East” (as they say up north). This was communicated thusly: “You’ve lived here that long? You’re a New Yorker.” The flavor, the tone, the “line reading” (as an actor would call it) was such that the declaration took on an almost accusatory character. The subtext (as an actor would call it) was, “You’re in this just as deep as we are.” Perhaps I’ve watched too many Jimmy Cagney movies from his hoodlum period, but that’s how it felt. Oh well, I hope the grub is good in the pokey (as Cagney would have said.)

True, I have lived in New York for many a year, but one thing (among many) that I will never get used to is that New York is just not an ice cream town. I’m sorry, but you cannot convince me otherwise, and, I’m sorry, but just because New York has more Mister Softee trucks than it does police cars doesn’t mean this is an ice cream town. Now, Boston: that’s an ice cream town.

My definition of an ice cream town is one that supports at least one chain of local ice cream parlors. An ice cream parlor was a place (usually blissfully air conditioned to perfection in the summer months) where you could sit down and indulge in a Hot Fudge Sundae that was served in a dish, not a paper cup. Boston used to have several of these—Bailey’s was my favorite—but Brigham’s was more pervasive. In their stead are more contemporary chains like Herrell’s and Emack and Bolio’s. If you are familiar with Steve’s Ice Cream, then you’ll want to note that Herrell’s is the company Steve started when he sold Steve’s, making Herrell’s the real Steve’s. Does that make sense? No? Have some ice cream and it will all come together. (Or drop me a note: I have an excellent workflow diagram I can send you that explains it visually.)

New York had Shrafft’s and Rumplemeyer’s, but now all it has is the Mister Softee fleet. Where have all the flowers gone?

While there is an argument to be made for the suitability of a fleet of trucks in New York that bear a name that could be used as a raunchy put-down to one’ s manhood, I think there’s actually a better explanation of this. New York is not an ice cream town because it is a cake town. This can never be a bad thing…or a put down to one’s manhood.

Neighborhood bakeries were the norm when I was a kid, then supermarkets started to horn in on that business by opening huge bakery departments. The little “Mom&Pop” baker who would be firing up the ovens at 4:30AM became a thing of the past, dying off (literally and figuratively) and taking their bliss-filled recipes up to their flour-dusted heaven.

The problem is that you can’t sit at a supermarket killing time over a piece of cake and a cuppa joe. The plastic-wrapped slice of cake at the bodega? Pass.

Say what you like about Starbucks. I’m a fan, and am eternally grateful to the Baristas at my Mom’s local Starbucks who dote on her and welcome her by name.  I think Starbucks has brought back the leisurely schmei over a piece of cake. You can’t do that at Dunkin Donuts. Yes, I prefer Dunkin Donuts’ coffee, but I’m not a donut guy and their stores have all the personality of a dry cleaning establishment.

Coffee chains are nothing new in New York, but I often wish that I could travel back in time to try a meal or two at the great cafeterias like Bickford’s, the Automat, or Child’s.

One of those great coffee chains has held on for dear life: Chock Full O’Nuts. I think there’s one left in Manhattan and it gets uniformly pounded by negative reviews on Yelp. That’s a shame.

You used to be able to buy Chock Full O’Nuts’ Marble Pound Cake frozen in the supermarket. Yes, Marble Pound Cake still abounds—Starbucks’ version is a dutiful version—but there was something about that frozen version, a vast, sugary, shortening-infused brick entombed in aluminum that sparks pleasant memories.

I am the first to admit that this is a memory play and that a trip in the “Way-Back” machine would likely find me underwhelmed. I don’t recall the thing having a great deal of finesse or delicacy, and instead of the intermingling of chocolate and vanilla flavors that the marble concept implies, there was one, uniform, damp sweetness. Um…it was great with ice cream.

It occurs to me that the passage of time, or perhaps the sum total of adult experience has made me value the finesse over the uniform sweetness. Has my tongue become a snob?

Bearing that in mind, I did something I always question: made my own version of something that is more convenient to buy.

Convenient, yes. But we don’t always know what’s lurking in some of the stuff we buy. And I thought while I was in the kitchen I may as well make my Marble Pound Cake have that implied intermingling of tastes.

The latter is easy: lots of vanilla, a heavy hand with the chocolate, and a shot of instant espresso powder for reinforcement. Butter was relieved of its duties in favor of canola oil.

There was a method to my canola oil substitution madness. I thought it might be fun to be able to eat the cake cold—and by that, I mean straight from the fridge. If I’d baked with butter, the cake would be too dense straight from the fridge. While canola oil doesn’t give you that layer of flavor you’d get from butter, you can eat an oil-based cake as soon as the little fridge light blinks on.

It also tastes better cold, the next day…like revenge.

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The recipe for my Air-conditioned Marble Cake

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“I’ve gotta have that marble tweet!”

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