Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


Editor’s Pick
MAY 17, 2011 8:55AM

I Love the Unknown, A Recipe

Rate: 37 Flag
Sandy runs the Asian Market downtown. I think of her as my Thai doppelganger. We're the same size and shape, and about the same age. We have small oval faces that square at the jaw, and similar haircuts -- dark bobs with bangs. Her studious, black-rimmed glasses could be exchanged for my own. 

Her English is limited, and she often speaks in oddly phrased declarative questions. Her standard greeting is, "Hey! Why you here?" She says it with a wave and a smile that lets me know she means "What do you need today?" rather than "What in the hell are you doing here?"

"Just looking," is my usual response. There are always treasures to be found. Every little packet or tin is a culinary experiment, a mystery. This market is a magic shop for cooks, or it is for one particular cook who has never traveled far and whose mother thought yogurt was exotic, strange, not for us. 

On my last visit something new caught my eye, a cellophane envelope of "Sweet Basil Seeds." They looked like poppy seeds, and I thought they might add a hint of Thai basil flavor to baked goods, or that I could sprout them and we'd have Thai basil sprouts for sandwiches and salads. 

At the register, Sandy held up the packet of seeds, frowned and said, "You don't want?" Her worried expression gave me pause, but also made me want them even more. "I want!" I said.
Back home, a Google search revealed the purpose of the seeds -- a drink reported to aid with weight loss. Now Sandy's expression made sense. Over the years I've gone soft, but not heavy, and I wonder if on my next trip Sandy will look me up and down for signs of an eating disorder. 

The drink is prepared by mixing the seeds with water and sugar and then letting the seeds expand until they look like tadpoles. The resulting concoction is said to be "filling" and "refreshing." Gamely, I mixed up a batch and sipped cautiously. Not half bad, definitely filling, though the squishy texture took some getting used to. I downed a large glass, feeling pleased with my adventurous purchase. If my exoskeleton wasn't much of a traveler, at least my digestive system was an experienced globe trotter.

It wasn't long before I felt a disturbance within the river of my intestines, as if the tadpoles were continuing to develop, sprouting arms and legs. They jostled for space as they swelled to full-grown size, too many for such a confined area. I made it to the bathroom just as the levy exploded with enough force to pull memories from behind my eyeballs. The name of my first puppy? Gone. Did I ever learn to ride a bike? I don't know. Things sped up after that. In quick succession, I unstole a plastic baby doll from the Five and Dime, undrank the vodka from my dad's stash under the kitchen sink, unfilled the bottle with water, unlied about it and reclaimed my virginity just before I fell to the floor in a light-headed heap. When I came to, I believed in Santa Claus and I wanted a pony in the worst way.

My daughter came home from school to find me lying on the couch, limp, sweaty, gray as a newborn, and – yes – five pounds lighter.  "Mom? You okay?" she asked.

I looked into her concerned face and asked, "Who are you?"

For a while after that, I followed a diet my mom would approve of – white foods, bland foods, overcooked foods –  but it didn't take long for me to pine for another unfamiliar, potentially magically delicious, ingredient.  I found it in my regular grocery store, amid the "ethnic" foods: guava paste. 

How many times had my eyes skimmed over the rose-colored bricks of jellied guava without alighting? Had it really been there, between the cans of sofrito and the prayer candles, all this time? I didn't know much about guava paste, had never eaten it, yet I knew instinctively it wasn't going to grow frogs in my intestines and with that certainty, I was sold! Having been so recently betrayed by Google (that basil seed drink was not "refreshing") I decided to go with my newly routed gut and use the guava without internet consultation. 

My next door neighbor's dad had just passed away at the age of ninety-five, and I had laid out the ingredients for a cream cheese pound cake.  If your dad dies, your cat dies or your prize-winning camellia bush dies, this is the cake you'll get from me. I've made this cake so often I could make it for my own funeral, while laid out on a mortician's slab.

Since the cake was already underway, I simply cut the guava paste into small cubes and added it to the cake batter. Unlike the sweet basil seed experiment, this experiment worked perfectly and with that triumph I regained my culinary mojo, just as surely as I regained my childhood memories (the name of my first puppy was "Happy"), remapped my daughter's dear face and refilled with sin.

In cooking as in life, I like to focus on my successes and not my failures, and I'll keep experimenting, but I will never again ignore Sandy's "You don't want?" I'll say, "No...I mean yes! I do not want!" Unless she's talking about a pony. I still want a pony in the worst way.
cream cheese  pound cake 

Cream Cheese Pound Cake (with Guava)

This is an old-fashioned, very dense, pound cake. The variations are limitless. I've made it with blueberries, dried fruits, candied lemon and orange peel, with a cinnamon streusel swirl and pecans, with mini chocolate chips...

I discovered how to get a crispy crackle on the top by accident, and now I use the technique on all pound cakes.

1 and ½ cups salted butter (three sticks), at room temperature
8 oz package of cream cheese, at room temperature
2 and ½ cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
2 and 3/4 cups cake flour + 1/4 cup cake flour
6 oz guava paste, cut into small cubes the size of chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
3 or 4 Tbs turbinado (coarse) sugar

Preheat your oven to 325. Grease and flour, or use a baking spray, one 10 inch tube pan. (Because dense pound cakes are baked at a fairly low temperature for a long period of time, the pan needs to be of a light-colored metal or enamel. Darker pans tend to overcook the exterior before the interior is done.) 

In the bowl of your stand mixer -- or in a very large bowl, using a heavy-duty hand mixer -- cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until it's light and fluffy, about six minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Add the 2 and 3/4 cups flour a cup at the time.

In a small bowl, toss the remaining 1/4 cup cake flour with the guava paste cubes. The coating of flour will make sure they don't clump together and are dispersed evenly throughout the cake batter.

Add the floured guava paste cubes to the cake batter and blend briefly to incorporate. The batter will be very thick. 

Spoon the batter into the prepared tube pan. Tamp the pan on the counter and shake from side to side to break up any air pockets. The top of the cake will probably still be uneven, and if you leave it like this, the top will crack and split unattractively as the cake rises. Moisten your hands with water and use your wet hands to smooth out the top of the cake. Sprinkle the  turbinado sugar over the moistened surface. This water/sugar mixture will create a crispy, crunchy top on the cake. 

Bake at 325 for between 80-95 minutes (wish I could be more specific, but this cake is somewhat unpredictable when it comes to cooking times), or until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted at the center comes out clean. Start checking at 80 minutes and at five minute intervals thereafter. It IS worth the babying!

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Now, we can have some cake. :)
OMG you are TOO FUNNY!!! For my next colonoscopy prep, do you think my doc will allow substitution of basil seeds instead of the dreaded Nulytely barfy drink? You are brave to juxtapose tasty cheesecake with colonic eruption, not to mention purchase and ingest unknown Asian foodstuffs that swell up. I am in awe.
Ah, the world needs more adventurers like you, Bell!

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
~ Robert F Kennedy

Wonderful post!
Very funny! And a recipe to boot. Rated
I had to run to...take a bathroom break whilst reading this, to eliminate the pee factor that usually arrives unwanted amid panicky laffter. The cake looks scrumptious, of course, but is the guava really necessary? The word seems awfully close to guano, which I should hope Sandy would not even stock in her store.
Bellwether, I must try a recipe that starts with butter and cream cheese. It will be my weekend experiment. I still think Mr Vance must be one of the best fed men in the state.

- Wonderful post!
... (first bump comment) ...
and eat it in the rain. My o day!
I agree with Carolyn Forsythe Etc.,
I feel like pistachio ice cream today.
It's fun to eat on the top of the barn.
I'll buy some Amish victuals and hat.
Hilarious, beautifully written (as always), and another great recipe. My roommate in Boston always had a tin of guava paste, which moved with us (unopened) from apartment to apartment. I am sending this to him as he might need it, although his wife may have made him throw it out by now.
OMGGGGGGGGG MS fair Vance.. I love you..
can ya make me a gluten free cake?
If this not make cover I will throw cake.
rated with hugs
This is laugh out loud funny and I find the whole thing just perfectly endearing. Bell, Bell, Bell. You are a marvel. ~r
Yum! I will print out your delicious recipe!!
You kill me w these. ) r.
I'm going to try those dry basil seeds before my next colonoscopy or family reunion.
Pound for pound this is the creamiest.
So funny and so greatly written. I love that your mother thought yogurt was too exotic and there you are- overexperimenting. Frogs in your guts. OUCH. Clearly, you didn't feel refreshed. Google often lies. Excellent.
Yum. I love guava paste with white cheese, a similar combo served up in many South American restaurants. But your recipe takes that combo to a new level.
I loved this!(So what else is new? :) "Memories behind the eyeballs," everything! I had a similar experience on a flight back from my only trip to Japan, munching on some kind of mystery-marinated mushrooms I got at the market that very morning. I spent a half-hour in the toilet and gave my my chance to see Mt. Fuji from the air. (There had been no Japanese woman to say "You don't want.") (R)
meant to say gave "up" my chance...
i'm so glad to hear that you are now refilled with sin. whew. imagined for a minute we weren't soul sisters anymore. :)

fabulous: story, writing, recipe, crunchy cake top. i'm with heron - maybe there is a useful purpose to the guppies, but i'll let her try it first.
Bell, there are so many hysterically funny passages here, just fantastic! I agree, you should probably take your Thai doppelganger's advice from now on.
This is hilarious--who would have thought innocent little basil seeds could have such an insidious effect? Thank goodness you lived to tell the tale.

I've also been tempted by those slabs of guava paste, which seem to show up everywhere in my area, and I've been wondering about creative ways to use them--so your recipe is exactly what I've been looking for. It sounds amazing. A classic Southern poundcake plus Latin-tinged tropical flavors -- really, it ought to be the official dessert of North Florida!
Bell, you really need to post a warning at the beginning of your stories. My eye makeup is now ruined. At least I read this on an empty bladder. Crying and laughing and coming back for more. And we share the same pound cake recipe, my doobie sister. Must try the guava paste variation.
Ah, that is a beautiful cake! I can't talk about the rest...still laughing.
funny funny post. the cake recipe sounds delish and loaded with calories...perhaps a nice basil seed drink after to flush away the calories... or not.
The way you described losing the contents of your Bravo.
I love the stories that go with your recipes.
Just love your humor, wonderful as always. I'm actually going to try this cake. I'll let you know if it becomes my "if anything or anybody dies " recipe. r
I loooove this post, Ms. Bellwether Vance! Especially how your past chronologically tumbled away...I wish I could un- a couple of things here & there!...And what a great "I Love the Unknown" song--thanks for sharing! :)
You are too too funny.
"I believed in Santa Claus and I wanted a pony in the worst way."
Greenheron -- I've ingested that drink. The basil seed drink would do just as well with 1/3 the volume of liquid.

Little Kate -- At least in the kitchen I'm a great adventurer; in every other way, I'm a dud!

Gerald -- Thanks! I always include a recipe when I think people need to be rewarded for their indulgence.

Matt -- Nah. No guava necessary. You can make it plain or you can add exactly what you want. It's versatile that way. But guava is really really good....and I never would have known.

Catherine -- That's how I judge recipes as well! I search the ingredient list for butter and (if it's a dessert) cream cheese.

Art -- I'd love to see what the Amish make of guava paste. I'm sure it would be delicious!

Ann -- I'd never even noticed the stuff! And how could that be? It's amazing.

Linda -- I always think of you with these baking posts, how you wouldn't be able to make them without significant exchanges. At least these days there are sites that will tell you how to do that. Don't you wonder what people did before the internet?

Joan -- I'm glad you found the humor in my predicament. I was afraid it was too graphic...especially for a foodie post!

Susie -- The pound cake recipe (without the guava) is a go-to classic. I do pull back the sugar a bit to suit modern tastes, especially since I add some back for the topping.

Jon -- Well, if I've killed you, I'll be bringing cake...

littlewillie -- Or on a plane!

Algis -- I think you outdid me with that comment! My mind is racing...

Fernsy -- YES!! Overexperimenting!! I lost a lot of time and I'm only just now catching up.

Indelible -- Unfortunately, as with most cleansing rituals, once you stop, all the filth comes back. But I am surprised someone hasn't marketed it as such!

Lea -- My SIL is from Puerto Rico and that's how she suggested it be eaten, cut into cubes and served with cubes of queso blanco...and I've had a chance to try it and it was awesome! I can't believe I've lived my whole life without guava paste.
Dirndl -- I just suggested "on a plane" to littlewillie. Your anecdote proves the value of my idea! I think we've all had those explosive moments, but it's rare that we are able to specifically trace them back to a particular food. When that happens, you never ever forget it.

Candace -- I think I refilled with sin before I even reached the couch. No need to worry about that! I've got backup sins in case the others are erased.

Linda -- She has steered me in the past, but in this instance she wasn't quite clear enough to save me from myself.

Felicia -- Now that I've discovered guava paste, I see it everywhere. I don't know how I missed it. I have also sliced it thin and placed it on the bottom of a cheesecake (on top of the crust) and also just eaten it plain with a mild white cheese (as Lea Lane mentioned).

Lucy - I don't think I've ever been to a gathering of any sort where I didn't encounter the same cream cheese pound cake! It's ubiquitous for a reason. It's amazing, and except for the tricky baking time, pretty foolproof.

Sophieh -- I keep wishing I could take better photos, but it was delicious!

Lorianne -- Now I didn't think about that!! What a great idea! Why you could eat a whole cake...

Alysa -- It wasn't pretty, but at least it was entertaining.

Sarah -- Thank you! I have recipes without stories, but where's the fun in that?

hugs -- If someone dies, please don't tell me. That's my worst nightmare!

Clay -- I wish! I've got some I'd like to lose forever. They do keep coming back. (I love Eef -- his "Joan Jett of Arc" is Mr. Vance's favorite song EVAH!)

Trilogy -- I hate that Santa Claus lost his magic, but I'll always want that pony!
oh my goodness, this is like Fear and Loathing at the Thai Market!

You have convinced me never ever to try sweet basil seeds. But I do want some of that cake.
I think I gained the five pounds you lost simply from reading the recipe. What's the postal shipping rate for cake?
I loved this! Too funny, and you are so brave to buy unknown ingredients THEN look them up. And drinking the "tadpole" seeds...yikes. Your cake sounds great, too. I have many pound cake recipes, but not yet a favorite cream cheese pound cake. This could be it. (Like you, if you are sick, have a baby, someone dies, you move in, you're moving out, or if I simply feel like baking and giving it away, you're getting a pound cake.)

Bravo. :)
You realize that those of us who ever step into an Asian market will wander around looking for those Sweet Basil Seeds.
Any cake that requires all that butter and cream cheese will taste amazing! If you eat too much of it.... hunt down those seeds!!
Oh, Bell. You are too funny.

"I made it to the bathroom just as the levy exploded with enough force to pull memories from behind my eyeballs. "

hahaha ... been there, done that. I'm almost there right now just from laughing.

Oh and keep the recipes coming, please.
Hi. I tried to bake a pound cake using your recipe. It taste great and I'm going to bake another one for my friends. electric smokers   
I'm sending this to a friend, so we can try it together. She's much better with cakes than I am. The recipe sound delicious!
One of your best posts. I'm definitely making that cake.
When is a cake mere frosting? When it comes after a description like this:

..."I made it to the bathroom just as the levy exploded with enough force to pull memories from behind my eyeballs. The name of my first puppy? Gone. Did I ever learn to ride a bike? I don't know. Things sped up after that. In quick succession, I unstole a plastic baby doll from the Five and Dime, undrank the vodka from my dad's stash under the kitchen sink, unfilled the bottle with water, unlied about it and reclaimed my virginity just before I fell to the floor in a light-headed heap. When I came to, I believed in Santa Claus and I wanted a pony in the worst way."

Deliriously funny description of delirium. You make it look easy, which it most notoriously is not.
This was great. Very Funny!
This is so delightful! Both the story and the recipe. I have served guava paste with camambert and crackers but never in a cake.
What a colorful journey into the culinary unknown. rated
I love that you added guava paste to an old fashioned, southern pound cake. Who'd have thunk? I, too, wander through ethnic markets often but I don't buy anything I don't recognize. I'm not so intrepid as you are. I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of good stuff, but on the other hand, I'll probably never experience an inadvertent enema from a "refreshing" drink.
I get a kick out of Japanese and Chinese instructions and commentary used in translation. Maybe they meant 'freshening', as in 'your bowel will experience total freshening'. (besides, you just can't trust that google guy).

Southern women and pound cakes... what is it with us? As always, you're about the only person who can still give me the hiccups. From the slab? really? (actually, I believe it)
Grace -- I'll bet you could make something delicious out of those seeds. I still feel like a failure. Surely they are good for SOMETHING??

Stim -- You'll have to travel South for good pound cake! Thems the rules.

Lisa -- I hope you do like this recipe, because, as you know, your grandmother's carrot cake is a favorite around here!

Chrissie -- Hunting down those seeds is a bad idea! Just eat the cake and suffer the consequences.

freethinker -- I'm trying to keep them coming! Thanks for reading!

Eve -- Let me know how it goes.

Christine -- Glad you liked the recipe. It's a classic here in the South. I've just shorted the sugar a bit (to suit modern tastes) and added the crunchy top.

Jeremiah -- I hadn't thought of the experience as "frosting" --but now....

Christine -- Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

Fusun -- That's how my Puerto Rican relatives eat it, in cubes with white cheese and I've tried it, and loved it!

Caroline -- Culinary unknown. Those words keep me going.

Franish -- There are still so many items I have NO IDEA what to do with. Each visit I try to pick up one or two strange (to me) products. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose! I guess it's cheaper than going to Vegas.

Gabby -- I know you KNOW pound cakes. I honestly don't know what it is about the South and pound cakes -- I wish someone would research it. (I'll bet you could make a pound cake from the slab as well!)