Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cream Cheese Pound Cake and the Master Baker

Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Eating is a necessity.  Clean-up is too, although not my favorite task.  But cooking, however, is a pleasure!  The last house we sold was shown to its next owner the day after a “from scratch” birthday cake, complete with homemade butter-cream frosting, had been born in our kitchen.  Even the day after the birth, the house smelled of goodness.  The sweet lady who purchased it said “it felt like home”, but I always suspected it “smelled” like home.  Indeed, the smell of certain things baking just brings joy to the soul.   I feel that way about yeast breads too.  Oh, my!  I nearly swoon just thinking about it!  There is almost as much joy in smelling the rising dough as there is in eating a slice still so hot from the oven that the butter just slides off and you have to lick your fingers clean.  

At this writing, there is a cream cheese pound cake baking in the oven.  Can you smell it?  Vanilla, butter…If you are anywhere near north Alabama you should be able to get a whiff.  Sometimes, the dog will station himself in front of the oven door, and just look at it longingly; soaking in the aroma and eagerly expectant of a crumb or crust.  My hands don’t work like they used too, so fumbling things is my new normal.  That, along with puppy dog eyes usually equals a reward for his diligence.

If you have baked pound cakes before, you probably already know that it is very important for the refrigerated items be allowed to reach room temperature to soften before mixing.   I thought about our situation in the world and our relationship with God.  It is very desirable, humanly speaking, to be strong and in control.  Spiritually speaking though, before we are usable our hearts must be softened.  We can’t retain stiff necks and still be pliable and submissive at the same time.  He can use a mixer to soften us, so that we will be pliable and usable, but the harder our hearts, the longer we will need to stay in the mixer.  Been there, maybe you have experienced that too.

Maybe you have been put into an agonizing spot where it seems like you are being beaten down, and beaten down and you have no ability to change the situation.  I have, until finally, I realized that I could trust God.  Once I sit back and let Him handle it, it turns from “agonizing” to “amazing”.  Don’t you just love it when He does that?  When we stop trying to be so strong and fix it ourselves and instead soften and humble ourselves, and turn to Him then we can see the hand of God working.  Oh, what a blessing! [ In case you are not a pound cake connoisseur a reminder that a good pound cake is dense and moist.  If the batter is beaten too long or at too high a speed, it will be too airy, "fluffy" if you will.  How thankful we can be that the Master baker will not leave us in the mixer beyond what is best for us.  We will resist the temptation to use any airhead comments here!]

Please tell me I am not the only one who has had a “flour cloud” in the kitchen.  Have you ever made a mess while adding the flour to cake or bread batter?  It is not a pretty sight.  I have a stand mixer with a shield that fits over the top of the bowl, but I can STILL make a cloud of flour appear in the kitchen.  (FYI – in the days following the cloud, flour will be found in all sorts of unexpected places!)  I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I finally learned that my patience, or lack thereof, could be my problem.   If I add the flour a tablespoon or two at a time instead of a cup or two at a time, there is no cloud.   Spiritually, my Scripture intake works the same way.  I could read several chapters a day and read the Bible through quickly and learn a lot.  BUT, I would also miss a lot that simply went airborne, and over my head.  I would have enough left to bake a good muffin, but would not have nearly enough to be well fed, much less enough to feed those around me.   I have now learned to abide in the Word, and let it abide in me.  To do that, I have to dwell on a passage, to read it over and over to glean every morsel, to understand it, memorize it and hide it in my heart.   Good Bible study comes with spending time in the Word, with the Holy Spirit (our Teacher) building precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little.  I can’t just pour it all in at once without loosing some valuable ingredients.   
Next, the batter is poured into a greased pan.  You probably have noticed that in the Bible, oil is often used to illustrate aspects of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The addition of oil in the cake pan will allow the batter to not stick to the pan while baking.   No matter how long we are in the mixer, no matter how hot the oven into which we are placed, we have a barrier between us and the world.  He will never leave us or forsake us, especially in our most difficult times.  We may have been through the mixer, and placed in the fire for a time, but what comes next is worth it!

While in the oven, the aromas begin to arise.  Like a cake, while we are under fire we release a fragrance.  When faced with these hard times, some will emit a not so pleasing aroma.  Would you agree that an evidence of a Christians’ life will arise when their life is tested in the oven?  How we handle adversity will often be an example to those around us as to our real ingredients, and can serve as a pleasing aroma to the Master baker.   Keep in mind that those aromas reach far and wide, whether for good or bad.  

While cooking, the formless batter also begins to take the shape of the “mold”.  He didn’t beat us, and bake us for no reason.  Rather, He desires to form us into something beautiful, with a pleasing aroma, and blessing all those who are near.  When we are conformed to His mold, we can follow His steps and sacrifice our original state into something for His use.  When we allow Him to be the baker, He can change us into something we can offer back to Him, to be used up and poured out (sliced up?) for His service.

The finished product of today.  Did I mention that my hands don’t work like they did a few years ago?  Well, you might think this is a lovely cake, but some of you also might have noticed there is a large crack.  While trying to invert it onto the cake plate, my grip gave away and a good size chunk came off in the process. (In full disclosure – my husband usually does the lifting chores, and I didn’t wait for him. Hmmm…there is that “patience” thing again.)  I put it back in the general area from which it came, but it is “flawed” nonetheless.   Again, how thankful to know without a shadow of a doubt, that the Master baker NEVER slips, NEVER loses His grip, and NEVER makes a mistake.  He is ALWAYS working things together for my good, according to His purpose.

Father, we are so thankful today that You, our Creator/baker, are gentle and slow with us.  Grateful You will never leave us or forsake us in the mixer, but rather will work all things together for our good.  Today Lord, soften our hearts and mold us into Your image, that we will be a pleasing aroma to You.  Slice me up into a sacrifice, whatever it takes to further Your Kingdom.   You are worthy of our trust today and everyday. 

Cream Cheese Pound Cake
3 sticks =1 ½ cups butter (NOT margarine), room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups of sugar
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon butter flavoring
3 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Take butter, cream cheese, and eggs out of refrigerator an hour or two before beginning, depending on your kitchen temperature.  Place softened butter and cream cheese in mixing bowl and mix until well blended.  Scrape down sides of bowl and add sugar slowly while beating at low speed.  Beat 5-7 minutes.  Scrape sides again.  Continue to mix at low speed and add eggs, one at a time.  Add flavorings.  Measure out flour and salt, combine the two.  A tablespoon at a time, add to batter until all is combined. Mix only until just blended. Scrape sides and beat just until blended.  In oven proof pan or dish, pour 2-3 cups water and place in oven to cook alongside the cake to keep it moist.  Pour batter into greased and floured 10” tube pan and bake @ 300 degrees for 90 minutes.  When it tests “done” (toothpick comes out clean, my Grandmother would have used a straw, but that is a different story) cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto serving plate. 

Coconut - add 1 cup flake coconut to batter with the flour, sprinkle ¼ cup in the pan prior to pouring in the batter. (My favorite)
Glazed – sift 1 cup confectioners sugar.  Add ½ teaspoon vanilla, ½ teaspoon butter flavoring and 1 tablespoon milk.  Mix and drizzle over warm cake.  
Or, substitute 1 teaspoon lemon juice for vanilla and butter flavorings.
Toppings – mix ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup chopped pecans.  Lightly spoon into pan before pouring in batter.

Please let me know how yours turned out and how God is mixing, molding and using you today! 

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