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Spring ushers in celebrations—graduations, baby and bridal showers, and special confections made just for mom. What better way to celebrate your loved ones than with a luscious, beautiful homemade cake? This month’s winning recipes range from a three-tiered masterpiece perfumed with lemon and rosemary to a pretty pink cake flavored (and colored) with cherry juice. Moist and fragrant from brandy-plumped prunes and citrus zest, the following pound cake is one of my favorites. With a dusting of powdered sugar, it’s pretty enough to serve at brunch or a backyard barbecue. I like it best for breakfast (is that wrong?) with a cup of strong coffee. Note that the brandy-plumped prunes should be prepared a day in advance, and feel free to substitute dried cherries or cranberries.
16 ounces prunes
Brandy to cover
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Grated zest of 1 medium orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped brandy-plumped prunes
1. Prunes: Place prunes in a clean, sealable glass jar and pour brandy over the top until it covers them by about an inch.
2. Cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and position the rack in the lower third of oven. Apply cooking spray to a tube or Bundt pan, or coat generously with butter and flour (tapping out excess).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Mix in extracts and zests and fold in the chopped prunes.
4. Pour in tube or Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour, until the cake pulls away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
Plumping dried fruit in brandy or another spirit is an old-fashioned way of preserving them. I keep a container of these in my pantry—for this cake and as a fast topping on vanilla or coffee ice cream. Kept in a cool, dark place, the prunes will keep for months. Wrapped in plastic, this cake keeps well (actually improving in flavor) for about five days.