Of all of the possible culinary meccas to explore during my time in San Francisco, the Ferry Market was the one I frequented the most. Every Saturday morning without fail during the year I lived in the city, I headed there with the same thrill I felt the first time I ever stepped foot in the place. It was like a recurring dream you never want to end.
The building is perched on the water overlooking the Bay Bridge, and it’s the portal through which all ferry commuters coming in and out of the city pass. I liked to sit on the benches outside overlooking the water, the sky, the bridge, watching the people coming and going, wondering what mysteries of beauty were to be found at the other end of the ferries out across the bay.
The Ferry Market is a full-on farmer’s market year round outside, and inside is a long hallway of shops and restaurants all dedicated to culinary mastery. Walk along and smell the breads baking at Acme, peruse the chocolates at Recchiuti, run your hand across the smoothness that is Heath Ceramics, or just take an oyster or two on the run. I never got over the little paper cones of salami samplers from Baccalone or the green papaya salad from Out the Door.
When it came time for my externship, I went after a spot at Boulette’s Larder, which is situated smack in the heart of the Ferry Building. The restaurant is hailed for its food, and I knew it would be a wonderful spot to learn. But it’s location there was, I’ll admit, just as much of a draw as the place itself. Every day I would get to be there, and could take home any perfect ingredient or small yet stellar treat at any time. No wonder I cried when I left San Francisco.
Years ago when I first visited San Francisco and the Ferry Market, I became enamored with Miette, an adorable pastry shop with old fashioned style. I went for the pots de crème and cupcakes the first week I headed west, then their graham crackers and iced pound cakes caught my attention. So pretty, so delicious, these cakes, and sent off with you in a cellophane-wrapped paper baking pan.
Among my fondest Ferry Market memories is that of a scent, at Boulette’s Larder. The days when we made pounds of brown butter, the place was filled with an aroma that knocked everyone silly, it was so intoxicating and good. The butter was then used to take everything it touched up a notch in flavor, from sauces to pastry.
Last Saturday morning I was thinking of those Saturday trips to the Ferry, and wanting so badly to be there to kick around and run into my culinary school friends. But at the same time, not wishing away the opportunity to experience the exquisite beauty that is Up North these fall weeks. So I found a way to have it all, and to give some of it away, in these iced brown butter pound cakes. The flavor is brown sugary, brown buttery goodness. I said Wow! loudly when I tasted a slice all by myself in the kitchen. The batter is a gorgeous, thick one that you hesitate to bake, it’s so lovely. It’s a cake that looks and tastes like a dream worth having over and over again.
Iced Brown Butter Pound Cake
The first step here is to make the brown butter and solidify it; the cake won’t turn out right if you make the batter with melted brown butter. The addition of cream cheese in the batter ensures moistness in the cake. The recipe makes one standard 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch loaf or three 5-inch loaves. If you’re using paper bakeware, reduce the oven temperature by 10 degrees to 315°. If you want to use different-sized pans, just fill them with batter halfway and divide it up among your pans.
For the cake:
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the icing:
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon corn syrup (for glossiness)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1-2 teaspoons water
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and lightly flour an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan or three 5-inch loaf pans.
In a heavy medium skillet or small heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until the solids are deep golden brown. The butter will foam up and may pop and spit a bit as you go. Stir the butter to monitor its progress through the foam.
Pour the browned butter into a heatproof container and freeze for 15 minutes to solidfy.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown butter and cream cheese with the brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula throughout this process.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), smoothing the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour for one large loaf or 40-50 minutes for several smaller loaves. Cool completely.
While the cake bakes, make the icing. Beat the room temperature cream cheese on low speed or with a whisk until smooth. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Add the powdered sugar one heaping spoonful at a time and mix on low speed or with a wooden spoon until the icing is very thick but spreadable, adding water as you go, one teaspoon at a time.
Spoon the icing onto the cake and spread it down the center using the back of the spoon or a small, offset spatula. Leave an inch or so of space around the edge of the cake. Allow the icing to set for about 30 minutes.
Print this recipe here.