Growing up, I used to think of certain foods as vessels for a dip. They were an acceptable way, in my mind, to basically eat all the spinach dip. Tortilla chips for guacamole. Cubes of bread for melted cheese. Artichoke leaves for melted butter. Raw vegetables for ranch. Chicken wings for Frank’s (except I’m a weirdo and still think of wings this way). I tolerated the “food” so I could get to what I figured was the main attraction. And this pound cake, with its dense, moist, tender crumb and a subtle almond flavor (all the things you want in a pound cake) sadly reminds me of my vessel theory. It’s a (very delicious) way to eat a lot of roasted strawberries and fennel. The intensity of spring flavors-- the ripe, juicy strawberries accented with delicate notes of anise and vanilla, then brightened with lemon-- they’re the main attraction. I don't think any pound cake could outshine them. This compote, ideally smeared on buttery pound cake and dolloped with fresh whipped cream, is a sauce that’ll have you searching for vessels. It's a concentrated taste of the season's ripest strawberries and most aromatic fennel bulbs. I’d suggest a pound cake vessel to start with, but I can’t really argue with almond ice cream. Or a ripe and gooey triple creme brie, for that matter.
pound cake with roasted strawberry fennel compote
1 cup (16 tbsp) salted butter, at room temperature*
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp Amaretto
1 tsp almond extract
*If you use unsalted butter, increase the salt in the recipe to 1 teaspoon.
strawberry fennel compote
1 medium fennel bulb, halved, cored and diced
1/2 vanilla bean—split, seeds scraped and bean reserved
1 pound small strawberries, diced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp granulated sugar
a few drops of almond extract (optional)
almond pound cake
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan. Optional, but always helpful, is to make a parchment paper sling for peace of mind that the cake will come out of the pan.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until very light. This is a crucial stage for beating air into the butter and ensuring a light, fluffy cake.
Beat in the sugar gradually and then the eggs, one by one. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In another small bowl, whisk together the milk, Amaretto, and extract.
Alternately add the wet and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Stir to combine after each addition.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake the cake for 60 to 65 minutes, until it springs back when pressed lightly in on top, and a long toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If the cake appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with foil for the final 15 minutes of baking.
Remove the cake from the oven, and loosen its edges. Wait 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.
Store, wrapped in plastic, for a day or two before serving. Wrap well and freeze for longer storage.
strawberry fennel compote
In a 9-by-13-inch nonreactive baking dish, combine the fennel, vanilla bean, a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Loosely with foil and roast until the fennel is tender, 30 minutes. Stir halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, vanilla seeds and a pinch of salt and let stand until juicy, 30 minutes.
Add the strawberries and their juices to the fennel and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes to prevent the sides from burning. The compote is done once it has cooked down to a syrupy consistency, and will thicken further once cool.
Discard the vanilla bean and transfer the compote to a bowl. Slice the cake and set a slice on each plate. Top with the compote, fresh whipped cream and serve.
Can be stored for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Use cold or gently reheat in the microwave for a warm topping.
Place a metal mixing bowl and metal whisk into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Place the sugar into the mixing bowl, then add the whipping cream and a few drops of almond extract. Whisk just until the cream reaches stiff peaks.
Store any unused portion in an airtight container for up to 10 hours. When ready to use, rewhisk for 10 to 15 seconds.