Mrs. Leah Chase is the biggest Culinary influence outside of my family. Seeing her on PBS as a child really impacted me. She was the first person I saw on TV “being Creole”. She wore her beautiful hair short and sharp, her beautiful skin shone through the very minimal of makeup like Granny Ivy, and she spoke with the same cadence and diction as my Gramma Wilma. How could I not love her? As I grew up and started learning about life, I had come to know she was a true Visionary on many fronts.
Mrs. Chase had the first fine dining place that people of color could patronize. She had strong faith, and a great sense of humor. She was humble and fearless. Her restaurant was a hub for Civil Rights activists and she hosted many clandestine meetings in the upstairs dining room. She was a true patron of the Arts and covered every wall with Black Art. She supported and exalted the Creatives and gave them a place to share their voices and to grow from. She spoke plainly and directly to every political leader she fed, from local Louisiana politicians, to more than a few Presidents. She used her voice, her business, her personal life, her power for the good of the Community. Saying all that, her food was just as incredible as she was. It was honest. Straightforward. Deeply flavored. Full of history and her best Intentions. She was a Master of the cuisine and the Heritage. I look to her knowledge when I seek the most direct and delicious answer.
Which brings us to her Butter Cake. Pound Cakes are very much iconic to Black Americans. I never knew a Belle or a Buppie that could pass up a slice of pound cake. They are one of the few cakes that people make from scratch. You make ‘doctor’ a mix for Sock-It-To-Me Cake or German Chocolate, but you wouldn’t dare play with a Pound or Butter Cake. This cake is Glorious. It uses six humble ingredients. It is straightforward in preparation. It is excellent unadorned, and next level when used for a shortcake or a trifle. The only addition I have added, is a simple lemon juice and powdered sugar glaze I add when warm. I love a little citrus to make the butter flavor sing. It keeps the rich velvety texture as the star and gives the palate a little bright kiss. It truly is a cake I only bake for the most special of occasions. If I was ever to make lunch for Michelle Obama or Jacinda Ardern, this is the dessert I would serve. It is my go-to that I have made plenty of times, but Y’all know what? I still get nervous until I turn it out onto its pedestal. I just want to make sure I am doing right by Mother Chase.
Mother Chase’s Butter Cake
- 1 pound 4 sticks unsalted butter, chilled but soft to the touch
- 1 pound Powdered sugar
- 6 Large eggs at room temperature
- 2 + 2/3 cups Cake flour sifted once after measuring
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt if desired
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla
- Place a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan with vegetable shortening or soft butter, and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pan aside. (If the eggs are straight from the refrigerator, place them in a large bowl of warm water to come to room temperature).
- Cut the sticks of butter into 6 to 8 tablespoons each, and place all the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high until the butter is in one mass, 1 minute. Stop the mixer and add the powdered sugar. Drape a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer so you don’t get showered with sugar. Start on low speed and blend the sugar to incorporate. Then increase the speed to medium and let the mixture beat until creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Crack one egg at a time and add to the butter mixture, beating on medium-low until blended. Add another egg, beating again, and stop the machine after every two eggs are added, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
- With the machine off, add the flour to the mixture. Add salt, if desired. Mix on low speed to incorporate the flour, 30 seconds. Add the vanilla, and on low speed blend 15 seconds more.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Place the pan in the oven.
- Bake until the cake is well browned and the center springs back to the touch, 58 to 62 minutes. A toothpick inserted should come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges, shake the pan gently to loosen the cake, and turn it out once, then again onto a rack to cool right-side up. Let cool 30 minutes to 1 hour before slicing.
- 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar
- The zest and juice of a whole lemon