I am fascinated with a few things to the point that I obsess about them. Well, it may be more than a few things. One of them is words.
I become amazed with the beauty a word may have. With the way it sounds. With the way that pronouncing that word may change the way I breathe or make me pout my mouth. With how much power a word can hold. With the diverse meanings it can contain, depending on who you say it to, how you say it, or by which words it is accompanied by.
I absolutely adore words. I once started a “favorite words list” and just couldn’t keep up with how many I was adding. There were the words I had forgotten and had suddenly rediscovered. There were the words I had never ever heard of. I have a tendency to stop someone in the middle of a sentence to ask them about that word they just used. Where is it from, what exactly does it mean, how else can one use it? Always on the hunt for new words, when I find a great one, I fall in love with it. And once I do, I never fall out of love with it.
This may all have to do with my being a Spanish speaker until I moved to the US. Once here, I started noticing the beauty of words I was getting nostalgic about because I couldn’t find a good substitute in English. And once I started getting a bit more fluent in English, I would find the use of a certain English word so extraordinary that I couldn’t find the right substitute in Spanish. So I sort of blame it all on my move to the US because I certainly wasn’t obsessed with words when I lived in Mexico.
Anyway. This recipe has two words I adore in Spanish: pan and arena. Pan translates to bread and arena to sand. The funny thing is sometimes words and names play tricks on reality. This pan de arena is no bread and has no sandy texture.
More like a pound cake, pan de arena’s texture is really perfect. When you slice it, it feels like it came from a professional bakery. With just the right amount of moist and just the right amount of crumbly. It may be that because the texture is so evenly moist and crumbly throughout, it got named after sand. Its taste is also so well balanced. Just enough sweetness and a buttery taste that gets nuanced, but not over powered, by lime zest and lime juice. Yet it doesn’t taste citrusy at all.
This pan de arena comes from the state of Chiapas in Mexico. You can find it there from morning ‘til night. Sometimes it comes in individual sizes – that may be why it is also called bizcocho chiapaneco, as bizcocho refers to a sweet roll – but it is mostly cut from a bigger loaf into square or rectangular pieces.
Just like your favorite pound cake, it can be eaten on its own or topped with ice cream, fruit compote, fresh fruit coulis, or whipped cream. It is also ideal sliced and tucked away in your kid’s lunch box.
I am just as enamored with this poundcake’s charming taste and texture as I am with the beauty of its name. And for the life of me, I cannot find out why or who named it pan de arena.
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- Grated zest of a large lime
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan and lightly coat with flour. Shake excess flour off.
- In a medium bowl, combine your dry ingredients: the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment over medium speed until very creamy and soft, at least 2 or 3 minutes. Incorporate the sugar, continue beating until well mixed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until they are all incorporated.
- Reduce speed to low, and add a cup of your dry ingredients, then add the lime zest and juice. Continue adding the rest of the flour, and finally add the milk. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula if need be, and continue beating the mix until it is spongy, fluffy and very well mixed.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until the pound cake is puffed up, golden brown on top, and a toothpick comes out clean and moist, but not wet.
- Remove from the oven. Let cool and serve. It keeps very well covered for up to a week.