Pound cake was one of my first baking exercises. For many years I had a basic cream cheese pound cake recipe that I made often, sometimes with added flavors. For most of this time, I honestly did not know that the name pound cake comes from the original ingredients – a pound of each. As I got more interested in cooking and learning about recipes and where they came from, I had to give the traditional pound cake a try. This is a distillation of all my experiments over the years – tips from friends, recipes old and new. So here is my breakdown on how to make a great pound cake.
Now, I know some of you are going to skip over this because of the weights, not the standard cups. But it really is the best way to get this right, and a kitchen scale is a great tool to have around anyway, a fancy digital version or a simple one you can buy at any store. Most serious bakers work only by weight, and scoff at us who use the old cup system. It gives you precision.
Lots of recipes tell you to use “best quality” ingredients, some specifying certain brands of high-dollar goods. Now I am a true believer that the best ingredients make the best food, but I sometimes find those exhortations a little annoying. I can’t always find the real high-end goods and sometimes I’m not in the mood to spend the extra dough. But in a recipe like this, with so few ingredients, I truly urge you to use the best butter you can get your hands on, because that is where the flavor is in this cake. Fortunately, there are a lot of high-quality butters available even at regular grocery stores these days. I like European-style higher fat content butters. Kerrygold Irish butter and Plugra are two readily available brands.
Weigh your eggs – yes, weigh them- in the shell. There is a great deal of variation in egg sizes, so this is important. I like to use fresh farm eggs that I get from the farmers market or specialty groceries. These tend to be medium eggs, so it usually takes 8 eggs. Larger grocery store eggs will be different. So I repeat – weigh them.
I use all-purpose flour in this recipe which works out beautifully. I have tried recipe suggestions for cake flour or specialty flours which also work, but at its essence, I think pound cake is a good, solid country recipe made from ingredients readily available to any cook. I don’t picture some old-time farm wife delineating between flours.
You can flavor your cake in a variety of ways, vanilla being the simplest. But this cake is good and buttery and sweet with nothing extra added.
There is no leavening added to this cake – no baking powder or baking soda. Beating the butter until it is light and fluffy and full of air is important, so do beat it for the full six minutes, though I know that sounds like a long time.
Start in a cold oven and raise the temperature so the center of the cake starts to cook before the crust gets thick and brown and chewy – or burnt. Watch carefully, and if the tops are getting too dark, cover the cakes loosely with foil.
I have read some theories that the traditional pound cake recipe went out of fashion because it made too much cake (no such thing, in my opinion). I do scoff at that idea, because a well wrapped pound cake keeps well on the counter for days, even improves. Lightly toasting a slice brings a drying cake to life. And a cake wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, then foil freezes beautifully. This recipe is also an amazing holiday helper – you can make it in smaller pans, wrap them up and give them as gifts. Just watch the cooking time. Or have one on hand in the freezer for giving or guests.
Traditional Pound Cake
1 pound butter (the best you can manage)
1 pound sugar (about 2 cups)
1 pound eggs (about 8 medium of 7 large)
1 pound all-purpose flour (about 3 ¼ cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla or ¼ teaspoon almond extract, optional
Let the butter and the eggs come to room temperature.
Butter 2 loaf pans. I like the Pyrex or tempered glass version, because you get a lighter crust and you can see what’s going one. The wrappers that the butter softened in are a great tool for buttering the pans.
Put the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium for one minute until it starts to look lighter. Weigh your sugar in a bowl and pour it slowly into the butter with the mixer running. Beat the butter and sugar together at medium for 6 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. The butter will become super light and fluffy and almost white.
Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk lightly. Weight the flour in a small bowl (use the same one you used for the sugar). When the butter and sugar are beaten, turn the mixer to low and add the eggs and the flour alternately in 3 additions, beating well after each addition. Stop to scrape the bowl a few times. Add the vanilla or almond extract with the last addition of eggs if using.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Smooth the batter to fill the pan, but don’t worry about perfection. Place the pans on the middle rack of a cold oven, and turn it to 275 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the pans and turn the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake an additional 15 – 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few clinging crumbs. If the tops of the cakes are getting too brown, loosely place a piece of tinfoil over the tops.
Cool the cakes on a wire rack in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans to the rack to finish cooling.