At a synagogue kiddush table with a variety of sweet treats, I noticed that the golden slices of pound cake disappeared first. Although the cake looked plain, people appreciated its familiar buttery flavor and satisfying texture.
Pound cake’s simplicity is another reason for its appeal to many home bakers.
Classic pound cake has only four ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs and flour, in equal weights.
Pure vanilla and lemon zest are the cake’s time-honored flavors but you can also use cocoa, orange zest, or sweet spices like cinnamon or cloves; or mix chocolate into part of the batter, alternate the two batters in the pan and swirl them with a knife to make marble cake.
Raisins, dried cherries and other dried fruit also make tasty embellishments for pound cake. A traditional French upsidedown cake calls for setting pitted prunes in the pan before covering them with batter, and then unmolding the cake so the prunes come out on top.
If you use fresh fruit, it should be firm.
The first time I made a pear pound cake with juicy pears layered with the batter, the fruit made the batter too wet. With a drier variety of pear, the cake was perfect.
Today cakes are often labeled “pound cake” even when they stray from the original recipe, as long as their texture is similar and their flavor is buttery.
Some bakers alter the customary formula by stirring in a little sweet or sour cream, milk or yogurt to obtain a cake that is slightly moister. While old-fashioned recipes depend on the eggs to leaven the cake, now adding baking powder is common.
Contemporary cooks and bakers continue to come up with new pound cakes.
Carole Bloom, author of the just-published Intensely Chocolate, makes cocoa and bittersweet chocolate pound cake spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and enriched with butter and sour cream.
Dedicated chocoholics can follow her recommendation to serve it with bittersweet chocolate ice cream. To make an easy, marbled French yogurt cake with Nutella, Rozanne Gold, author of the new book Radically Simple, flavors part of her batter with the popular chocolatehazelnut spread. Butter and yogurt keep the cake moist and give it the texture of a pound cake.
Recently I purchased a delicious coconut cake from a
Cambodian-Vietnamese market. I soon realized that the delicately
flavored cake tasted like pound cake. At Central American bakeries one
of my favorite cakes is the sesame-sprinkled Salvadoran quesadilla made
with butter, cream cheese and a hint of Parmesan-like cheese. Its
buttery texture and golden crust remind me of pound cake. I also like
their torta de elote, or corn cake, which tastes to me like pound cake
with ground corn.
Naturally, the quality of the butter affects the taste of the cake. Use
unsalted butter for the best flavor even if you add a pinch of salt to
the batter. If you’re substituting margarine to make the cake parve,
it’s best to make a cake with an assertive flavor, like chocolate,
coffee or spice, so the margarine’s taste will not dominate.
Bakery pound cakes are often baked in oblong loaf pans but you can use a
round spring-form pan to make the cakes simple to unmold or a square
one so you can cut the cake like brownies.
You can also bake pound cake as cupcakes; with the rich batter, small cupcakes are especially nice.
Pound cake is convenient to serve as it needs no frosting or sauce. The
generous proportion of butter helps pound cake to keep well.
POUND CAKE TIPS The batter blends best when the ingredients are at room
temperature. If they are too cold, the batter may separate; but if that
happens, it will come back together when you stir in the flour.
To measure flour, use measuring cups designed for dry measuring. Dip the
cup gently into the container of flour, mounding the flour slightly.
Level off the flour with the rim of the cup, using the edge of a metal
spatula or a knife.
Do not pack down the flour.SPICED POUND CAKE
Instead of a mixture of spices, you can use cinnamon alone and omit the
other spices. To make vanilla pound cake, omit all the spices and use 2
teaspoons pure vanilla extract Makes 10 to 12 servings.
✔ 11⁄2 cups cake flour
✔ 11⁄2 tsp. baking powder
✔ Pinch of salt
✔ 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
✔ 11⁄4 tsp. ground ginger
✔ 1⁄8 tsp. ground cloves
✔ 3⁄4 cup (170 gr.) unsalted butter, room temperature
✔ 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
✔ 3 large eggs, room temperature
✔ 1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
✔ 6 Tbsp. heavy cream or milk, or 3 Tbsp. of each
✔ Powdered sugar (optional)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 175ºC. Butter and flour a
nonstick 23- x 13-cm loaf pan, tapping pan to remove excess flour. Mix
cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves with flour, baking powder and salt
until blended. Sift flour mixture.
Cut butter in 6 pieces and put in a large bowl. Cream butter in large
bowl, if possible using paddle beater of mixer, at medium speed until
butter is soft, smooth, and most of it clings to side of bowl. Gradually
beat in sugar.
Beat mixture at medium speed, scraping down twice, until it is very pale, smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Beat in 2 eggs, one by one, at medium speed, beating thoroughly after each and scraping mixture down occasionally.
Beat third egg in small bowl. Add it to mixture gradually, beating very
thoroughly after each addition. With last few additions, batter may look
like it is beginning to separate but it will come together when flour
With mixer at low speed, add about 1⁄4 of flour mixture to batter. Blend
in vanilla and about 1 Tbsp. cream. Blend in remaining flour in 3
batches, alternating with remaining cream. Beat at low speed just until
ingredients are blended. Do not overbeat, or cake will be tough.
Spoon batter carefully into pan.
Smooth top with spatula. Tap pan a few times on work surface to level batter.
Set pan in oven with a short side of loaf pan facing back of oven. Bake
until a cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out completely
clean, about 50 to 60 minutes; test after 45 minutes.
Cake will rise to a peak in center and the peak will split.
Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes.
Run thin-bladed flexible knife around edges of cake. Turn cake out onto rack.
Carefully turn cake back over and cool it completely. Serve cake at room temperature.
Sift powdered sugar over cake if desired. Cut it in 1.5-cm. slices with serrated knife.ORANGE POUND CAKE
To serve this hearty cake as dessert, a compote of dried fruit makes a pleasing accompaniment.Makes about 12 servings
✔ 1 tsp. baking powder (optional, see Note below)
✔ 13⁄4 cups cake flour, sifted
✔ 1 cup (225 gr.) unsalted butter, room temperature
✔ 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
✔ 4 large eggs, room temperature
✔ 2 to 3 tsp. finely grated orange zest
✔ 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 175ºC. Butter a 23- to
24- cm. square pan. Line its base with parchment or foil. Generously
butter paper or foil. Flour pan, tapping it to remove excess flour. If
using baking powder, sift it with the flour.
Cut butter in 8 pieces and put in large bowl of mixer. Cream butter, if
possible using paddle beater of mixer, at medium speed until it is soft
and smooth, and most of it clings to side of bowl. Gradually beat in
sugar. Beat mixture at medium speed, scraping down twice, until it is
very pale, smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Beat in 3 eggs, one by one, at medium speed, beating thoroughly after each and scraping mixture down occasionally.
Beat fourth egg in small bowl.
Add it to mixture, a scant tablespoon at a time, beating very thoroughly
after each addition. With last few additions, batter will look like it
is separating but it will come together when flour is added. Stir in
orange zest and vanilla.
Sprinkle about 1⁄4 of flour over batter and stir it in, using a rubber spatula.
Stir in remaining flour in 3 batches.
Mix well; be sure there are no lumps.
Spoon batter carefully into pan and spread smooth with rubber spatula.
Tap pan once on work surface to level batter. Bake until cake comes away
from sides of pan and cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out
clean, about 35 minutes; test after 30 minutes.
Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.
Turn cake out onto rack, carefully remove paper and cool completely.
Serve at room temperature, cut in small squares.
Note: Add the baking powder to this classic recipe for a slightly lighter result. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Ha’ugot, the book of cakes.