Pound cakes got their name from the weight of their ingredients, typically one pound each of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter.
The hallmark of a pound cake is its compact, firm texture produced by vigorous beating of butter and sugar, then eggs, to create millions of tiny air cells that expand in the oven’s heat causing the cake to rise magnificently. Many bakers today, unfortunately, add baking powder to open up the cake’s structure and to lighten the texture, a practice I do not agree with because it changes the very nature of the cake. A true pound cake contains no chemical leavening.
The question became how to give the cake a quality of lightness while retaining the texture of a true pound cake without adding chemical leavening.
I decided to make a smaller cake than the traditional recipe—huge 5-pound pound cakes are impractical in today’s homes—so I cut the recipe in half and baked it in a loaf pan instead of the more usual tube pan. I used cake flour, lower in gluten than all-purpose flour, and added a small amount of potato starch. Bruce Healey says in The Art of the Cake that potato starch can absorb ten times the liquid of wheat starch. By substituting ten-percent of the wheat flour with potato starch, I hoped the cake would have extra moistness. Egg yolks also add moistness, so I used 3 large eggs and 4 large egg yolks instead of 5 whole eggs.
So far my measurements by weight were consistent with a classic pound cake formula: 8 ounces eggs and yolks, 8 ounces butter, a scant 8 ounces flour. The last major ingredient is sugar, and I used 1 1/4 cups, just a tad more than 8 ounces, because sugar creates tenderness and contributes sweetness. Was there anything else I might add to enhance tenderness and moistness?
I recently came across a recipe in a revised edition of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts called The King’s Pound Cake, a recipe Ms. Heatter had found in the August 16, 1997, TV Guide, claiming it to be “Elvis Presley’s Favorite Pound Cake.” Technically it’s not a pound cake because it contains 1 teaspoon of baking powder. But what it does have, which accounts for its terrific texture, is a generous amount of heavy cream. That was it! I’d add heavy cream to the batter.
The cake turned out exactly as I had hoped. It had a domed top, a gorgeous sugary crust on all surfaces, the texture was tight and compact, it tasted of butter and vanilla, and it really did melt on the tongue. Here’s the recipe.
Absolutely The Best Pound Cake
One very important key to the success of this and any butter cake is the proper creaming of the butter with the sugar. The butter should not be at room temperature, it should be on the chilly side, about 60 degrees. Beating with the electric mixer for several minutes will raise the temperature of the butter/sugar cream to about 68 degrees, ideal for the cake. A light, fluffy batter will dome up in the center during baking giving the cake an appealing look. If the butter is too warm at the start of beating, say 70 degrees, by the time it’s creamed with the sugar the batter temperature may reach to the mid-70s. The air cells might collapse, and the cake will not rise as it should and have a flatter top. So get the butter, eggs, and cream ready first before actually making the batter.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) best quality unsalted butter, refrigerator temperature
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
½ cup heavy cream, measure it cold and leave at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups cake flour (7 ounces), measure by spooning the flour lightly into dry 1-cup, 1/2-cup, and ¼-cup measures to overflowing and leveling with a straight edge without shaking the cups or packing down the flour
2 tablespoons potato starch (spoon a tablespoon measure into the starch to overflowing, and level with a narrow metal spatula)
½ teaspoon table salt
Position an oven rack in the center, and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter an 8-cup capacity loaf pan measuring 9 x 5 x 3-inches or 10 x 4 1/2 x 3-inches, and dust the pan lightly with flour, tapping out excess.
Cut each stick of cold butter into 6 equal slices and put the butter into the mixer bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand about 10 minutes until the butter has softened slightly. If you have a digital probe thermometer, insert the tip into the butter. When it registers about 60 degrees, the butter is ready to be beaten.
Meanwhile, put the 3 eggs into a medium bowl and cover them completely with warm tap water for 5 minutes just to take the chill off. Pat the eggs dry and crack them into a 2-cup glass measure with a pouring spout. Add the yolks and beat with a table fork just to combine well.
Beat the butter with the flat beater on medium speed until it is creamy and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop occasionally to scrape the butter from the beater and the sides of the bowl. The butter must have a creamy look.
Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the vanilla and beat on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and beater.
While beating on medium speed, gradually add the remaining 1 cup sugar in a slow steady stream, taking about 1 minute to do so. Scrape the bowl and beater again, and beat on medium high speed for 5 minutes. The butter and sugar will creep up the sides of the bowl.
To insure thorough creaming, stop two or three times to scrape the bowl and beater. Keep track of the actual beating time of 5 minutes. At the end of beating the butter/sugar will look fluffy.
Its temperature will be about 68˚F.
Scrape the bowl again. Set the mixer to medium speed and gradually add the beaten eggs in a slow, steady stream, taking about 1 minute. Then beat 1 minute more on medium-high to high speed until fluffy-looking.
Sift together the flour, potato starch, and salt 3 times to combine thoroughly. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with the heavy cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix only until everything is incorporated and the batter is smooth. The batter will be thick.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it level. The pan will be about ¾ full.
Bake about 65 to 75 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, domed in the center, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
To release the cake from the pan, run a table knife all around the sides of the cake. Cover the cake with a wire rack and invert. Carefully remove the pan, cover the cake with another rack and invert so that cake is right side up. Cool completely.
Pound cake is at its tenderest right after it has cooled to room temperature, in about 3 hours. I love eating a slice then.
The cake has a fine texture with bubbles of different sizes.
When completely cool, wrap airtight in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature. To serve, use a serrated knife and cut into thin slices, two to a portion.
If wrapped properly, pound cake will keep well at room temperature for several days.You can also freeze pound cake. Wrap the cooled cake securely in plastic wrap, then in foil, label and date, and freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw completely—overnight is best—before unwrapping.
Makes 1 loaf cake weighing just over 2 pounds.
The Wizard Says:
1. The most important things to keep in mind when making pound cake are: a) the butter should be on the chilly side before beating with the sugar. Sixty degrees is ideal. b) After creaming, the temperature of the butter and sugar should be about 68 degrees.
2. Creaming creates the air cells that expand and leaven the cake during baking.