Friday, September 13, 2019

Old-Fashioned Pound Cake for the Modern Baker

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound CakeI've been doing quite a bit of thinking and reading and daydreaming about pound cake lately.  Pound cake is something I've always loved, and my mom used to make one or two around the holidays, served with a spiced red fruit sauce (with an impossible-to-pronounce Danish name) and whipped cream.  Those slices of cake were so tempting, and so easy to snack on, since you really don't need a fork for pound cake.

The making of pound cake takes patience - all that time spent beating air into the butter, sugar and eggs - but it's all worth it when you take that first delicious bite.  The family recipe that my mom used - "Uncle Andy's Pound Cake" - was rich, decadent, dense and buttery, as every good pound cake should be. Just writing this paragraph makes my mouth water as I contemplate that buttery cake crumb, that deep, amber-hued golden crust, that rich pure flavor of simple ingredients that are in perfect harmony.


That particular recipe contained cream cheese, creamed together with the butter and sugar, and the cream cheese added a really lovely flavor and texture to the cake.  But as much as I loved how the cake tasted, every time I made the recipe, I had a cake that tasted great, but never looked good enough to photograph, because, without fail, the center of the cake would always collapse on me.  After much fiddling with that recipe over the years, I decided to go back to basics to come up with a pound cake that looks as good as it tastes.




Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake




Pound cakes, when they were invented, contained just four ingredients: a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour.  No other flavorings were usually added, and no leavening was used.  The cake got its rise solely from creaming the butter and sugar for a long time, and then slowly adding the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Those pound cakes were actually fairly dry (at least compared to our modern expectations of how moist cakes should be), but the leftovers were meant to have a long shelf life.

If you don't often weigh ingredients, you might be surprised to know that most pound cake recipes on the internet vary quite a bit from the "one pound of each" rule.  Most pound cakes these days contain three cups of sugar (which is 1 1/2 pounds), maybe six eggs (which is 3/4 of a pound), and anywhere between 1/2 - 1 cup of butter.  And most of the time, bakers add some leavening in the form of baking powder.

In testing my recipe, I precisely weighed out one pound each of my butter (2 cups), granulated sugar (2 cups), eggs (about 8-9 large eggs) and cake flour (around 3 3/4 - 4 cups).  Cake flour, rather than all-purpose flour, is best for pound cakes; it contains a lower percentage of protein, which yields a very tender cake crumb.




Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake




With my four main ingredients weighed out, I considered the use of baking powder and some additional liquid.  A couple teaspoons of baking powder would give the cake a little extra insurance on getting a good rise in the oven, so that I wasn't just depending on the air I was beating into the sugar, butter and eggs.  And for the liquid, I decided on full-fat buttermilk.  Buttermilk is amazing in cakes; it adds a wonderful flavor and a beautiful velvety texture to the cake crumb.  Also, since sugar adds moisture to cakes (as it's technically considered a liquid and not a dry ingredient), and I was reducing the sugar from 3 cups to 2, I knew I'd have to make up for that moisture with the buttermilk.  Flavorings, of course, are a necessity: salt, vanilla and almond extract went into my cake.  The batter was thick and luxurious, hinting at the beautiful cake that was to come.

My cake emerged from the oven looking just gorgeous.  It had a wonderful rise and a perfect golden brown crust.  The crumb was just as it should be - dense but also tender and fluffy, buttery, rich and just sweet enough.  You can dust your cake with powdered sugar, or make a simple powdered sugar glaze, if you like a little extra sweetness, but I love the simplicity of the cake as it is.  After it had cooled, I sliced it into thick wedges, and it was exactly what I wanted that afternoon with a cup of strong coffee.






Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake

Pound Cake, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake, Pound Cake Recipe, High Altitude Pound Cake





Baking Notes:
  1. I live in Denver, CO, so all of my baked goods are tested at high altitude.  Don't let this deter you from trying my recipes, though, even if you don't live in the mountains.  For this recipe, you might just try increasing the baking powder from 2 to 3 teaspoons to see how it works at sea level.  Also, be sure to read this post and this post for all my baking tips and FAQs.
  2. Your cold dairy ingredients (butter, eggs and buttermilk) need to be at room temperature before mixing this cake.  Set them out several hours before you plan on baking so they can warm up.
  3. Cake flour is best for pound cake; with a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, it yields a very tender cake crumb.  If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornstarch for excellent results.  For this recipe, weigh out 1 pound of all-purpose flour, then remove 6 tablespoons of flour.  Add 6 tablespoons of corn starch.  Sift together the flour and cornstarch several times to incorporate thoroughly.
  4. Baking powder and buttermilk are not traditional ingredients in the original pound cake as it was invented, but they greatly assist in the rise and moisture of the cake, which our modern palate expects from a cake, especially one that we've spent so much time mixing.
  5. While I used both vanilla and almond extracts, you can use absolutely any flavor of extract you would like.  Vanilla, almond, coconut, lemon, orange and rum are all great choices.  A tablespoon of pure vanilla bean paste would be luxurious in this cake.  Note that the 2 teaspoons of almond extract I used do not give the cake an overwhelming almond flavor.  If you like a more pronounced almond flavor (which I do), increase the amount to 3-4 teaspoons.
  6. Chopped dried fruit or nuts can also be folded into the batter with the flour mixture, if you like.
  7. Do you want to try experimenting even more?  Then think of the buttermilk as a "place-holder" for other ingredients like pureed fruit compote (peach or apple come to mind) or pumpkin puree.  Try substituting a fruit compote for the buttermilk, and add some spices to your dry ingredients for a fabulous new flavor.
  8. When filling your bundt pan or loaf pans, they should be about 2/3 - 3/4 full.  If you have too much batter for one pan, just fill several pans for a variety of cakes.  This recipe makes a large bundt cake, or one medium bundt plus one loaf cake, or three loaf cakes.
  9. Pound cake freezes extremely well, so leftovers can be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap or stored in an airtight container to enjoy later.

Pound Cake
printable

  • 1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks)
  • 1 pound granulated sugar (2 cups)
  • 1 pound eggs (about 8-9 large eggs)
  • 1 pound cake flour (around 3 3/4 - 4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
Preheat your oven to 325 and thoroughly grease a large bundt cake pan or several smaller ones.  Loaf pans can be lined with a sheet of parchment paper for easy removal.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, weigh/measure the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium speed, scraping the bowl down occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes, until very fluffy and lightened in color.

Continue beating while you add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each, and scraping the bowl down occasionally to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients.  Don't rush this step and add the eggs all at once, or they won't emulsify correctly.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (I like to sift twice).  Combine the buttermilk and extracts in a liquid measuring cup.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.  Don't over-mix at this point, and use a spatula to gently fold any dry bits of flour remaining into the batter.

Spoon the batter into your prepared pan/s and smooth out the top.  Bake at 325 until a cake tester comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it and the crust is golden brown and slightly cracked.  One large bundt cake may take about 65-70 minutes to bake, while several smaller loaf or bundt pans may take 40-45 minutes or so.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack, carefully remove the pan, and let cool completely before slicing.  Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 4-5 days, or freeze indefinitely.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

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