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Pound cake is one of those desserts that everyone has eaten at some point. If you haven’t made one yourself someone in your family probably has. No dessert table, picnic basket or bake sale is complete without some version of this baking basic. The original recipe is British in origin and dates back to at least the early 18th century. By the 19th century, pound cake recipes had appeared in American cookbooks. The question is, with all the ingredients and techniques available to us now, how has the humble pound cake defended its place amongst the gastronomic giants of the pastry world?
Sorry, no original photos today. Never got home to bake a cake especially for today. But I have made the one pictured above and it is fantastic. Check out the recipe at Epicurious.com.
One might also wonder, what makes a pound cake a pound cake? It’s a piece of genius really. The name is the recipe, as long as you can remember four ingredients that is. A traditional pound cake is a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. There are no artificial leaveners in the original. All the lift comes from the air whipped into the eggs. Of course, most modern recipes make use of baking powder to create a lighter cake. That said, the heavier and denser original has its merits and in some applications is the better cake. The other great thing about the basic recipe is that you can reduce or increase the recipe according to your needs without the typical disaster incurred by messing with the chemistry of other pastry recipes. Just remember to maintain the 1:1:1:1 ratio.
Here’s the basic recipe, the one I can give you since the copy right for a 300-year-old recipe has probably expired. As for variations, I’m afraid, I have to send you to consult the cookbook library.
- 1 pound butter, softened
- 1 pound sugar
- 1 pound eggs (about 10 large)
- 1 pound cake flour, sifted
- 2 tsp vanilla
- pinch of salt
With an electric mixer whip butter and sugar together until light in colour and very fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions. Stir in vanilla and salt. Turn mixer speed to low and add flour in three batches. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
How easy is that?! If you want to jazz things up a bit, add a couple teaspoons of lemon zest to the batter and drizzle a lemon glaze over the glazed cake.
The real beauty of pound cake, beyond how ridiculously easy it is to make (remember I am a confirmed non-baker) and how it lends itself to be the ingredient in other things. A big slab of pound cake, toasted on the grill with a slice of grilled pineapple and a drizzle of caramel sauce is a fantastic “barbeque” dessert. Cubes of pound cake are perfect for dipping in a chocolate fondue. For the fondue, I really do recommend the traditional recipe. You’ll need a nice dense cake for dipping. I like a heap of strawberries and nice dollop of sweetened whipped cream with mine, a sort of strawberry shortcake.
It’s easy to see why pound cake can still be found in modern cookery. Pound cake is one of those simple, versatile and delicious creations that needs little embellishment but can take anything you throw at it. All on it’s own or as a component of something much more grand pound cake deserves a place in your culinary repertoire.