Mastering Perfect Pound Cake
Creating the perfect pound cake requires a little attention to detail. With notes of butter and vanilla, this classic pound cake is buttery, rich, and moist. Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream or use this recipe as a base for endless flavor ideas.
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Technique Used: Creaming Method for Cakes
Truly perfect pound cake requires a lot of attention to detail and using the proper ingredients. There are many nuances to this seemingly simple recipe.
Often an overlooked dessert recipe, plain pound cake is one of my favorite things to make – in large part because it’s so simple. A good classic pound cake lends itself to the perfect accompaniment for fresh fruit, a dollop of whipped cream, or scoop of ice cream. But plain pound cake is also a blank canvas for you to paint with any flavor you like!
What makes this the perfect pound cake
- A perfect pound cake is buttery with a perfect crumb and very moist. This recipe gives you all 3!
- Add spices, mix-ins, and other flavors to customize this pound cake to your liking.
- Made using the proper technique, this pound cake is flavorful and dense without being dry.
Marble Pound Cake: Divide the batter in half and stir 10 grams (2 tablespoons) of cocoa powder into one half of the batter. Spoon each batter into the pan, alternating between plain and chocolate. Use a butter knife to swirl the batter to make a marble pattern. Once the cake has completely cooled, top with chocolate ganache glaze.
Lemon Pound Cake: Add 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of lemon zest to the sour cream and mix together before adding to the cake batter. Once the cake has completely cooled, top with a simple lemon glaze.
For a lemon poppy seed pound cake, in addition to the above, add ¼ cup poppy seeds to the batter.
Almond Pound Cake: Add 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the wet ingredients. As an optional step, add up to 2 cups of chopped almonds to the batter.
Crumb Cake: Transfer the batter to a greased 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) pan. Top with a double batch of streusel topping and bake for 45-55 minutes.
How to Master the Perfect Pound Cake
The original recipe for pound cake (and why it’s called pound cake) calls for 1 pound of sugar, 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of eggs, and 1 pound of flour.
The 1:1:1:1 ratio creates a very dense, rich, and somewhat dry cake that most of our modern palates do not enjoy. It was intended to be a lasting cake that could hold up to sitting out for many days without spoiling.
Many modern pound cake recipes greatly deviate from the “true” pound cake in order to meet today’s cake expectations. However, when creating this recipe, I wanted to stick as close to the classic pound cake as possible. You know what they say about learning the rules so you can break them? The goal is to create a cake that highlights the richness and density of the original version while keeping it moist, flavorful, and not too heavy.
Tips for Success
Use High Quality Ingredients
While I don’t typically believe that using name brand ingredients over generic ingredients makes a huge difference in baked goods, for this recipe, it does. With so few ingredients, each one plays a huge role – the quality of the ingredients really does matter for pound cake.
When comparing a generic brand of sugar to a name brand of sugar, such as C&H or Domino, you may notice a difference in the size of the sugar crystals. Generic brand sugar crystals are often much smaller than name brand sugar crystals.. Why does this matter? The rise of pound cake is completely dependent on the sugar’s ability to hold a web of air with the butter. Because of this, smaller sugar crystals can cause this web to break and fall. For best results, use a name brand sugar for this pound cake recipe!
Did You Know: If the package of sugar does not specify “cane sugar,” chances are that it is actually beet sugar? Most generic store brand sugars are beet sugar. While those in the sugar industry claim beet sugar and cane sugar are chemically identical, many baking tests have proven that cane sugar creates much more superior baked goods.
You may notice that this recipe calls for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour keeps the cake tender. It really is the best flour to use for this tender cake.
If you absolutely cannot find cake flour, make your own cake flour substitute with all-purpose flour and cornstarch. If you make this substitution, sift the flour and cornstarch 3 times before adding it to the recipe. While that might seem excessive, it truly helps create a more accurate substitution that closely mimics cake flour.
Check for Proper Oven Temperature
It is very common for an oven to not be properly calibrated. Many ovens heat too low or too high compared to what the temperature is set at. This can vary greatly from oven to oven, so I recommend buying an oven thermometer to test your oven’s temperature. It’s a small investment that makes a huge difference for pound cake and anything else you make!
Pound cake, in particular, bakes at a fairly moderate temperature. An oven that is too hot will cause the cake to set too quickly and prevent the cake from rising. An oven that is too cool can cause the cake to fall because it won’t set quickly enough.
Prep Before Starting (Mise en Place)
Mise en place, or the concept of “everything in its place,” is key to most any baking recipe. It is especially important with pound cake because ingredient temperature matters.
Read through the recipe fully, measure out all of your ingredients, and gather any equipment you might need before starting. I like to line my ingredients up in the order that they will be added into the recipe. This step serves two purposes: 1) it ensures that you have all of your ingredients on hand before you start the recipe and 2) ensures you do not forget to add any ingredients into your batter.
Baking Tip: If a recipe is written properly, the ingredients will be listed in the order they will be needed.
Make sure your ingredients are at the proper temperature
A simple classic pound cake recipe does not include any chemical leavening (baking powder or baking soda). Instead, this cake relies solely on the air that is mixed into the batter during the creaming process for it to rise. This process is known as physical leavening.
It is important that the butter, eggs, and sour cream are at room temperature, around 70°F (21°C), before starting the recipe. The physical leavening process happens as the butter is beaten with the sugar (also known as creaming) and air is trapped in a web of sugar and fat. If the ingredients are too cold, the structure will remain weak causing the batter to break.
Baking Tip: Many kitchens are warmer than 70°F (21°C). Make sure that your butter is soft but still solid when you begin a recipe that calls for softened butter. If your butter is too warm and starting to melt it can greatly impact the recipe.
Use the Proper Creaming Technique
Properly creaming the butter and sugar together is crucial for perfect pound cake. This creaming technique is not difficult at all, it just requires some patience.
Start with the room temperature butter and sugar and beat it in the bowl of your stand mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes very light and fluffy. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a large mixing bowl and hand mixer. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula to evenly incorporate the ingredients. The purpose of this process is to force air into the mixture that will leaven the cake. You do not want to rush it.
In the oven, the cake will rise when the air bubbles expand and as the steam generated from the water evaporates off the cake.
After the butter and eggs have been properly whipped, mix in the vanilla extract.
Add the Eggs Very Slowly
Now that you have forced air into the butter and sugar, it is time to add the eggs. The way in which the eggs are added is equally important.
In order to create an emulsion, the eggs must be added very slowly. Keep the mixer running on medium speed and add the eggs one at a time. The process of incorporating the eggs should take about 5 minutes in total. Rushing this process will cause the emulsion to break and curdle and you will have a dense cake on your hands.
Emulsion: An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids that are normally unmixable. In this case, butter is already an emulsion because water is suspended in fat when it is created. Because eggs have a high percentage of water content, another emulsion is created when they are incorporated into the fat/sugar mixture.
Do Not Over-Mix the Batter
“Do not over-mix” is included in so many recipes, and this instruction is especially important when you are working with delicate baked goods as well as baked goods that are being leavened with air. Pound cake falls into both of these categories.
Alternate adding the dry ingredients and sour cream in stages, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
Once flour is added into the batter, only gently work it and stop mixing once the flour is incorporated because gluten formation begins as soon as flour is hydrated. The more the batter is worked, the more the gluten structure will develop. For very tender cakes, you want to limit this as much as possible. Additionally, you don’t want to deflate the air that you worked so hard to beat into your butter.
Bake to Proper Doneness
Many baking recipes state that the cake is done when the tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. This instruction actually leads to an over-baked cake.
Instead, you want to remove the cake from the oven when the tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. The residual heat will continue the cooking process even after the cake is out of the oven. If you wait to pull the cake out until it is completely dry in the middle, you will have a very dry pound cake.
Allow to Cool Properly
Once your cake is done baking and you have taken it out of the oven, immediately remove it from the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool completely. If the cake stays in the loaf pan to cool, the heat will be trapped in the pan and will steam the cake around the edges, resulting in an undesirable texture.
Quickly moving the cake out of the pan also ensures your cake does not continue cooking for too long, helping to prevent an overdone cake.
Baking Tip: Line your loaf pan with parchment paper so you can easily pull the cake out of the pan once it is done baking. Watch the video on how to easily line a loaf pan!
WHY IS IT CALLED POUND CAKE?
In the original pound cake recipe which dates back to 1700s Europe, it called for a pound of each ingredient: flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. I slightly changed those ratios and added sour cream for moisture.
How do I keep pound cake moist?
Although pound cake is a dense cake, that doesn’t mean it should be dry. The sour cream in this recipe is what makes the pound cake rich but also keeps it very moist. When storing the cake, keep it at room temperature (or freeze). Refrigerated pound cake tends to dry out.
HOW TO STORE POUND CAKE
Wrap fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. While pound cake can technically be stored in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life, the flavor will diminish and the texture will dry out.
MORE RECIPES FROM BAKER BETTIE!
If you loved this recipe, you might like to try these other delicious cake recipes!
- 215 grams (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) cake flour
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 226 grams (1 cup, 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 300 grams (1 ½ cups) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 60 grams (¼ cup) sour cream, room temperature
- At least 30 minutes before mixing the batter, take the butter (226 grams/ 1 cup), eggs (4 large), and sour cream (60 grams/ ¼ cup) out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. It is especially important that the eggs are room temperature for this recipe due to the large quantity. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
- Position an oven rack to the center position. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
- Prepare your pan loaf pan with non-stick spray and parchment paper.
To make the cake:
- Sift the cake flour (215 grams/ 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) into a large bowl and add the salt (¼ teaspoon). Whisk together and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Cream together on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during mixing. The mixture should be very pale yellow after mixing.
- With the mixer running, add the vanilla extract (1 teaspoon). Next, add in one egg (4 large eggs total), at a time mixing on medium speed and allowing each egg to fully incorporate before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently. Do not rush this process.
- Alternate adding the dry ingredients into the bowl in three additions with the sour cream in two additions, starting and stopping with the dry ingredients. Mix on medium speed in between each addition until fully incorporated.
- Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 55-65 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with moist crumbs.
- Set the pan on a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes before turning out of the pan to fully cool.
- Wrap leftover cake in plastic wrap after fully cooled and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.
To Make Into a Bundt Cake
- Prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan or a 10-inch (25 cm) tube pan with non-stick spray. Add a few tablespoons of flour to the pan and tap it all around, dumping out any excess.
- Make a double batch of the cake batter (note, this will be a very large quantity and will require a mixing bowl at least 5 quarts in size).
- Bake at 350°F/175°C for 1 hour 10 minutes - 1 hour 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with moist crumbs.