The pound cake, according to Larousse Gastronomique, originated in England and was the first “butter cake.” France adopted it, calling it quatres-quarts because traditionally it was prepared using one-fourth flour, one-fourth butter, one-fourth eggs, and one-fourth sugar.
In America, the pound cake is often thought of as the “mother” cake from which all other butter cakes evolved. It is flavorful yet not overly sweet, soft and light in texture, and moist enough to stand on its own or to accommodate a variety of frostings and toppings. It is one of the world’s greatest cakes.
A Southern Classic
The American pound cake has a rich southern history, particularly within the Black community, where the ubiquitous pound cake can be found at most any function. Its most notable appearance was in 1881 in the cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking written by Abby Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was enslaved in South Carolina before making her way to San Francisco soon after the Civil War. There, she created a life and business manufacturing and selling “pickles, preserves, brandies, fruits, etc.” and went on to be one of the first published African-American chefs and whose cookbook is still considered one of the best.
If you would like to make your own pound cake, here is a recipe developed by Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, and master of all things cake. Her method, in her words, “is faster, easier, and virtually eliminates all possibility of toughening the cake by overbeating. It’s excellent keeping qualities make it ideal for slicing ahead and bringing on picnics.”
Perfect Pound Cake Recipe
3 tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350*F
Prepare one 8×4 inch loaf pan or 6-cup bundt pan. Grease and flour pan (with the suggested addition of parchment if using a loaf pan.)
In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 minute to aerate and and develop the cake’s structure.
Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula, making sure there is at least 1/2 inch from the top. (Any excess batter can be made into cupcakes.) Bake 55 to 65 minutes (35-45 in a fluted tube pan) or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and invert it onto a greased wire rack. If baked in a loaf pan, to keep the bottom from splitting, reinvert so that the top is up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.
In the mood for chocolate, instead? Here’s another southern classic, the ever-amazing chocolate cake.