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Pound Cake, Perfected

A few little tweaks make this classic butter cake moister, richer, and better than ever

Fine Cooking Issue 83
Photos: Scott Phillips
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My updated version tweaks the classic formula to produce a cake that’s soft and moist yet still has the classic’s buttery flavor and springy texture. Though I’ve strayed from the traditional ratio of ingredients, this modern pound cake is remarkably simple, and it remains true to my idea of what a pound cake should be—a moist, fluffy, buttery slice of heaven.

A few new ingredients

To start, I use more sugar than flour by weight. Sugar inhibits the development of gluten, the protein responsible for the structure of the cake. Less gluten means a moister and more tender crumb. Using too much egg adds a lot of structure-forming proteins to the cake, which can make it seem hard and dry, so I reduce the number of eggs usually called for, substituting milk instead (the milk also makes the cake taste more buttery). Though I reduce the number of eggs overall, I keep the number of yolks high to preserve that rich, eggy flavor associated with pound cakes.

When I make this cake, I use cake flour because I like a light, tender crumb. I discovered, though, that with this particular recipe, all-purpose flour works wonderfully, too. This is unusual—generally, you’ll run into trouble if you don’t use cake flour in a recipe that calls for it. (See panel below.)

Here are three flavor variations that are perfect for winter: Brandy & Rum Glazed, Lemon-Coconut, and Chocolate Chip. The first two of these cakes are glazed, which keeps them fresh longer and also gives them an extra boost of flavor. The third has finely chopped chocolate mixed into the batter, which adds real richness. Don’t hesitate to experiment with other mix-ins. In summer, I like to add fresh blueberries to the batter, and in fall, I stir in chopped cranberries.

What a difference the flour makes

The flour you use can noticeably affect the appearance and texture of the finished cake. To see for yourself, try this tasty little experiment: Make one of my pound cakes with cake flour and another with all-purpose and compare them side by side. The cake-flour version rises higher in its pan as it bakes, so it’s a taller cake with a fluffier texture. The cake made with all-purpose flour, on the other hand, is denser, moister, and closer to a quick bread in texture.

Cake flour really is different from other flours. It’s specially milled and processed to have finer granules, lower protein, and higher starch. The flour is bleached, which weakens its gluten and makes baked goods more tender.

If you use cake flour, check the cake on the early side of the doneness window to prevent overbaking—cake flour has a lower pH, which can help the batter set faster.

A new batter needs a new pan

Traditionally, pound cakes are baked in loaf pans, in which they rise slowly and form a high peak. My modern pound cake batter has more moisture and less protein structure than the original batter, so it will not rise as high or form that distinctive camel-back hump if baked in a loaf pan. To help the batter along, I bake it in a Bundt pan instead of a loaf pan. The Bundt shape gives the batter better support, and the hole in the center of the pan increases the total surface area that’s exposed to heat, so the batter bakes more efficiently. This means the edges won’t be dry by the time the center of the cake is set.


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