Perfect pound cake

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

By Sylvia Andrews
They say that some things get better with age.
Mind you, that’s not saying that everything gets better as it ages, my body being one of them! Why it can’t keep up with my demands I don’t understand.
But such is life, and some things actually do improve with age, including pound cakes. Flavors intensify, texture becomes more dense and delectable … luscious.
And since pound cakes keep almost forever, you won’t be disappointed with the flavor down to the last crumb.
We can thank the British for what we know as the pound cake in America. Supposedly it inherited its name by the measure of ingredients that were originally used in the cake: one pound butter, one pound sugar, one pound eggs and one pound flour. No baking powder was used, eggs being the only source of leavening and liquid.
However, after baking the following recipes (and feeling very Betty Crocker-ish) I’ve decided that the name actually indicates what happens to your body as you enjoy these temptations: a gain of about one pound per slice!
But again, such is life. You can always extend the workout at the YMCA to sidestep the guilt.
One of my favorite cookbooks is “The Perfect Cake” by Susan G. Purdy, who dedicates an entire section to pound cakes.
Purdy expertly explains the science of pound cakes, delving into their history and chemistry, and offers hints and tips for successful pound cakes, as well as a section on trouble-shooting.
She recommends using a shiny metal loaf, tube or Bundt pan rather that dark steel, as dark pans cause the outside of the cake to brown too fast before the inside is baked through. I baked the Cream Cheese Pound Cake, recipe following, in a dark pan and was disappointed with how the crust turned out — a little too done on the outside.
I also learned in baking all of these that it’s beneficial after spooning the batter into the tube pan to slowly run a thin spatula through the batter — a few times around the pan — to even out the batter and release any large air bubbles. Because of the thickness of the batter, this facilitates the cake baking up more evenly.
Purdy also suggests something I’ve heard other bakers say: place a 2-cup glass measuring cup of water in the oven with the cake to help maintain moisture.
She also allows her pound cakes to cool 20 minutes instead of the traditional 10 minutes before removing from the pan, to prevent the cake from sinking or breaking apart.
It is also normal, according to Purdy, for the top of pound cakes to split as they bake from the pressure of the steam that escapes during baking. So don’t feel you’ve somehow missed the opportunity of the perfect pound cake if the top splits.
In fact, I’ve found it’s pretty difficult to mess up a pound cake. As I’ve experimented with these recipes, I took samples of several of them to work (you can’t trust the husband’s opinion alone), even though I felt some weren’t prize-winning. As I said, the Cream Cheese Pound Cake I thought was a little dry on the surface, but folks really liked the almost crunchy sweetness of it.
And the Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake that I thought needed to have baked a couple more minutes got raves and “Oh, that’s how I like it!”
It is true that you need to keep a watchful eye toward the end of the estimated baking time, checking every few minutes for doneness with a long pick in the center of the cake.
After you’ve baked a few, you’ll find the perfect baking time for your family’s palate. And trust me — they will have enjoyed every one to that point.
Classic Pound Cake
“The Perfect Cake,” Susan G. Purdy
This is the real thing: butter, sugar, eggs and flour each weigh one pound.
Purdy recommends a touch of brandy, rum, juice or extract if you’re put off by the blandness. As is, it serves as a good base for strawberries in season with a dollop of whipped cream! Or fresh peaches and cream!
4-1/2 C. sifted cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 C. (4 sticks) lightly salted butter
2-1/4 C. granulated sugar
8 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 T. flavoring: brandy, dark rum or fruit juice
This recipe makes two 9x5x3 loaves. Grease pans and dust evenly with flour, tapping out the excess.
Sift together flour, baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt onto a sheet of wax paper. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, use a spoon or hand mixer to beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Do not overwhip to avoid mixing too much air into the batter. Gradually add 1-1/2 C. sugar, beating until mixture is very light and creamy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Batter should be pale yellow color and very creamy. Scrape down inside of bowl and the beaters. Beat in the vanilla and other flavoring. You can mix flavorings, such as rum and lemon juice or brandy and orange juice, but keep total amount to 2 tablespoons.
By hand or with mixer on lowest speed, gradually add flour mixture to batter in 5 or 6 additions. Batter will be quite stiff.
In a clean bowl with clean beater, whip the egg whites with remaining 1/2 tsp. salt until fluffy. Gradually beat in remaining 3/4 C. sugar, whipping until the whites are stiff but not dry.
Stir about 1 C. of the whites into the batter to soften it. A little at a time, fold in remaining whites. At first this is hard going, but the batter smooths out quickly.
Divide batter between the prepared pans and bake in preheated oven approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake tops are golden brown, the centers are well risen and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool both cakes in their pans on wire rack for about 20 minutes.
Then slide a knife around the cake sides to loosen. Tip each cake out, set upright on rack and cool completely. Do not frost.
Flavors mellow and cakes slice better the day after baking.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
This competes with Cream Cheese Pound Cake as most folks’ favorite. While similar to the Cream Cheese variety, this is a little lighter and slightly moister.
I think you’ll agree, this cake needs absolutely nothing poured, sprinkled or spread over it. I realize we all have different palates, but when this hits the mouth, you can’t help but think, “Now this is what cake is supposed to taste like!”
6 eggs, separated
3 C. granulated sugar
3 C. all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 C. sour cream
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
1/4 tsp. baking soda (dissolved in sour cream)
1/2 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon
Separate eggs. Mix sour cream and baking soda and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar until creamy and then add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing just until yellow disappears. Add sour cream, then mix in flour, spice and salt and mix until well-blended. Add flavorings.
Whip egg whites until fluffy and fold into batter with a spatula just to blend.
Bake 1-3/4 hours at 300 degrees in greased and floured tube pan. Test cake in middle with long pick until it comes out clean, being careful not to overbake.
Cool 20 minutes on wire rack before removing from pan for complete cooling.
Chocolate Nut Spice Pound Cake with Chocolate Icing
What collection of ANY variety of cakes would be complete without a chocolate offering? This one is also from my sister and includes her Chocolate Icing to finish, but I’ve added an alternative glaze to top it off.
Note that pan preparation includes dusting the pan with sugar rather than flour. Since this cake is darker on the surface than others (chocolate), flour tends to be visible when you remove the cake from the pan. The sugar gives a lovely crystally appearance, rather than the dusting of flour.
This cake was delicious from the start but got so much denser each day, that by day five, the top inch of the cake was almost fudgy. I’m sure some of that is from the frosting soaking into the cake, but whatever it may be, it is absolutely irresistible! No “just one piece” with this one!
1 C. butter
1/2 C. shortening
3 C. sugar
5 large eggs
3 C. all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 C. cocoa
1-1/2 to 2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. chopped nuts
Grease a tube pan generously and dust with sugar, not flour.
Cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until yellow disappears. Sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing just until blended. Add vanilla and chopped nuts. Bake in 300 degree oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until cake tests done with long pick inserted near middle. Cool on rack for 20 minutes and turn out onto platter. Cool until just lukewarm before frosting.
Chocolate Icing
Combine 2 C. confectioners sugar with 1/3 C. cocoa, 1/4 C. melted butter, 5 T. cream and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix well until smooth. Slowly pour over cake, letting icing run down sides of cake. If cake is still too warm, icing will run too much. Garnish with nuts and shaved chocolate.
Alternative: Ganache Chocolate Glaze
This is one of my favorite toppings for almost anything chocolate! A ganache has very few ingredients and is simple to prepare. It is poured over the cake — which is almost completely cooled — for a silky finish that remains like fudge beneath the high gloss glaze.
I think I love this because it finishes the cake with a luxurious chocolate flavor without overpowering the flavor of the cake. Merely a complement.
There are a number of recipes for ganache, so find your favorite and use it.
8 oz. best-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 C. heavy cream
2 or 3 T. liqueur (coffee, fruit or nut flavor), rum or brandy OR 1 tsp. vanilla
Combine the chocolate and cream in top pan of double boiler set over hot water. Heat until chocolate melts. Remove from heat and stir to blend well. Stir in liqueur or flavoring. Allow to cool until just barely lukewarm, then pour generously over a cake set on a rack over a tray. Tilt the cake to help the glaze flow.
May be garnished but it is beautiful as is.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
This is what most of us think of when we say pound cake. A somewhat dense cake, it is nonetheless rich, moist and packed with flavor.
This is perfect for those times you want something slightly sweet, yet not slathered with frosting.
If you’re counting calories or watching fat intake (aren’t we all?), substitute neufchatel for the cream cheese. You’ll at least feel like you’re trying to do a good thing for your body!
This cake was delicious from the start and did improve some with aging.
1-1/2 C. (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3 C. sugar
6 large eggs
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
3 C. all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/8 tsp. salt
Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until yellow disappears. Add vanilla, mixing well.
Combine flour and salt and gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition. Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan.
Fill a 2-cup, ovenproof measuring cup with water and place in oven with cake pan.
Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.
Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake
I found this recipe in the July/August 1998 Cooking Light magazine, and it’s one of my favorites. It is a truly remarkable cake, full of flavor and moist as they come; and to top it off, it’s lower fat than most pound cakes.
If you’re not familiar with neufchatel, it’s a low-fat cream cheese and is found with the cream cheese at your corner grocery. You’ll be pleased with it’s addition to this scrumptious dessert.
2 C. sugar
1/2 C. light butter
4 oz. neufchatel, softened
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
3 C. all-purpose unbleached flour
2 C. fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz. lemon low-fat yogurt
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C. powdered sugar
4 tsp. lemon juice
Beat first 3 ingredients on medium speed until well blended, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Spoon flour lightly into measuring cup. Combine 2 T. flour and blueberries in small bowl, toss and set aside. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour. Fold in blueberry mix and vanilla. Pour into 10” tube pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 10 minutes. Test with toothpick. Cool 20 minutes before removing.
If desired, drizzle with simple glaze. Or, if you can take a little extra time and want to go a little more elegant, use the following sauce which can be refrigerated but should always be served warm.
The perfect garnish for this, of course, would be fresh blueberries with a twist of lemon rind!
Alternative: Hot Lemon Sauce
1 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. lightly salted butter
1/4 C. water
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Whisk together all ingredients in a 1-1/2 qt. heavy-bottomed saucepan set over moderate heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 full minute. Remove from heat and serve warm.
Cherry Date Nut Pound Cake with White Chocolate Glaze
(Also known as Christmas Pound Cake)
This recipe was designed by my sister, Janet Sharrett in Lakeland, Fla. Actually, she should be writing this column as she has become quite a more accomplished baker than me. But she was glad to share this with us.
This cake really surprised me. When first baked, I was not really pleased with the flavor, but this one grew more moist and dense with each day it aged. It just got better and better.
I recommend using the White Chocolate Glaze that follows, as it adds a candy-like finish to the cake.
You could easily bake this two or three days before planning to serve it, which I actually recommend.
1 C. butter
3 C. Sugar
6 eggs (5 extra large)
3 C. all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C. sour cream
3 T. maraschino cherry juice
1 tsp. almond flavoring
1 C. candied cherries, chopped or halved
1 C. chopped dates
3/4 C. cut-up maraschino cherries
1 C. chopped nuts
Cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing just until yellow disappears. Mix soda with sour cream and add salt, then mix this alternately with flour to butter mixture. Add flavoring, stir in fruit and nuts. Bake in greased and floured tube or bundt pan at 300 degree for 1-3/4 hours, adding a 2-cup glass measuring cup of water to oven. Cake is done when wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
White Chocolate Glaze
In saucepan, mix 1/4 C. cream and 1 C. white chocolate chips. Heat and stir until chips are melted. Add approximately 2 C. confectioners sugar, stirring until smooth and of a pourable consistency. Pour over cooled cake, allowing the glaze to run down the sides of the cake.
Can be garnished with candied fruit, nuts or shaved chocolate.