The pound cake is a true Southern classic that deserves to be passed to future generations. Here are tips and favorite recipes from family and friends to help you create the perfect pound cake that is moist with a delicate crumb and slightly crusty top that is similar to a sugar cookie.
Growing up, the vanilla and butter aroma of a baking pound cake was a familiar scent in our family kitchen. As one of her specialty recipes, my mother, Jane Conyers, has perfected the cakes using specific ingredients and directions to create show-stopping center pieces on the dessert table. It is the cake she makes for special family events, ladies circle meetings, church dinners, and gift giving. Her pound cake fits in any situation.
My friend and neighbor Jody Stringfellow enjoys baking pound cakes, and she loves sharing them with friends. She has often shown up at my door with a loaf of pound cake in hand. No reason, just southern hospitality. Her repertoire of pound cakes includes lemon, blueberry, sweet potato, and coconut to name just a few. Her pound cake is a gift made with love.
The pound cake has become the classic Southern wedding cake. The density of the cake makes it easy to transport and hold its shape under the weight of multiple layers and heavy icing. My cousin, Katie Gainey bakes wedding cakes with her specialty being a family pound cake recipe. Katie made our daughter’s wedding cake using this recipe and decorated it with a heavenly buttercream icing. It was perfect.
Katie’s recipe originated from her grandmother on her other side, as we say in the South. Ms. Frances was from the small town of Havana, Florida, where my dad had his first church and where I was born. Many of my mother’s recipes came from that lovely farming community including several of her pound cake recipes.
And yes, I said several. A basic pound cake recipe is like a blank canvas to which you can add different flavors and ingredients, creating endless options. It seems every family has at least one favorite pound cake recipe with tweaks and tips learned over the decades.
One of my favorite things about a pound cake is how versatile it can be. It pairs well with fruit, ice cream, and sauces. The pound cake doesn’t need icing, having the perfect flavor and light sweetness, but it can be iced for extra sweetness and to create beautifully decorated works of art. The classic pound cake has earned its place in Southern cuisine.
Many of Mom’s recipes have been passed down from friends and family, but she has made them her own. She knows all the tricks to make a perfect pound cake that is moist with a delicate crumb and slightly crusty top that is similar to a sugar cookie. It always tastes better when she bakes it, but I am thankful for the pound cake recipes and lessons she has shared. The pound cake is a true Southern classic that deserves to be passed to future generations.
Creating the perfect pound cake requires a little attention to detail.
Here are the basic steps and tips that apply to most pound cake recipes. Following these simple rules and you should get great results.
Mise en place: Have everything in place. Read through the entire recipe before you begin. Prepare ingredients before you start the mixer.
Follow the instructions. There are so many different recipes with many different ingredients, including sour cream, whipped cream, cream cheese, etc. The chemistry of the ingredients may require specific mixing instructions. Follow them for the best results.
Use good quality ingredients and check expiration dates.
Sift your dry ingredients together, so you get an even mix.
Because you are baking, unsalted butter is the best way to go. When you use unsalted butter, you control the amount of salt in your recipe. Adding salt, even a small amount, can alter the chemistry of the cake.
It is important to pay attention to the temperature of your pound cake ingredients. All ingredients should be at room temperature. Make sure your butter is soft but still solid and not starting to melt. Don’t microwave the butter to soften it. Have eggs at room temperature. Adding cold eggs will create a lumpy batter.
“The flour you use can noticeably affect the appearance and texture of the finished cake,” Jane says. “I prefer cake flour over all purpose. It makes a more tender cake that rises higher.”
Measure accurately. Use a dry measuring cup for the flour and sugar. Spoon into the cup and lightly level with the straight edge of a spatula or knife. Extra sugar can cause a cake to fall while extra flour makes it dry.
The creaming of the butter and sugar is a key skill in perfecting the pound cake. The crystals in the sugar cut through the butter adding air to the mixture. The cake will get its rise from these air bubbles expanding in the oven as the cake cooks. Beat softened room temperature butter (or other fat) at medium speed for one minute before you start adding the sugar. Gradually add the sugar in a stream. Mix until fluffy and pale in color. This can take up to 7 minutes depending on the power of your mixer.
Recipes handle the eggs differently, and there is a reason – so follow the recipe. Separate eggs and fold in whipped whites if that is what the recipes require.
Unless otherwise instructed, add eggs one at a time, beat each egg lightly with a fork before adding to the mixture. This will help keep you from overworking the batter. Beat each into the batter just until the yolk disappears. Overbeating the eggs will create a heavy cake and can cause the crust to crumble and separate from the cake as it cools.
Once the flour goes in, be careful not to overwork the batter, or the batter will deflate, and your cake will be flat and tough. Mix the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid in three/four additions at a low speed. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. This will prevent the batter from curdling and ensure that the dry and wet ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Mix just until barely blended after each addition. Many cooks fold the dry ingredients in my hand.
CHOOSING A PAN
A Southern pound cake is baked in a tube pan. The tube pan has the tube in the center with straight sides and a flat bottom. The straight sides and the tubed center cause the cake to cook evenly from all sides, creating a light and slightly flaky edge that can often taste like a thin cookie. Other pans can be used including a bundt pan, round cake pans, and loaf pans. An angel food cake pan and a tube pan are very similar, but the angel food pan has a removable bottom. It can be used for a pound cake, but the solid pan is preferred.
A bundt is a type of pan and not a type of cake recipe. Any cake made in a bundt pan can be called a bundt cake. The bundt pan has a center tube, rounded bottoms, and fluted decorative sides. While it makes a beautiful cake, these edges will cause the cake to cook differently. The batter concentrates on the sides and caramelizes on the ridges. The outside edges will be tougher and have a different texture from the center of the cake.
You can also bake the cake in round cake pans as in a wedding cake or birthday cake and use icing. Dividing the batter into smaller loaf pans make perfect gifts.
Grease the pan with a product like Crisco and dust with flour. Do not use a cooking spray. A slippery pan will keep the cake from properly rising.
Gently pour or spoon the batter into the pan leaving at least an inch at the top even if there is batter left over. Tap the pan lightly twice on the counter to settle the batter.
Place the cake in the center of the preheated oven and don’t open the door until the minimum cooking time has passed. Avoid slamming doors and jarring the oven.
“Don’t open and close the oven until the cooking time has ended,” Jane warns. “And above all, don’t slam doors (this includes the oven and doorway). You don’t want to jar the cake during the cooking and cause it to fall. “
Many home ovens do not heat to the temperature selected. Use an oven thermometer to check the oven temperature for accuracy.
When the minimum time passes, gently open the door and quickly test the cake. Test for doneness by inserting a wooden pick into the center of the cake. It should come out clean although a moist crumb is ok. Some cake recipes create a crack in the center of the cake that appears wet even when fully cooked. Avoid testing in this area.
Don’t underbake the cake, or it will fall or cave in during the cooling process and leave a heavy doughy edge on the bottom.
Pound Cakes should sit on a wire rack, in the pan, for a full 10-15 minutes before they are turned out. When you remove it from the oven, it is still baking, and this allows the cake to settle. By setting it on a wire rack, the metal pan cools evenly.
Timing is important because if it cools too long in the pan, it will get soggy and/or stick to the sides of the pan causing it to break when turning it out.
A pound cake is great to make ahead and will keep at room temperature for 4-5 days if tightly covered. Pound cake freezes nicely. It can be frozen whole or cut in slices for quicker thawing when unexpected guests arrive! Be sure the cake is completely cool. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then wrap with foil. Place in a zipper bag and freeze. The cake will last in the freezer for up to a year.
- 2 sticks of butter softened
- ½ cup Crisco
- 3 cups of sugar
- 5 eggs
- 2 tsp. Vanilla
- ¼ tsp. lemon extract
- 3 cups cake flour
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 cup of milk
- (OPTION add ½ cup cocoa sifted into the flour and eliminate lemon extract for a chocolate pound cake. )
- Prepare tube pan by greasing the shortening and dusting with flour. Preheat oven to 325?.
- Cream softened butter, Crisco. Add in sugar slowly beating until mixture is pale in color, light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time, mixing between each.
- Add flavorings.
- Sift flour, salt and baking powder (and cocoa if making a chocolate cake) and then remeasure to add exact amount to the cake.
- Divide the dry ingredients into 4 parts. Alternate adding one part flour and one part milk. Begin and end with flour.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and place in center of oven.
- Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
More Pound Cake Recipes: