The Classic Pound Cake with No Leaveners
Why do we have the word “classic” in the title? Because we want to make a point about leaveners. A true, old-fashioned pound cake is leavened by the eggs and does not contain baking powder or soda and that is what you will find in our recipe here. That said, the reason it is called “pound” cake is because it traditionally also had a pound of each of the four main ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs and butter. We tweaked the ratio of ingredient a tiny bit but we find that the lack of leavener is not a hindrance and in fact yields the velvety, rich quality we love in a pound cake. The close crumb and dense but moist texture differentiates it from yellow cakes (like you would find in a layer cake). For snacking and enjoying alongside a cup of tea or coffee, few cakes can compare to a pound cake.
This pound cake, again with a nod to the traditional, is all about the butter flavor and not “vanilla”. This one has only a small amount of vanilla to balance the taste, but still allows the butter to shine through. This would be a good time to talk about the butter. Since this cake is so focused on this dairy ingredient, make sure you use unsalted as called for and make sure it is fresh. I have made this cake using high-fat European style butters and it does work and yields an extra rich cake. But I have to tell you, this cake is rich enough as it is. I suggest making it as written first.
Pound cakes have been made for decades and certainly before electric mixers were available or in use. That said, because of the lack of leaveners, the creaming of the butter and sugar and the thorough beating after the addition of the eggs are all key points in the recipe. I also like using superfine sugar as it dissolves more readily during the creaming stage. You will see that it is added slowly. Don’t rush this part of the recipe. This early stage of the recipe is where you are creating the cake’s structure. There will be quite a lot of beating and I wouldn’t dream of making this without my stand mixer.
The cake flour should be sifted and measured. Pay attention to this point, too. It will be folded in by hand and should be light and fluffy and free of lumps.
- 1⅔ cups sifted cake flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup (2 sticks; 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
- 1⅓ cups superfine sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Set oven rack to center position. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat an 8-inch x 4-inch metal loaf pan with baking nonstick spray (the kind with fat and flour), such as Baker’s Joy. Line the bottom with a strip of parchment paper that extends up and out of the short sides of the pan; coat the paper as well.
- Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
- Whisk eggs together in a large measuring cup or whisk in a bowl and transfer to a pitcher with a spout.
- Beat butter with electric mixer (use flat paddle if using stand mixer) until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Use time cues as suggestions but primarily look to the visual cues throughout the recipe.
- Gradually add the sugar (in quarter-cup amounts; you can do this by eye) and beat on high speed until mixture has lightened and is very fluffy. This might take as long as 3 to 5 minutes; scrape down the bowl once or twice during beating. Do not rush this step. The mixture should be room temperature at this point. Turn off the mixer and touch it to check. Keep beating if it is cool to the touch. Beat in vanilla.
- Add the eggs about a tablespoon at a time (you can do this by eye), beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl occasionally. Once all the eggs are added beat mixture for about 30 seconds to make sure it is thoroughly combined. The mixture should be smooth and satiny. If it looks curdled or separated in any way it is because the mixture is still too cold. Let the mixture sit to warm up a bit and beat again, looking for the visual cues as described above.
- Remove bowl from stand mixer (if using) and sift about one-third of the flour/salt mixture over the batter and use a large silicone spatula to gently fold in the dry mixture. Stop when there are a few floury streaks remaining then add next batch of flour mixture and continue until all flour/salt has been added. Make sure all of the flour/salt mixture has been incorporated into the batter to create a thick and smooth homogenous batter.
- Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with small offset spatula. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick just tests clean. The toothpick should look a bit moist and not bone dry. Rotate the pan once front to back halfway through baking. The range of time will depend on the temperature of your ingredients when the cake went in the oven. Cool pan on rack for about 10 minutes then unmold, peel away parchment, place loaf upright and cool completely. Store at room temperature well wrapped with plastic wrap for up to 4 days.
- The texture and flavor of the cake improves after sitting overnight.
- The pound cake will also slice best after a night’s rest, well wrapped on the counter.
- Do not refrigerate as that will dry out the cake.