Need an easy dessert that will still impress? With a pound cake, the possibilities are endless. Scatter it with fresh berries, garnish it with sweet cream, or drizzle it with chocolate sauce and you’ll see: it’s beloved for a reason.
As the name suggests, pound cake was traditionally made with equal parts butter, sugar, eggs, and flour—one pound of each, to be precise. (That’s why the French call it quatre quarts, or “four fourths.”) These days, however, most cooks tweak the proportions a bit, making it lighter and sweeter while still aiming for the pleasantly dense texture that made it a classic.
Still, while the formula is elementary, there are plenty of ways for things to go awry—resulting in a dry and leaden loaf that’s light years from the buttery, tender-crumbed confection we all know and love. But don’t worry: with this simple recipe and the reminders below, you’ll have everything you need to succeed.
Play With Proportions
Even if you’re making a “classic” pound cake, it’s best to shy away from the traditional ratio of equal parts butter, sugar, egg, and flour. Why? Flour and egg whites are drying, stabilizing agents which can easily strip the cake’s moisture. We like to use a touch more sugar for sweetness and a smidge of fat in the form of cream cheese, sour cream, or Greek yogurt. This not only adds tenderness, but also a tanginess that offsets the extra sugar and lends the cake complexity.
2. Get the Best Ingredients
You know the mantra: when you’re making a recipe with just a few ingredients, use the best materials you can find—because there’s not a lot to hide behind. For pound cake, quality cake flour, cane sugar, and organic eggs help, though they’re not essential. The splurge that does make a difference? Great butter. High-quality, European butters, like Kerry Gold or Plugra, have a higher butterfat-to-water percentage than most American brands and a noticeably better taste. And because butter is the star of a pound cake, it pays to use the best. The same goes for the co-stars, salt and vanilla: using high-quality kosher or crushed sea salt and a pure, potent vanilla extract will make a big difference in the finished cake.
3. Make Air Your Ally
Some modern recipes use baking powder to give pound cake its rise, but we prefer the old-school method of letting steam create lift. Here’s how: during the creaming stage of the recipe, when the butter is combined with sugar, let your beaters run for about 5 minutes if you are using a stand mixer, or 7 minutes if you are using a hand mixer. This ensures that the sugar dissolves into the butter and creates millions of tiny air pockets which, when baked, give off steam and raise the cake. Sure, all that beating takes a few extra minutes, but it also keeps the ingredient list short and classic. Another trick? Always use a loaf pan: its narrow width forces the cake batter straight up and gives it its characteristic cracked dome.
4. Keep Cool
One of the most important steps in successful baking is one many people neglect: the cooling. When a cake comes out of the oven, it’s like a toddler who hasn’t gotten his way: full of hot, unstable molecules that need time to settle down to their best state. So, be gentle with your cake and let it cool in the pan for about 20 minutes to allow the structure to set. Then, gently invert it and return it to a cooling rack to cool almost completely.
From there, you can treat the cake as a tasty blank canvas and decorate with all kinds of toppings: try a drizzle of yogurt and honey, a flurry of toasted coconut, a scoop of ice cream, or a dollop of lemon curd to name just a few. Or just slice it up and dig in—because, adaptable though it may be, great pound cake doesn’t need any gussying up.