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“A Sad Cake is a Happy Cake” — Pound Cake Tips

by on September 30, 2013 · 7 comments

Have you ever divided a tube pan sized pound cake recipe between two loaf pans, and then been disappointed to find your two loaf cakes had very flat tops? This has happened to me many times, including when I made the half size, loaf shaped version of Elvis Presley’s Favorite Pound Cake.

Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake

The texture is fine and it tastes great, but the flat top really takes away from the overall appearance.

I felt better this week after doing some pound cake research in BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes by Shirley Corriher.
In a section called “A Sad Cake is a Happy Cake”, Shirley recalls how she attempted to make a pound cake recipe given to her by three different people. She called it “The Great American Pound Cake” and noted that all versions had the ratios of 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups fat, 3 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 1 cup of liquid and 5 or 6 eggs. She went on to state that these ratios go against normal, successful cake ratios, but tested them anyway. What Shirley found was that when she divided this “Great American” ratio cake in two loaf pans, it tasted great, but fell flat. When she baked it in a 12 cup Bundt or 10 inch tube, it had a perfect appearance and texture. That, of course, was because tubes and Bundts are inverted and the top becomes the bottom. She concluded that those “Great American” pound cake ratios have an excess of fat and sugar and not enough protein structure to hold up a lovely domed loaf cake, and that if you want to make one of those really rich, dense “Great American” ratio cakes, you should use a tube or Bundt.

Six cup Bundt Pan

It’s good advice! But I’ve been thinking about that a lot and making a list of pound cakes that still look decent when baked as loaves (and are not inverted). The first one that came to mind was this Perfect Cream Cheese Pound Cake which has ratios similar to the “Great American” ratios, but calls for a brick of cream cheese instead of liquid.

perfect cream cheese pound cake

Another is Southern Living’s Smoothest Southern Pound Cake (here’s my halved lemon version), which leaves out some of the fat in the “Great American” ratio (but still has plenty), and calls for whipped egg whites to do the job of supporting the cake’s structure. It didn’t look too bad when I halved it and baked it in a loaf pan, but it looked a lot better when I baked it as a Bundt.

lemon-sour-cream-pound-cake

Mary Jo Bowen’s or “Best Pound Cake Ever” is also very good (and very similar to Southern Living’s).

Mary Jo Bowen Cake

And then there are the recipes that seemed to be designed especially for loaf pans. They’re usually not as dense and moist as the “Great American”, but a cake doesn’t have to be extremely dense and moist to be good. King Arthur’s Vanilla Pound Cake was delicious and had a wonderful crusty top and soft center. To get the structure they needed as well as a soft, tender, center, they combined bread flour with cake or pastry flour.

vanilla pound cake

My current favorite is Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Perfect Pound Cake which she designed for an 8×4 inch loaf pan. It’s definitely less sweet, and I’d say it’s less moist than other pound cakes, but it improves as it sits and if you add a glaze and/or icing and keep it covered for a day, it’s delicious and has a very fine, tight, crumb. Plus there’s the whole benefit of using the Two Stage method which seems so much more convenient than creaming.

perfect-pound-cake-four

Another cake designed for a loaf pan is Cook’s Illustrated Classic Pound Cake from 2007 from the January 2007 issue of Cook’s illustrated. The article that accompanied it was very informative, but the cake had a lot of egg flavor. Even though I didn’t particularly care for the egg flavor, the article answered a lot of my questions on pound cake making technique, such as why the ingredients have to be room temperature, why eggs should be added very slowly, and why cake flour is usually a better choice.

Which brings me to the things I’ve learned. Some of you already know these, but I’m mentioning them again for people who know how to bake, but get frustrated with pound cakes for whatever reason.

1. Always bring your ingredients to room temperature. Using cold eggs means you have to beat them more to incorporate them and that process can break down the fine air bubbles you created while creaming the butter. There’s also the issue of cool butter “re-solidifying” and breaking apart of liquids are very cold, and this can lead to an uneven texture.
2. Add eggs to the batter slowly and in small parts. The reason for this has to do with the protein in the eggs. If you add eggs rapidly, they form a thick film over the other ingredients and the thick film causes creates more resistance to rising. Adding the eggs slowly coats the ingredients with a thin film. An example in the January 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated was that a thin balloon being easier to inflate than a thick balloon. You have to puff harder to get that thick balloon to puff up, so I suppose ingredients coated with a thick film of egg have to “puff harder” to rise as they bake.
3. Take the time to weigh everything, especially the flour. And if a recipe calls for sifted cake flour, definitely sift it before measuring. A cup of sifted cake flour only weighs about 3.5 oz, so if you try to substitute something crazy unsifted all-purpose, you’ll be using 4.5 to 5 oz per cup.
4. Don’t use the old cake flour substitute of AP flour plus cornstarch thinking you’ll get the same results. Cake flour is lower in protein than unbleached or all-purpose and has a different acidity. The only thing you can sub for cake flour with good results is all-purpose White Lily because it has less protein and is made with a soft wheat.
5. On the flip side, using cake flour in one made with all-purpose will give you different results than what the original recipe intended. Maybe that particular recipe needed the structure from all purpose’s extra gluten? I tend to prefer cake’s made with cake flour, but I have run across a few that work better with all-purpose.
6. Cold oven or low temperature pound cakes usually have a thicker crust.
7. This is an opinion, but I think that cakes made with a mixture of butter and shortening rather than just butter have a better texture.I sometimes swap out about a third of the butter for some shortening to get a better cake.
8. Pound cake gets better and better with age. Well, up to a point, I guess. But it definitely tastes better on Day 2 and even Day 3.
9. I think the texture improves a little bit if you freeze pound cake and then let it thaw.
10. For a finer crumb, measure your sugar as the recipe states, but grind it up in an old coffee grinder or food processor.

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Published on September 30, 2013

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue September 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

You wrote an excellent article on the subject of pound cake! Thank you!

Anna September 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Thank you, Sue. You are so nice. Sorry it’s so long! I’ve been referring to it as my pound cake manifesto.

I really need to break this cycle of being obsessed with pound cake, so if you have any good cookies recipes, let me know.

CindyD September 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Yes, this is a very interesting post.
I don’t have a recipe, but how about a double layer cookie for fall? Oatmeal and apple?
Pumpkin and blondie?

Stephanie @ Plain Chicken September 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Great tips! I am bookmarking this post for the next time I make a pound cake.

Anna September 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Cindy, that’s a neat idea!
Stephanie, I hope to see one on your site very soon.

stephanie September 30, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I can’t wait go through my saved recipes and make notations! This is some quality information – thank you so much. You should publish a book!! I would buy it.

T. Martin October 9, 2013 at 6:39 am

This post is such a great example that there is always something new to learn. Thnx Anna!

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