Over the course of this blog, I’ve made no secret that I love Cooks Illustrated. An embarrassing number of the recipes I’ve discussed come from their magazine and cookbooks. When I want to try a new dish, I check the CI recipe first. Why not? Even if it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for, they discuss the goals for each recipe so clearly that at least I’ll know that their recipe isn’t right for me. But often it is. I’ve made hundreds of their recipes, and about half of those have been the best version of that dish that I’ve ever eaten. Most of the rest have still been great. There’s a very few recipes that I haven’t cared for, but even most of those can be attributed to personal taste. Their Northern Cornbread wasn’t near sweet enough for me (or Dave), but they made up for it with their All-Purpose Cornbread, which is the best I’ve had.
But there’s no excuse for this pound cake. I made it the first time a couple of years ago, and it didn’t turn out quite right. I had such faith in CI and I was so used my oven overbrowning things that I was convinced the problem wasn’t with the recipe. I tried the same recipe (different oven) recently, but it didn’t rise much at all. I was exceedingly careful with the recipe – I tested the temperature of the butter before starting, and checked the temperature of the oven with an oven thermometer. Still, I decided that the error must have been mine, especially because the recipe was designed specifically to be foolproof. So I tried again. Same result.
See this picture from their website?
This flat (they call it “bad”) cake is exactly what mine looked like. CI states that a “flat and dense” pound cake will result if the butter is too warm and the batter is overbeaten. But I took the temperature of the butter before starting! And I followed the mixing times and cues in the recipe!
And, by the way, I’m a good baker. And I was careful. I’m blaming the recipe.
It’s missing an ingredient which is in most other pound cake recipes that I’ve seen – baking powder. However, I’ve seen a few blog entries with reviews for these pound cakes which have called the cakes dry. I did not want a dry pound cake. I wanted a rich and tender and buttery and moist pound cake.
And I already had a rich and buttery and dense pound cake. So I didn’t want to start with a whole new recipe. And there was another thing holding me to this recipe – the batter is possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. Ever. And this is from someone who makes chocolate chip cookies just for the dough. I think this batter may be better than cookie dough. I didn’t want to lose that.
So I tweaked the recipe I’d been using. I simply added ½ teaspoon of baking powder with the flour.
And, oh my gosh, if this isn’t now a completely fantastic dessert. Every bite I took of this adapted pound cake was delightful. It’s buttery, it’s tender, it’s not a bit dry, and it’s not a brick of cake. The best part was the top crust, which was all of those things plus caramelized. I’m considering adding an additional ¼ teaspoon baking powder next time, but it’s not really necessary. I’m perfectly happy with this cake as it is. Just don’t trust the original recipe.
Classic Pound Cake (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)
Makes one 9 by 5-inch loaf
CI note: As directed in the recipe, the butter and eggs should be the first ingredients prepared so they have a chance to stand at room temperature and lose their chill while the oven heats, the loaf pan is greased and floured, and the other ingredients are measured. Leftover cake will keep reasonably well for up to 3 days if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature.
Bridget note: Add baking powder with the flour! ½ to ¾ teaspoon of it. I also added the seeds of one Tahitian vanilla bean with the eggs and vanilla extract.
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, plus extra for greasing pan
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¾ cups cake flour (7 ounces), plus extra for dusting pan
½ teaspoon table salt
1¼ cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces)
1. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and place in bowl of standing mixer; let stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes to soften slightly (butter should reach no more than 60 degrees). Using dinner fork, beat eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in liquid measuring cup until combined. Let egg mixture stand at room temperature until ready to use.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust pan liberally with flour and knock out excess.
3. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, beat butter and salt at medium-high speed until shiny, smooth, and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to medium; with mixer running, gradually pour in sugar (this should take about 60 seconds). Once all sugar is added, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white in color, 5 to 8 minutes, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once. With mixer running at medium speed, gradually add egg mixture in slow, steady stream; this should take 60 to 90 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl; beat mixture at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes (mixture may look slightly broken). Remove bowl from mixer; scrape bottom and sides.
4. In 3 additions, sift flour over butter/egg mixture; after each addition, fold gently with rubber spatula until combined. Scrape along bottom of bowl to ensure that batter is homogenous.
5. Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 70 to 80 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes; invert cake onto wire rack, then turn cake right side up. Cool cake on rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. Slice and serve.