Sometimes it’s the recipes that seem the simplest that can give us the most trouble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people lamenting about their chocolate chip cookies. We think that because the recipe is ubiquitous that we should all do it well, but truthfully, many cookies are finicky – if your butter is too warm, or your flour measurements are off slightly, or your oven temperature isn’t stable, your cookies can end up flat or greasy or burned.
Pound cake, with only a few ingredients, is often even more fussy. Those ingredients need to be combined just right to produce a light, moist, buttery cake. In fact, I think pound cake is the perfect recipe to teach yourself the particulars of baking, because every detail counts – the eggs should be room temperature, the butter needs to be soft but not too soft, the sugar and eggs have to be gradually added to the butter mixture, the flour must be sifted and gently folded into the batter. These steps can make or break a traditional pound cake, and following them carefully will also improve your cookies and layer cakes.
Fortunately, this recipe makes it easy on you by separating the eggs, beating the whites until they’re fluffy and light, and folding the meringue mixture into the dough at the end. The light egg whites provide insurance against a dense cake without making it dry.
Also, bourbon. Is good. I suppose you can leave it out if you’re not into alcohol or you just want a great classic pound cake, but the bourbon is great in this because the flavor really stands out. Primarily because the bourbon’s mild smokiness compliments the other flavors, but also because that’s just a heck of a lot of bourbon to add to a cake.
I used to think this other recipe was my favorite pound cake, but not anymore. This one is not only more dependable, it’s just better. It rises higher, plus? It tastes like bourbon.
If you’ve been directed here from the Intelligencer and would like to see the cookies also discussed in the article, click here.
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Bourbon Pound Cake
It’s easier to separate eggs when they’re cold, but they behave better in baking when they’re at room temperature. I suggest separating them when you take the butter out of the fridge to warm, then leaving them at room temperature for about an hour, until you’re ready to bake.
The easiest way to sift ingredients if you don’t have a sifter is to put them in a fine-mesh strainer and shake and tap the pan over the bowl that you’re sifting into.
You can also double this recipe and bake it in a tube pan for about 90 minutes.
4 eggs, separated
1¼ cup (8¾ ounces) sugar, divided
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cup (6 ounces) cake flour
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour (or spray with baking spray) a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until they form soft mounds. With the mixer on medium-high speed, gradually add ½ cup (3.5 ounces) of sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks. If you’re using a stand mixer and only have one bowl, transfer the egg white mixture to another bowl and rinse and dry the mixer bowl.
3. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter to the mixer bowl (or a large mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the butter is soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the salt, then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the remaining ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar. Continue mixing on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the bourbon and vanilla extract in a small measuring cup. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the egg yolk mixture. Once the eggs are in, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2-3 minutes.
4. Sift one-third of the flour over the butter/egg mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour until it’s evenly dispersed but not completely mixed in (as shown in the fourth photo). Add half of the beaten egg whites and continue folding until evenly dispersed. Repeat with another third of the flour, then the rest of the egg whites. Sift the remaining flour into the batter and fold until it’s completely mixed in and there are no pockets of dry flour.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. If the top of the cake is getting too dark before the center is baked, lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the cake. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then use a thin knife or spatula to loosen the cake from the edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, then turn it right-side up to continue cooling. Serve the cake at room temperature.
I compared this cake made with cake flour (left) and all-purpose flour (right). The version made with cake flour rose higher and was lighter and fluffier, but the cake made with all-purpose flour was still very good.