(The reason I’m talking about pound cake and not this week’s chosen recipe is because I’m off gallivanting around Italy and have been since before this month’s recipes were chosen.)
(Sorry to brag!)
I’m under no illusions that pound cake is easy despite its simple ingredients. In fact, it’s just the opposite – without any fancy flavors spicing things up, there’s no disguising an imperfect texture. After struggling with a traditional pound cake recipe that kept baking up too dense, I finally gave up and moved on to one in which the egg whites are whipped separately, which is the only leavener in the recipe. It guarantees a light texture without drying out the cake.
The majority of blog entries on Dorie’s recipe, which uses baking powder as the leavener, mention that it’s dry. I was tempted to tweak the ingredients to remedy any potential problems, but instead, I made the recipe exactly, following my best baking procedure – butter that’s soft but not too soft, all ingredients at room temperature, gradually adding each new ingredient, sifting the flour and gently folding it in rather than letting the mixer do the work (and potentially overmix the dough). But with ½ to ¾ cup more flour in this compared to my other recipes for the same amount of butter, and ¼ cup less sugar, I was worried that it was hopeless. If nothing else, I figured, pound cake is my absolute favorite thing to bake, so I wouldn’t be sad if it wasn’t perfect in the end.
And while it may not have been as moist as my favorite pound cake, it wasn’t dry. It was dense, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a cake like this. And it tasted just like pound cake should – like sweet butter with a hint of caramel from the browned edges. In the end, I would call this a success.
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Perfection Pound Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)
I used cake flour, and I strongly recommend that you do as well. As I show at the end of this entry, cake flour makes a lighter, more tender pound cake. I did not put the loaf pan on sheet pans during baking, because that trick tends to result in under-risen cakes for me. This could have resulted in a shorter cooking time – I took the cake out of the oven at 60 minutes, when it was golden brown and a toothpick came out dry.
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour (or 2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated – don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.
Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5-inch pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.
Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.
Wrapped well, the cake will keep for 5 to 7 days at room temperature (stale cake is great toasted) or up to 2 months in the freezer.