pound cake the southern way

four delicious recipes

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPHS

Ever wondered how pound cake got its name? After all, it’s a rather curious moniker, seemingly meaningless, not in the least descriptive of how the cake tastes or looks. If we are told that a cake is chocolate or coconut or caramel, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But pound cake? What does a pound taste like? Or look like? Does the name mean that the cake weighs a pound? It’s all very confusing.

Actually, pound cake takes its name from the original formula for the dessert: The recipe called for a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The cake is British in origin, and recipes date back to at least the early 18th century. Pound cake followed the spread of the British Empire, establishing itself firmly in America, among other places.

Apart from professional bakers and pastry chefs, very few people weigh ingredients today (although that method is more accurate), so recipes rarely hew to the original. In addition, culinary experimentation and changing tastes have resulted in many variations on the basic pound cake. The names of contemporary versions (such as chocolate or lemon) usually convey a sense of what the cake will taste like.

In Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, his superb book on Southern baking, Bill Neal observed that, “The traditional English pound cake was the heart of Southern desserts for hundreds of years. Extended, sweetened, brandied, it became the fruitcake, white and dark, and developed into specifically Southern types such as the Mississippi Praline Pound Cake, rich in the classic Southern combination of brown sugar, bourbon, and pecans.”

Neal’s book includes a recipe for Rosewater Pound Cake, flavored with an essence that we don’t usually associate with Southern baking, but as he makes clear, roses formerly had many culinary uses in America. An intriguing variation on that theme is a recipe I came across that calls for lining the baking pan with scented rose geranium leaves that impart their fragrance to the finished cake.

Orange-Pecan Pound Cake

Grind pecans in a food processor, or use pecan meal, which is available in some grocery stores, particularly around the holidays.

1/2 pound butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup ground pecans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
For glaze:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan.

With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and orange zest, and mix well. Add the salt and baking powder, and mix well. Add the ground pecans, and mix. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined. Turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake in the preheated oven until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 60 minutes. (Check after 50 minutes, and place an aluminum foil tent over the pan if the cake is browning excessively.) Remove the cake from the oven, and place the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Run a thin spatula around the cake, and turn it out. Place the cake upright on a rack, and brush it all over with orange glaze.
 

Lemon-Sour Cream Pound Cake

This cake is good on its own or with fresh berries.

1/2 pound butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a large Bundt or tube pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and baking powder and soda, and mix to combine. Fold in the flour by cupfuls until just combined. Fold in the sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, being careful not to overmix. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 75 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and place the pan on a rack for about 20 minutes. Turn it out, and place the cake upright on a rack to cool.

Brown Sugar-Cornmeal Pound Cake

Pound cakes made with cornmeal were once very common.
Old cookbooks call them “Indian meal” pound cakes.

1/2 pound butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, salt and baking soda, and beat well. Add the cornmeal and buttermilk, and beat to incorporate. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined. Turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake in the preheated oven until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and place the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Run a thin spatula around the cake, and turn it out. Place the cake upright on a rack to cool.

Mocha Pound Cake

Serve slices of this cake with coffee, vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream.

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup coffee liqueur, such as Kahlùa
1/2 pound butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
For glaze:
1/4 cup coffee liqueur


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan. Heat the chocolate and coffee liqueur in a double boiler until the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, salt, baking soda and powdered instant coffee, and beat until mixed well. Add the chocolate mixture and the sour cream, and beat until mixed well. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined. Turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake in the preheated oven until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 70 to 75 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven, and place the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Run a thin spatula around the cake, and turn it out. Place the cake upright on a rack, and brush it all over with coffee liqueur. 

 

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Reader Comments:
Oct 15, 2011 09:43 pm
 Posted by  donthaveone

Can't wait to try some of these recipes. I was born down close to Louisiana and like all that stuff.

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