The Magic of Pound Cake
What’s amazing about pound cake is that it shouldn’t work at all. With only four official ingredients and no leavening, it can’t even exist, but it does.
Pound Cake’s Blurry History
Where the pound cake recipe originated is questionable. What we do know is that Pound Cake dates back to Northern Europe about 1700. We also know it got its unique name from the original ingredients: a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. But Four-Pound Cake doesn’t roll of the tongue the same way. Since the pound was a common British unit of measurement, it’s easy to think it a British recipe. But there are two problems with that. Pondo meaning weight goes back to Roman days. The other problem is that at the time the pound cake appeared in England, so did the exact same recipe in France called Quatre-Quarts or Four Quarters. And before the revolution, the French weighed things in pounds as well.
According to John Mariani in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, the first US print mention of pound cake was in Webster’s Dictionary in 1747. By the time American Cookery was published in 1796 (regarded as the first American cookbook) there was a second variation of ingredient amounts and spices were included to. Despite being an orchid pod of from the New World, vanilla was not a common ingredient in early Pound Cake recipes in the US. It was years after Thomas Jefferson brought the novelty of vanilla ice cream back from France that vanilla caught on as a flavoring by itself in the US.
Pound Cake Science
So how is it that a cake can rise with no leavening? Key to successful baking of the cake is two fold: A thick batter and air that gets trapped inside. As these tiny bubbles heat, they expand, causing the cake to rise. This is also the reason that cakes fall slightly when cooled. The resulting cake is dense, but not tough.
Modern pound cake mixes typically have more than four ingredients. Salt, vanilla, spices, flavorings and leavening are commonly incorporated into the mix now. But if you want to try the OG: mix the four ingredients bolded above and bake in a loaf pan at 350º for 45 minutes.
And if you’d like your pound cake with the Pourable Amour Chocolate Sauce above…
I get encouraged to write more food history articles when people treat me to a coffee below.