Schatzi: I was fairly young when I began my love affair with pound cake; I must have been in second or third grade. The first one I ever had was a Sara Lee frozen pound cake, and I still enjoy them today—especially peeling off the soft brown crust and saving it to eat last. I could easily put one of those away in one sitting, I’m sure, though I have never tried it. It is pound cakes that I fantasize about eating, and pound cake recipes are my pornography.
When I want to bake a cake, I gravitate toward pound cakes, and often must force myself to try something else. I’ve baked any number of them over the years, and several are now permanently in my repertoire, (see Brown Sugar Pound Cake and Eggnog Pound Cake), but I am always looking for new recipes. I’ve also always dreamt of baking Miss Sarah Pringle’s pound cake—the one with thirty-six eggs, thirty-six eggs!—mentioned in LM Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars, but I haven’t yet happened across a recipe for anything like. It is my tragedy. (Considering the number of eggs, and what I’ve observed in old recipes, I believe Miss Sarah’s pound cake was closer to a “great cake” than a standard pound cake. But one never knows.)
Modern pound cakes greatly differ from their forbears (like the thirty-six egg version), which did indeed use a pound each of the principle ingredients of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, and were then seasoned to taste with spices, spirits, citrus peel, currants, and/or rosewater. If you are unaccustomed to cooking with weights, allow me to illustrate for you what a pound of each is: four sticks of butter, two cups of sugar, at least six eggs, and three cups of flour. And that’s it, other than flavorems. That’s right, there is no leavening in an old-fashioned pound cake other than the air you beat into it.
Pound cake is Northern and Western European in origin, and has a similar name in other countries: the French gâteau quatre-quarts, the Spanish queque seco. The first extant printed English recipe for pound cake appeared in 1740, and the first American recipe was published by Amelia Simmons in her 1796 American Cookery: or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Puff-pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to plain Cake. (You’ve got to love those mile-long seventeenth and eighteenth century book titles.) By the start of the twentieth century, baking powder became a common addition to all cakes, and ingredients were adjusted to match. Though a few die-hards clung to their tried and true pound-of-everything recipes, even the venerable pound cake was eventually made over. And it’s unfortunate for us that it was.
You see, this week I happened upon Elvis’ Favorite Pound Cake while cruising the Internets for recipes; I don’t know how I ever missed it, but once I saw it, I knew I had to bake it. Not only were all the reviews raves, and not only do I love both Elvis Presley and pound cake, but the recipe is very close to an old-fashioned pound cake, though with less butter. It has no baking powder; all the air is beaten in during what would have been an exhausting mixing process had I not been using Eli’s Kitchen-Aid Pro mixer. And it really is just the best pound cake I have ever tasted: tender, velvety, moist, luscious—superlatives fail me! This is my ultimate pound cake recipe, the base for any and all future pound cakes. Well, I won’t give up on those I’ve already made, but this was definitely the King of All Cakes.
Make sure to bake it as instructed in either a Bundt pan or tube pan without a removable top. All I had at Eli’s was my angelfood pan with the removable top, and no parchment or substitute for it, so the pan had a leaking problem, and the oven got very smoky. It did not make the cake any less delicious, but I’m sure you don’t want to deal with a smoke alarm and batter-filled oven.
Elvis’ Favorite Pound Cake
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering pan
- 3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) plus more for dusting
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups sugar
- 7 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup heavy cream
Special equipment: a 10-inch tube pan (4 1/2 inches deep; not with a removable bottom) or a 10-inch bundt pan (3 1/4 inches deep; 3-qt capacity)
- Put oven rack in middle position, but do not preheat oven.
- Generously butter pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess flour.
- Sift together sifted flour (3 cups) and salt into a bowl. Repeat sifting into another bowl (flour will have been sifted 3 times total).
- Beat together butter (2 sticks) and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or 6 to 8 minutes with a handheld mixer. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add half of flour, then all of cream, then remaining flour, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down side of bowl, then beat at medium-high speed 5 minutes. Batter will become creamier and satiny.
- Spoon batter into pan and rap pan against work surface once or twice to eliminate air bubbles. Place pan in (cold) oven and turn oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in middle of cake comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool cake in pan on a rack 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around inner and outer edges of cake, then invert rack over pan and invert cake onto rack to cool completely.