Vanilla Pound Cake
This vanilla pound cake is classic in all the best ways. It has a buttery, soft crumb and a decadent glaze, an it’s just begging for some fresh berries and whipped cream on top.
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Photography Credit: Sally Vargas
Pound cake is the best friend of the dessert world. It’s not fussy. It can be dressed up with whipped cream and berries, slathered with butter and placed on a grill, or simply sliced and enjoyed alongside a steaming cup of coffee. It’s happy to be loved exactly as it is.
THE HISTORY OF POUND CAKE
Perhaps pound cake feels so lived-in because it’s an old recipe with simple ingredients that’s been passed verbally from one cook to the next.
The cake actually predates its American arrival in Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American Cookery, which is recognized as the first American cookbook. This revolutionary book was the first on record to incorporate locally available foods such as turkey, cranberries, and corn.
It also included a very simple recipe for pound cake, which acquired its name because the baker needed 1 pound each of eggs, flour, sugar, and butter to make it. Simmons’ recipe also calls for a “gill,” or 4 ounces, of rosewater (which was more widely available and less expensive than vanilla) and spices as you wish.
MAKING MY OWN POUND CAKE
For this recipe, I wanted a classic pound cake with simple vanilla flavor. I replaced the rosewater in that original American recipe with vanilla extract and opted not add any additional spices. I aimed for a pound cake with a buttery, yellow, soft crumb, and with a crisp and golden outer edge. It’s lightly sweet and sturdy.
You can bake this cake it in a loaf pan, bundt cake, mini loaves or even cupcake tins, but for this recipe, I chose to use a loaf pan because I think loaves provide the greatest flexibility when it comes to serving pound cake. It’s much easier to toast or grill a slice of cake than a wedge of cake. (Keep in mind that this is a dense cake and even in a loaf pan it will take more than an hour to bake.)
For an extra touch of sweetness, I created a vanilla glaze to pour over the finished cake.
NO NEED FOR MILK IN THIS POUND CAKE!
Many recipes for pound cake add milk, sour cream, or some other form of dairy to help keep the cake moist, but in my tests, I found it wasn’t necessary.
I made a version with plain yogurt, another with milk added to the basic batter, and a third without any dairy. The loaf made without either dairy was tender and moist, and also had a better crust and a higher rise than those made with it.
EGGS GIVE THE CAKE ITS LIFT
People often do a double take when they see a cake recipe lacking baking powder or soda, but you are correct to leave them out with this recipe.
Traditional pound cake predates modern leavening agents. Instead, it gets its rise from the eggs and the air beaten into the batter. Eggs provide leavening in two ways:
- First, eggs are loaded with water and as the flour absorbs water it begins to form the structure of the cake. That liquid transforms into steam during baking and helps the cake rise.
- Second, cakes get a lift from the protein in the eggs. When eggs are beaten, air is incorporated into them, forming bubbles. The bubbles expand in the heat of the oven to give the cake additional leavening.
The real secret to pound cake without leavening agents? Add the eggs one at time until fully incorporated and scrape down the bowl between each addition.
WAYS TO SERVE YOUR POUND CAKE
The greatest power of pound cake is its versatility. You can serve it so many ways, below are a few of my favorites:
- Slather with butter, toast in a skillet (like grilled cheese), then dust with powdered sugar and top with macerated warm berries. Serve warm.
- Slather with butter, toast in a skillet, and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzle with chocolate or warmed Nutella
- Top with whipped cream, lemon curd and berries
- Dress it up with a lemon glaze and strawberry slices
- Use it for ice cream sandwiches
- Grill slices of pound cake and top with summer fruit
- Pound cake topped with bananas and honey
You get the idea. The variations are endless.
HOW TO STORE, FREEZE, AND THAW POUND CAKE
Wrap the baked and cooled pound cake in plastic wrap and it will keep on the counter for four or five days (don’t store in the fridge; it will dry it out).
You can also freeze the cake. Wrap the whole loaf tightly in plastic wrap and place it in a large zip-top bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.
When you are ready to serve it, unwrap and transfer it to a plate. Loosely cover it with plastic wrap and let it thaw. How fast a cake thaws depends on the temperature of your kitchen, but in general two hours should do the trick. Don’t be tempted to thaw it in the microwave or a warm oven; the cake will dry out.
Should your thawed cake seem a little dry, make a simple syrup with equal parts water and sugar and brush it on individual slices of the cake. No one will ever know you made the cake three months ago or that it’s been hanging out in your deep freeze.
WAYS TO ADAPT THIS RECIPE
Pound cake is also a very adaptable recipe and takes well to a wide variety of simple tweaks. Try any of these:
- Add the juice and/or zest from lemons or oranges
- Add rum
- Soak with a flavored simple syrup
- Replace vanilla extract with almond extract
- Fold in dried fruit
- Top with nuts
- Fold in blueberries
To make the pound cake as cupcakes you just need to reduce the cooking time. Start checking at 20 minutes. They are finished when a skewer poked into the center of the cupcake comes out without crumbs.
To make the pound cake in a bundt pan, make sure the pan is well greased and floured. Depending on the size of your bundt pan may need to double the recipe to fill it. That being said, don’t fill it to the top because the cake will rise.
MORE EASY LOAF CAKE RECIPES
Vanilla Pound Cake Recipe
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
For the vanilla glaze
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1 Prep the oven and pan: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and dust 1 8×4-inch loaf pan with flour.
2 Beat the butter and sugar: In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar, butter, and vanilla extract on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat for another 30 seconds.
3 Beat in the eggs: Add eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg is fully incorporated and scraping down the bowl before adding the next egg.
4 Mix in the flour: With the mixer on low speed add in the flour and mix just until a batter is formed, but you still see some streaks of flour. Use a spatula to finish folding the dough together. It should be thick.
5 Bake the cake: Scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
6 Cool the cake: Remove the cake from the oven. Run a thin knife around the edges while still warm, then cool for 15 minutes in the pan before unmolding. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
7 While the cake cools, make the glaze: Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, and extract. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the glaze is a smooth, pourable consistency.
8 Glaze and serve: Pour the glaze over cooled cake. The cake can be served immediately, or you can wait for the glaze to dry, then cover with plastic wrap and store on the counter for up to 5 days. The cake can also be tightly in plastic and frozen for up to three months.
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