Old World Poundcake

Sunday March 27, 2011

baked in a bundt pan

I have a passion for poundcakes.  Of course they are dense and rich, they’re meant to be, but for a birthday or special occasion holiday, it is a dessert cake that reigns supreme.

I grew up with poundcake. By a baker named Sara Lee. Left out on the counter to defrost, we had it in slices for dessert with thawed frozen sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. Then day-old slices were put in the toaster, carefully, and buttered. It was a sweet treat to share with my father.

It was when I was teaching Montessori school in my 20s that one student brought homemade poundcake regularly in her lunch bag. Her mother was German and baked everything from scratch. The mistake was I tasted it. From then on, I was driven to master the art of the poundcake, which is an essential basic cake. But not altogether easy to get just right. The temperature of the ingredients and the mixing have to be just right.

After a few failures, I came across a Hungarian poundcake which had the extra touch of sour cream added. It

check out the texture

was a handed down family recipe. The batter was like fluffy silk and it turned out one of the most perfect cakes I ever baked. My search was over and now this is the only poundcake I make. Why bother trying a new recipe when this one is perfect. I included it in my Harvard Common Press revision of the Quick Breads book, one of my favorite books.

So here is the skinny on the technique. Classic pound cakes contain 1 pound each of sugar, eggs, and flour, and they grace many a colonial American and English cookbook, as well as being known as quatre quarts, or four quarters cake, in France.  Modern recipes use a variety of ingredient proportions, including sour cream, which allows for less butter to be used to create the ultra-smooth texture.  An electric mixer and a small amount of leavening is used to lighten the texture by incorporating plenty of air into the batter.

This batter is simpler to make than for a traditional poundcake, as the sour cream helps to keep the delicate balance between over and underbeating, as the batter can curdle easily or the sugar create white undissolved spots.  Although it is a masterpiece plain, if you grow scented geraniums (Pelargoniums), line the well-greased pan on all the sides and bottom with washed and patted dry leaves from unsprayed bushes.  Choose from flavors that range from nutmeg and rose to cinnamon and apple.  When you turn out the cake, the leaves will show and the aromatic leaves will infuse the cake with a unique delicate flavor.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days wrapped airtight, refrigerated 1 to 2 weeks, or freeze up to 4 months.  Display your beautiful creation by serving on a pedestal cake plate.  Poundcakes are never iced, although sometimes glazed, but crushed fresh berries are a nice accompaniment, and your own brandied fresh fruit is a real treat. I notice there is all sorts of fresh cherries showing up in the supermarket already.

photo courtesy of Simple Food

Use leftovers as a base for trifles, to create the ricotta-filled Italian cassata layer cake, or grind the crumbs to use as a filling for baked apples and peaches. You can also bake in two deep 9-inch layers, split them, and fill with whipped cream and berries or sliced stone fruit for a killer special occasion cake; its sort of shabby chic. I used to demo this cake all the time for menu classes needing a quick knock-them-out party cake.

You can also bake into six 5 3/4-by-3 1/2-inch disposable loaf pans, which are great for gifts (and don’t take up much space stored in plastic freezer bags in the freezer). Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Day–old poundcakes are great gently toasted in thick slices.

Hungarian Sour Cream Poundcake with Brandied Fruit


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (bleached is best as it has less gluten)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (non-aluminum please, such as Rumford)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (make it the best you can afford since the flavor is highlighted)


Preheat the oven to 350º (325º if a dark-cast pan is used).  Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan.  In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla, beating well until well blended and very fluffy.

With a large spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the top is golden brown and crusty, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.  Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out of the pan to set upright on a wire rack to cool completely.

made in a plain angel food cake tube pan

Brandied Fruit

No fancy canning necessary here…preserve the easiest way: with alcohol and refrigeration. This is a stone fruit recipe. Use Mason jars or spring top canning jars, which are pretty, available in hardware stores or at Cost Plus. Keep a jar in the fridge and use with roasted pork, over ice cream, with sour cream dabbed on top, or over pound cake.

Makes 1 quart


  • 3 to 4 cups fresh sweet cherries (pitted or unpitted, with the stem still attached okay) or halved and pitted fresh plums (about 2 pounds each)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 4 inches stick cinnamon, broken
  • 2-inch piece vanilla bean
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Brandy, eau de vie, or Cherry Marnier to cover


Place the fruit in a sterilized wide-mouth glass quart jar (I use the spring top style and run it through the dishwasher).  The fruit will almost fill the jar.

photo courtesy of culinate

Combine the sugar, spices, vanilla bean, and water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar.  Boil 1 minute without stirring.  Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes.  Pour the spiced sugar syrup, with the whole spices, into the jar over the fruit and top off with brandy (I use brandy or eau de vie for the plums and Cherry Marnier for the cherries) just to cover.  Cool.  Refrigerate 3 days to 1 week before serving.

To serve, use a slotted spoon to place drained fruit over slices of poundcake.  Add a large spoonful or two of the syrup, if desired.  Brandied fruit will keep in the refrigerator 3 months, with the flavor becoming stronger as it sits.

Excerpted from The Best Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

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