I'm a decent cook. I consider myself more of a "feeder" (Nora Ephron's brilliant coinage) than a cook. I can make certain foods; I can make a good sandwich and an OK meal. I can feed my family and my guests, but I don't know how to make a béchamel sauce (or even know what exactly that is.) I don't have a bunch of cookbooks. I generally don't make new foods or follow recipes or read the food sections of newspapers. I don't consider myself a "foodie" in any way. I like food; I'm just not insane about it. I do what I can.
But I love do pound cake and resolved a few years ago to learn how to make a GREAT pound cake. So what did I do? I went to the fount of all information, the Internet, and searched for "best pound cake recipe."
Quite a few recipes came up, but some I eliminated. I decided that I didn't want to make a sour cream pound cake or a vanilla pound cake or one that had weird ingredients like shortening or almond extract or salt. I considered Elvis Presley's favorite pound cake but eliminated that one: too much heavy cream. Eventually I got down to a recipe that I tried out and has proven to be a big success with my family, my guests and my own gluttonous, sweet-toothed self.
You might ask, why pound cake? There are many reasons.
Pound cake is versatile.
You can eat pound cake plain, or you can dress it up with fresh berries ... or ice cream ... or hot fudge ... or toasted coconut ... or all of the above. The Tiny Goddess and I are going to serve it at a dinner party we're giving this weekend, so our diet-conscious guests can just have a slice – or nothing – and our regular-eaters can pile on the ice cream, hot fudge, etc.: whatever they want.
Pound cake is good with different beverages. I like to have it with coffee (often with a shot of Kahlua or Tia Maria in the coffee). I also like to have leftover pound cake the next day with a glass of cold milk.
The Tiny Goddess tells the story of how she once bought a bottle of the legendary, expensive Sauterne dessert wine -- Chateau d'Yquem -- for her father to enjoy with her mother's pound cake.
Pound cake is good all by itself.
My plain creamy pound cake really doesn't need anything on it. It had the substance of a good slice of peasant bread, but it has the lightness of a brioche. It satisfies without needing anything else.
Pound cake is pretty.
I bake my pound cake in a bundt pan with fluted ridges on it. (For non-bakers, a bundt pan is the roundish one with the big hole in the middle.) My cake is a lovely lemon yellow color inside, with a thin, crispy golden brown crust. Since we now buy our eggs at our local farmer's market, the eggs we use have electric-yellow yolks. This cake should be really pretty: van Gogh yellow inside.
The shape is attractive, and the fluted ridges help guide me for accurate, proportional slice-cutting.
Pound cake is good at all times of the day.
I'm making it to be an after-dinner dessert, but a plain piece of pound cake is great in the morning with breakfast. It's also good with for a mid-morning snack with your re-heated coffee.
Pound cake before bed with a little warm milk will calm the stomach and promote good dreams and deep sleep. And you won't wake up in the morning hungry.
Pound cake is good in different quantities.
A big slice of pound cake is generally better than a small one, unless the slice is intended to be the foundation of a larger edifice of add-ons (see "versatile" above).
But sometimes a sliver of pound cake is just enough to satisfy ... although sometimes you might need a second sliver.
Pound cake is neat.
Unless you put a lot of stuff on your pound cake, you can eat pound cake with your fingers. You can break off a piece with your fingers and pop it into your mouth without making a huge mess. You might drop a few crumbs, but my pound cake is not particularly crumbly: it's moist. And there is no icing, only a light dusting of powered sugar, which is not very messy.
Pound cake is portable.
When you're in a rush, it is extremely easy to cut off a piece of pound cake and take it with you as you're going out the door. You can hold the piece in one hand and eat it as you're gathering up your phone-wallet-and-keys, etc. with your other hand. Try doing that with a piece of Boston cream pie.
Pound cake is democratic.
Everyone likes pound cake. It is plain, inoffensive, and unpretentious, especially when you don't put any white icing on it (as I am sometimes tempted to do). Who could turn down a plain piece of pound cake, whatever the time of day? It's not a major investment in anything heavy. Even if you had an upset stomach, a good piece of pound cake might actually fix your stomach with its creamy, calming consistency ... once you've chewed it up and swallowed it.
Frankly, I would be suspicious of anyone who doesn't like pound cake.
Pound cake is inexpensive.
There are no fancy ingredients in pound cake. Unless you top it with expensive toppings – melted Belgian chocolate? Artisanal ice cream? – you can't spend a lot on this great, crowd-pleasing dessert. The money you save on this dessert, you can spend elsewhere in your menu-planning
Pound cake is durable.
Even after a few days, I can still eat pound cake. Even the driest, mangiest leftover piece can be brought back to life with a little microwaving. Ten seconds, and it's like it's right out of the oven.
Pound cake is basic.
I pursue the Basic in life. At this point in my life, I'm only interested in doing what I want to do, what really makes me happy: I like to eat what I like, read and watch and listen to what I like. At this stage, I don't have to bother with stuff I don't like, and pound cake makes me happy. It's one of the simple, reliable joys of my life.
Here is the can't-miss recipe. It really works:
PRETTY GOOD POUND CAKE
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
• 3 cups sugar
• 5 eggs
• 3 cups cake flour
• 1 cup milk
• 2 teaspoons lemon extract
• Special equipment: a 10-inch bundt pan, greased and floured
In a large bowl, using a mixer, combine the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the lemon extract. Spoon the batter into the prepared (buttered and floured) pan.
Place pan in a cold oven and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Bale cake for 1 hour. Increase the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes more.
** Note: Do not open the oven door while baking.
Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn over onto a wire rack to cool.
Garnish according to your whim. I just dust with a little powdered sugar, but if someone tried a thick vanilla icing on it, I might be tempted to have a slice.
Try it. The cake with a thousand uses, a thousand personalities.
OBLIGATORY MUSIC LINKS
I wish I liked Van Halen more, or I'd put up a link to their song "Pound Cake," which is a great title for a hard rock song. Just not this one. I admire Eddie's "doodily-doodily-doodily" technique, but they never were my thing. Too bad, because they are the legendary local (Pasadena) band made good.
So since I didn't choose Elvis' favorite pound cake, grab your grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches and watch some of the King himself:
Elvis – "If I Can Dream" from the 1968 Comeback special
Elvis – "Trying To Get To You" – from the 1968 Comeback special
Elvis – "Burning Love" from the Hawaii TV special – a "hunka-hunka" burning Elvis – with stinging James Burton guitar licks + a rehearsal tape version
Elvis – live "Suspicious Minds" from 1970
Elvis – live "Good Rockin' Tonight" – the song that started it all on July 30, 1954 at the Overton Park Band Shell in Memphis