I’m sorry to say that this is not the best pound cake I’ve ever made. That distinction belongs to the first recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. Her aptly named Perfect Pound Cake really is all that you expect from a pound cake – dense, slightly sweet, and heady with vanilla. As you’ll see, this cake is none of that.
First let’s talk about the concept, #46: Creaming Butter Helps Cakes Rise. According to the fine folks of Cook’s Illustrated, creaming butter with sugar makes the butter malleable and more able to accept other ingredients, as well as incorporating plenty of air, which gives the cake its lift. This is important in recipes like this pound cake, which have no additional leaveners. The temperature of the butter is also important. If it’s too warm (above 60 degrees), it will be too soft and unable to hold the air bubbles and the resulting cake will be flat. The butter should still be cool, yielding only slightly to pressure.
There are some major differences between this and Beranbaum’s cake. If you’re familiar with her baking style, you know she doesn’t cream butter. Instead, she mixes the dry ingredients, then adds the butter and some of the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, etc.), then the remaining wet ingredients. Beranbaum’s reason for doing this is that since all of the dry ingredients are added at the beginning they are dispersed more evenly. Additionally, because the butter coats some of the gluten-forming proteins in the flour, you can still use the mixing process to incorporate air into the batter without toughening the cake. She also uses baking powder. I’ve made numerous cakes using this method and it’s never done me wrong. I’d rather have a non-traditional pound cake that tastes good than one that, literally, falls flat.
I take a few issues with CI’s cake recipe here. One, it was too sweet to my tastes. It includes a half cup of sugar more than Beranbaum’s. Two, the almond version of this cake wasn’t terribly almondy. It could have used many more almonds on top and maybe even some almond flour, in addition to the almond extract. And three, there was too much batter for the pan! Despite using the recommended 8½” x 4½” pan, I could tell that it was too small. I filled it anyway, only to find my suspicions had been correct. Instead of that nice domed shape we associate with pound cake, my cake had no space to rise and pushed up and over the sides of the pan, leaving the top flat with some crispy overhang.
Now, it’s entirely possible I measured something incorrectly, but when I compare this recipe to Beranbaum’s it’s clear that this batter has far more bulk than hers. I don’t think the fault is mine. So the lesson here is that I will stick with Beranbaum’s most Perfect Pound Cake, and chalk this one up to one of CI’s rare failures.
Want to give it a try yourself anyway? Here’s what I did:
Place 16 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, in a bowl and let sit at room temperatore for 20-30 minutes. Beat 3 large eggs, plus three large egg yolks, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1½ teaspoons almond extract in a bowl. Let the egg mixture sit at room temperature until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 325° and grease and flour your loaf pan (I also used parchment paper).
Beat the butter and ½ teaspoon salt at medium-high speed with an electric mixer 2-3 minutes, until shiny, smooth, and creamy. Scrape down the bowl, reduce the speed to medium, and gradually add 1¼ cup granulated sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 5-8 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl once. Reduce the speed to medium again and gradually add the egg mixture. Beat at medium-high speed 3-4 minutes, until the batter is light and fluffy. Sift 1¾ cup cake flour over the batter in 3 additions, folding with a rubber spatula after each addition, until all the flour is incorporated.
Pour into your prepared pan, smooth the surface, and sprinkle 2 tablespoons sliced almonds over the top. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn it out of the pan and let it sit right side up on the rack for at least 2 hours before slicing.
I’m not saying that I didn’t eat that cake anyway. But, may you have better luck than me.