The Dutch Oven: Pound Cakes, The Workhorse of Southern Desserts

Hello readers, and welcome to The Dutch Oven, a mixture of tips and information about our wonderful Southern culinary culture. What you learn here should produce one, or all, of these comments: I should try that! I didn't know that! I can do that! Lift the lid and see what's inside today.

The beloved pound cake has been the workhorse of the Southern dessert sideboard for over 200 years. Simple in its ingredients and unpretentious in its presentation, a recipe was first published in America by Amelia Simmons in her 1796 cookbook 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. The recipe itself was not as long as the title of the cookbook, calling for just “One pound sugar, one pound butter, one pound flour, ten eggs, rose water one gill (a unit of measurement), spices to our taste; watch it well, it will bake in a slow oven in 15 minutes."

The basic recipe has lightened up a bit today (we don’t use a pound of everything) and almost everyone who bakes has a favorite pound cake recipe. The addition of favored spices, flavorings, and toppings can turn this simple cake into a family favorite.

It is inevitable, however, almost as sure as death and taxes, that whenever we run a new pound cake recipe we get a call from someone about a cake gone wrong. It rose beautifully, and then fell. It didn’t rise at all. The sugary crust on top separated from the rest of the cake. It had a sad streak. The recipe doesn’t have any leavening in it so it must be wrong.

As simple as the recipes are, so are the tips to baking a beautiful cake:

Spoon dry ingredients into a measuring cup and level it with a knife. Do not simply scoop and fill, as this can result in an inaccurate measurement.

Let your butter come to room temperature. Do not soften butter in the microwave or place it on top of a hot stove; partially melted butter will not have the same result as properly softened butter.

Cream the butter and sugar together so they are light and fluffy – this process creates air pockets which allow the cake to rise, and is why some pound cake recipes do not have added leavening ingredients. Scrape the bowl to make sure all the butter was blended; this will help prevent sad streaks.

Avoid overmixing – add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition, and gradually add flour, beating at low speed just until blended. Overmixing can cause the batter to overflow, a tough crust, and/or a heavy texture.

Thoroughly grease and flour your pan - this creates 2 layers of non-stick protection. The greasing agent (butter or shortening) will allow the flour to adhere to the pan. As the cake bakes, it will cling to the flour and not to the side of the pan. When baked and cooled the cake should release from the pan easily.

Always test for doneness - ovens vary and your bake time may be different than what the recipe suggests.

Follow cooling instructions - straight-from-the-oven cake is too delicate to be removed from the pan, but don’t wait too long or condensation will form and you will have a damp cake.

Quick prep time, freezable, transportable, dress it up with glazes and fruit or eat it plain with a glass of cold milk. What more can you ask for from the cornerstone of Southern cakes?

What is your favorite pound cake recipe? What is your method for baking a great cake? Leave your comments below or email testkitchen@timeinc.com.

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