A Cold Oven Is The Secret To Your Best Pound Cake Yet

Help your pound cake rise to the occasion.

Lemon-Lime Pound Cake
Photo: Hector Sanchez

When it's the season for a serious baking marathon, there are some days when we keep the oven running from morning until night, a steady stream of warm cakes and cookies flowing in and out of the kitchen. Different baked goods, however, bake at different temperatures.

There are some baking projects, like homemade bread, that can require a seriously hot oven—we're talking 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting bread at such a high temperature kicks off the baking process with what we call "oven spring," which is the initial burst of heat-propelled rise that helps a baked good gain great height.

Starting with a preheated oven is essential when you're baking pastries that rely on an initial spring of heat to gain lift and rise. But what if you're baking something that does not require an initial burst of heat? These are the cases in which starting with a cold oven might be to your benefit.

There is a whole category of cakes—fondly referred to as "Cold Oven Cakes"—that don't bake in a preheated oven. In fact, the directions specifically state not to preheat your oven.

Cold oven pound cake is an age-old concept that has recently gained traction. Where did this idea come from, and does it have any merit? We're breaking it down for you with equal parts history and science.

The History of Cold Oven Pound Cake

Cheryl Day, cookbook author and pastry wizard behind Back in the Day Bakery, starts her pound cake in a cold oven. The logic behind this technique starts with a little bit of history.

According to Day's Treasury of Southern Baking, recipes for cold oven pound cake first appeared in early 20th century advertising campaigns, "designed to entice homemakers into replacing their wood-fired ovens with the gas stoves that were being introduced to the American market." Home bakers were likely the first to discover the marvels of this technique. Now, Day credits the age-old method of starting with a cold oven as the key to the extra-fluffy texture and caramelized crust on her pound cake.

Should You Bake Pound Cake in a Cold Oven?

It turns out that starting your pound cake in a cold oven can have substantial benefits. Cold oven pound cake is a bestseller at Back in the Day Bakery, Day tells Epicurious. "The crust, though—that's the real signature aspect of this cake. I've never had anything like it on a cake before," she says.

The trademark of a cold oven pound cake is a thick, golden-brown crust, with a flavor reminiscent of toasty caramel. Baking your pound cake low and slow helps it develop a gorgeous, thick, and caramelized crust, truly setting it apart from your standard pound cake.

Starting your pound cake in a cold oven also impacts the texture of the cake. A longer bake time and lower temperature allows the leavening more time to work before the cake sets, resulting in a taller, fluffier cake. The thick crust seals in all the fluffy, moist goodness beneath the surface, helping the cake to stay good on your countertop for up to 5 days.

You heard it here first: Starting your pound cake in a cold oven could be the secret to your best Bundt yet. Just be sure to adjust all the necessary factors to get the perfect bake—when starting in a cold oven, your cake will require a longer bake time and a lower temperature mark to properly cook through.

Other Foods That Are Better Started in a Cold Oven

Homemade Breads - If you're an avid bread baker then you're used to preheating both your oven and dutch oven to make crusty, golden brown loaves. As we mentioned above, this is because bread typically benefits from that initial rise or 'oven spring' that a hot oven can provide. According to King Arthur Baking, starting bread in a cold oven and pan yields nearly identical results. Since working with preheated dutch ovens can be tricky and dangerous, allowing the dough to rise in the pan and bake from cold can be easier and safer. It's also helpful for when you forget to preheat the oven.

Bacon- While you can always make bacon in a skillet, many would argue that it's not necessarily the best way. By baking bacon, starting in a cold oven, you can slowly render out the fat for extra crispy strips.

Roast Chicken- There are a million ways to roast a chicken, but some swear by starting it in cold oven. This technique places a whole chicken (or chicken pieces) on a bed of aromatics in a Dutch oven, in a cold oven before turning up the heat. As the heat slowly increases, the bird gently steams in the aromatics and its own juices, which keeps the meat moist.

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