Properly softened butter is the key to a velvety-smooth texture.

If you need to take a dessert to the church potluck, an after-school function, or a family reunion, you just can't go wrong with a delicious and easy pound cake, such as this Lemon-Lime Pound Cake. Not nearly as fussy as tall layer cakes or fragile as elegant pavlovas, a pound cake is one of the first desserts a Southern cook learns to make. Even though a pound cake recipe has a simple ingredient list and the instructions are easy to follow, there are still a few tricks of the trade a novice baker needs to know before she ties on her apron. In fact, before you even take your mixer out of the cabinet, take the cold butter out of the refrigerator and let it start softening. One of the first things a baker learns about making pound cakes is to never use cold butter.

Recipes for baked goods, such as cakes, quick breads, and cookies, usually call for softened butter; it creams easily with the sugar in the recipe, creating little pockets of air with every turn of the mixer paddle. The air pockets add "fluff" to the batter, and fluff beats flat hands down when you want your pound cake to rise while it bakes. Cold butter simply won't cream with sugar; all you will get is bits of butter covered in sugar.

What is the easiest way to soften butter? Simply take the desired amount of cold butter out of the refrigerator and let it stand for 30 to 60 minutes until it becomes room temperature or just spreadable. Of course the timing will vary depending on how warm or cold your kitchen is.

To speed up the process, cut the butter into chunks and let stand at room temperature about 15 minutes. Or place the butter between sheets of wax paper, and give it a few good whacks with a rolling pin. If you need a specific measurement of butter, such as ¼ cup, remember to measure it while the butter is whole and before you take the wrapper off.

Do not try to soften butter in the microwave or place it on top of a hot stove; partially melted butter does not have the same result as properly softened butter.

Here are 3 more tips that will help you bake a perfect pound cake:

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

2. Cream the butter and sugar together so they are light and fluffy. This process creates air pockets that allow the cake to rise. Scrape the bowl to make sure all the butter was blended; this will help prevent sad streaks.

3. Avoid over-mixing. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition, and gradually add flour, beating at low speed just until blended. Over-mixing can cause the batter to overflow, a tough crust, and/or a heavy texture.