Tips for Baking a Perfect Pound Cake
Originally made with a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, creative cooks have, over time, come up with countless variations, such as replacing a portion of the butter with cream cheese or a few of the eggs with sour cream and leavening.
The most extraordinary thing about these pound cakes is how easy they are to prepare. You can bake them days ahead of time and store them in the pantry, or place them in large zip-top freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to two months. Here are eight essential tips from the Test Kitchen pros:
Prep before you start.
Carefully read through the entire recipe, and prepare any special ingredients, such as chopped fruits or toasted nuts, before starting to mix the batter. We like to pre-measure our ingredients and assemble them in the order listed. That way, if interrupted, we're less likely to make a mistake.
Use name-brand ingredients.
Store brands of sugar are often more finely ground than name brands, yielding more sugar per cup, which can cause the cake to fall. Store brands of butter may contain more liquid fat or flours more hard wheat, making the cake heavy.
Measure your ingredients carefully. Extra sugar or leavening causes a cake to fall; extra flour makes it dry. Also, use an oven thermometer to check your oven's temperature for accuracy.
Have ingredients at room temperature.
This results in a pound cake with maximum volume.
Beat softened butter (and cream cheese or vegetable shortening) at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. This can take from 1 to 7 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until light and fluffy. These steps are so important because they whip air into the cake batter so it will rise during baking. When baking, place the cake pan in the center of the oven, and keep the door closed until the minimum baking time has elapsed. If the cake requires more baking, gently close the oven door as soon as possible after testing to prevent jarring and loss of heat—both can cause a cake to fall if it's not completely done.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until the yellow disappears. Overbeating the eggs may cause the batter to overflow the sides of the pan when baked or create a fragile crust that crumbles and separates from the cake as it cools.
Prep your cake pan.
Grease cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, and always dust with flour.
Test for doneness.
Insert a long wooden pick into the center of the cake. It should come out clean, with no batter clinging to it.