Perfect Your Pound Cake by Creaming Your Butter Well

Pound cake is a staple dessert in America, especially in the South. One would be hard pressed to find a place where someone didn’t have a carefully preserved pound cake recipe copied out onto a note card or clipped from a magazine to be faithfully shared with friends and neighbors. Pound cake gets the name from the ratios of the recipe. A traditional American pound cake would specify one pound each of flour, butter, eggs and sugar. British pound cakes are similar, though usually have dried fruits such as currants, raisins or cherries as well.

One of the key tricks to creating a proper pound cake is creaming the butter and sugar. Softened butter is mashed together with sugar until the mixture is light, and fluffy. Creaming allows super small air bubbles to be incorporated into the batter. These bubbles are caused by the sugar crystals carving into the fat of the butter. These small air pockets allow air and steam to disperse through the cake as it bakes, resulting in a more even rise.

It is best to use room temperature butter to facilitate the creaming process. Add ingredients slowly to the butter mix, in small amounts so the batter is not overwhelmed or made lumpy. Creaming butter should take approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Thoroughly creamed butter has a slightly grainy texture and looks like heavy frosting. It will be light in color and hold it’s shape in the bowl. If the butter begins to melt or separate, throw the mixing bowl in the freezer for a couple minutes to halt this process.

Creaming butter by hand is a labor intensive process. It is worth doing at least once so that one appreciates the effort that goes into mashing butter with a fork or whisk over and over. Creaming butter is ultimately much easier with a sturdy mixer however, and will save one blisters and a sore arm. Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl with a fork to ensure that the batter is thoroughly mixed and no dry pockets exist on the sides. When baking pound cake, using fine sugar is recommended. Smaller crystals will create smaller air pockets to leaven the cake, resulting in a more uniform texture. Coarser sugar may make the batter heavier, resulting in a longer cooking time. Using cake flour will also result in a better texture, as cake flour is more fine than ordinary flour.

Taking the time to properly cream the butter makes a difference. It is most noticeable in the texture of the cake, which is dense but not hard or mushy. A pound cake should have a rich, soft interior. Most pound cakes are served plain, though some are decorated with a glaze or chocolate sauce. Three classic pound cake recipes are provided here for butter creaming practice and enjoyment.

Elvis Pound Cake
Dense and rich, this cake is a classic pound cake.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for buttering pan
3 cups sifted cake flour plus additional for dusting
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar
7 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup heavy cream

Put oven rack in middle position, but do not preheat oven. Generously butter tube or Bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess flour. Sift together sifted flour (3 cups) and salt into a bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or 6 to 8 minutes with a handheld mixer. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add half of flour, then all of cream, then remaining flour, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of bowl, then beat at medium-high speed for 5 minutes. The batter will become creamier and satiny.

Spoon the batter into pan and rap the pan against the counter once or twice to eliminate large air bubbles. Place the pan in cold oven and turn the oven temperature to 350�°F. Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in middle of cake comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 1 to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around inner and outer edges of cake, then invert rack over pan and invert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Classic 7 UP Pound Cake
This recipe is very popular in Texas and often found at barbecues and other gatherings.

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
5 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup 7 UP

For the Glaze:
1/4 cup 7 UP
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 300�°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan.

Combine butter, shortening, sugar, vanilla and almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and salt, and add to butter/sugar mixture alternately with 1 cup 7 UP, beating well after each addition. Spoon batter into prepared 10-inch tube pan, and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert on serving plate and remove pan.

While cake is cooling, make the glaze by stirring together the 1/4 cup 7 UP and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and boil 1 to 2 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved. Punch holes in top of warm cake with a toothpick. Spoon glaze over cake, and cool completely before serving.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake
This smooth and dense cake has a sweet carmelized flavor.

1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Brown Sugar Icing:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 325�°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

At medium speed of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars for 4 or 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer running at low speed, add the oil and beat until incorporated; then, beat in the eggs, one at a time. On low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, in small amounts. Beat only until ingredients are blended; do not over beat. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour into your prepared tube pan, and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove cake from oven and check the cake with a toothpick. If your toothpick does not come out clean, bake for an additional 10 minutes, then test again. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, prepare the icing. Combine butter, brown sugar and milk in a heavy saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a full boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Let cool to lukewarm. Drizzle over the cake more or less to taste.

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