For years I called it Miss Mary’s Pound Cake, though I have no idea who Miss Mary was. I have a very faint recollection of an approximately 5-year-old me eating dinner at a table that gleamed with sterling and crystal, in a stately old home in Mississippi. I associate that occasion with a woman named Miss Mary, who was . . . a much older friend of my mother’s? A relative? I can’t really say. Mother was a genealogy enthusiast, known for driving across the South to search for courthouse documents, make tombstone rubbings, and visit with people she was related to, no matter how distantly. Upon returning home after a visit to this Miss Mary, my mother typed up the recipe on a 3×5 index card, heading it “Miss Mary’s Pound Cake,” and that was that. Thenceforth all other pound cakes were judged by Miss Mary’s. And came off second-best.
If I could get my hands on that ancient, stained, scribbled-on recipe card right now, I’d have a picture of it here. But, like most of Glen’s and my belongings, it’s packed away in a box in our garage. In a very boneheaded move, I didn’t think to pack ANY of my cherished recipes for living in the farmhouse while we waited to build our “forever home.” Luckily, this recipe is in my head. I’ve made the cake a couple hundred times over the years, and tweaked it from Miss Mary’s original version to be even better. I started making it when I was pretty small (it’s a good starter recipe for children just learning how to bake), and by the time I was 16 or so, I’d taken over the job of making it for family gatherings. When I grew up and moved away from home, it became the contribution I brought to our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. That . . . and the champagne.
Before I get to the recipe, a recommendation: If you plan to make the cake, I urge you to buy or borrow an angel food cake pan, if you don’t already have one. The two-piece kind: The central tube and base is one part, and the outer ring is the other. Like this one by Nordic Ware:
It’s by far the best choice of bakeware for this cake. You can use two 9×5 loaf pans instead (or cut the recipe in half and make it in a single loaf pan), but the surface area exposed to the heat (from the dry oven air and the sides of the pan) is different with a loaf pan. I wouldn’t really recommend an ordinary one-piece tube pan (like a Bundt pan), especially the decorative ones. It can be too hard to extract the cake successfully at the end.
So. Did I make the cake for today’s post in my own angel food cake pan, which is as old as I am? Of course not. It’s packed away in the garage with all my recipes.
THE FAMILY POUND CAKE
1 lb. sweet butter, softened
1 t. salt (leave out the salt if you’re using salted butter)
3 ½ c. sugar
3 ½ c. flour, unbleached all-purpose
10 x-lg. eggs
2 t. vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. With the softened butter in the mixing bowl, add the sugar to the butter about ¼ c. at a time, creaming thoroughly as you go. Scrape down the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula periodically.
3. Next add the eggs and flour, alternating between the two, beating in a portion of flour along with a single egg, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Be careful to incorporate the eggs, but don’t overbeat, or you might end up with a tougher cake. Before you get to the end of the eggs and flour, go ahead and add the vanilla. When you’re done, the mixture should look like this:
4. Bake in a buttered and floured pan, preferably an angel food cake tube pan, at 325 degrees. (Set the tube pan on a sheet pan for baking, to prevent oven spills.) If your oven is fast, start testing with a toothpick after 1 hour, but it will likely take at least 1 hour 15 minutes. OR divide batter into two loaf pans, and bake for about the same amount of time. (After about 45 minutes, rotate the loaf pans and turn them front to back as you would for cookies.) For the toothpick test: You don’t want wet batter on the toothpick, but you do want a moist crumb.
5. Allow the cake to rest in pan(s) for AT LEAST 20 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Longer is fine; it won’t hurt anything.
6. Store on a covered cake plate, or wrapped in plastic wrap. For humid climates, if it isn’t all gone in 3 days, I’d refrigerate the rest, or wrap it thoroughly for the freezer.
Some things to remember:
• You can definitely use a hand mixer (which is what I did for this one). I prefer a stand mixer, because it seems to produce better results when it comes to beating the eggs and flour into the mix. Less risk of overbeating, I think.
• For this post I cut the recipe in half and baked it in a single loaf pan. It makes an excellent pound cake. But I want to reiterate that, one loaf pan or two, it won’t be as rich and unctuous as the pound cake baked in an angel food cake pan.
• Don’t skip the buttering and flouring of the pan. Even for nonstick bakeware.
• Don’t use margarine. Not for making the cake; not for buttering the baking pan.
• This cake induces its most blissful state of consciousness when it is very slightly underbaked. But be careful. You have to get it out of the pan without it falling apart. This is why I say to leave it cooling in the pan for at least 20 minutes. I’ve sometimes underbaked more than I meant to and had to leave it in the pan an hour or more, until it was completely cool. At that point it settles into itself a bit, which helps the removal process. Cake recipes often tell you to bake until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. You need to remove this one from the oven just before that point.
Right now you might be thinking, “What’s she going on about? It’s a pound cake, for Pete’s sake. How hard can it be?” It’s not; it’s super easy. But when I was in my 20s, and had already made this cake many times, I decided that, while it was wonderful, it wasn’t quite the cake I knew it could be. So I reduced the flour content by ½ c., which makes its structure a tad more delicate.
Too many pound cakes are dry, their only real purpose to serve as a base for toppings like crème anglaise, chocolate sauce, lemon curd, or sliced sugared strawberries (with a healthy splash of Grand Marnier!). All of those accompaniments are delicious on this cake, but no one’s sensibilities are offended if you serve it plain, perhaps warmed up a bit in the microwave. In fact, that’s my second favorite way to eat it. But for me, the best way is half-sweet, half-savory: warmed up, with a slice of very sharp aged cheddar melted over it. That, Dear Readers, is Heaven.
Enjoy, and a big hug and a thank you to my dear friend Claire M. for requesting this recipe!
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