I suspect Sara Lee introduced me to pound cake, as she had to pineapple-topped cheesecake. That was back in the day, when my mother’s time was consumed by four children, one with disabilities, a clean house, and a devoted lover — my father. She was a good plain baker back then in the sixties; by the eighties her personal landscape had changed and she could bake the derriere off any home baker I’ve ever met.
But if a beautiful woman still in her thirties, preferred to dance Saturday night away rather than bake for Sunday dinner, who can blame her? When I was twelve she showed me how to make pastry and I became the Saturday night pie pastry chef, but I look back with love to Sara Lee’s contributions.
Which is the back story to my lifelong fondness for pound cake. I sneer at grocery store pound cake now — check the ingredient list and air pump if you find butter. But still… I loved Sara Lee back in the day.
If you have a mixer, or the triceps of a Navy Seal, pound cake is easy, whether made with mechanical assistance or elbow grease. The high butter content keeps it fresh and edible for at least a week. It adores additions, any crazy-ass ingredient you desire, from bacon to M&Ms. It’s soft yet strong texture makes it a sponge for booze: take a toothpick, poke holes, and dribble in a sugar syrup pumped up with bourbon or Bushmills. It can be chocolate glazed, citrus-infused, speckled with chocolate chips, poppy seeds or candied ginger. All these additions are all good.
But the thing about real pound cake, scented with vanilla and soft in crumb with all that butter, is that it keeps brilliantly. I mean, what other cake stands up for a week, and if you’ve for some inexplicable reason, the heel of a stale cake: bread pudding, trifle.
My favorite pound cake recipe is , well, “Best Pound Cake” from Susan Purdy’s under appreciated “The Perfect Cake.” I have baking books from all the usual buttery suspects, and love them, but for basic great cake recipes and instruction, I’m all over Susan.
Today, while taking on the furnace repair man, battered by laundry and the To Do lists of planning a Christmas road trip, I saw some decent fresh cranberries lolling in the veg drawer, leftover from Thanksgiving. I had the cake flour, the eggs, the butter, so I made “Best Pound Cake” with a Yankee cranberry bite. Wow, that’s a big cake!
We’ll eat some tonight, ferry some over to the Simpsons tomorrow, and pack a package for the road. Pound cake takes a good recipe, room temperature eggs, and some patience. But geez, for under five bucks, this is the apotheosis of plain cake.