I always wondered what the Pound in Pound Cake stood for. I assumed it had something to do with weight, but maybe it was invented by someone named Pound, maybe even poet Ezra Pound? Or maybe it was named as such because of the way it was prepared – perhaps the baker would pound the dough out with his/her fist? It just seemed like an odd name. Come to find out, the name does refer to weight, specifically the fact that the original pound cakes contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. That’s a lot of goodness packed into one little cake.
The cakes originate in the 1700’s in Great Britain and the original recipes produced a cake that was much bigger than what we are used to seeing today. You would kind of figure that out if you have ever used a pound of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour in anything. That cake could feed a whole village. As time went on, the recipe started to change and morph into the cake we know of today. A little less of everything made for a smaller, more manageable cake. Meanwhile it also grew in popularity and even became a popular item in the southern United States. There’s actually an 1881 cookbook that has two pound cake recipes in it. That cookbook was written by a cook and former slave Abby Fisher and is the first known cookbook written by an African American. That’s pretty impressive. Apparently Abby could not read or write, so her friends wrote down the recipes for her and helped her publish it. That’s a tribute to the quality of her food not to mention her determination and perseverance. In the 1900’s, thanks to modern chemistry, the world was introduced to artificial leaveners (baking powder/soda), making baking easier for one and all and these found their way into pound cake recipes. Mostly all modern pound cake recipes include these ingredients. (Info from What’s Cooking America)
My first memories of pound cake were found in the freezer section from that other famous baker Sara Lee. Apparently the real Sara Lee was never a baker, she was just the daughter of a guy that bought a chain of seven bakeries in Chicago and he named the business after her (the Kitchens of Sara Lee). That venture would turn out to be quite successful and today their products are sold in over 180 nations throughout the world. On occasion, my Mom would buy one of their pound cakes which were sold in the freezer section of the grocery store. If she was going to serve it, she’d have to take it out of the freezer well in advance so that it would thaw. When I recall the taste, I can still remember those pieces that were still a bit chilly in the center having not been completely thawed. My mom would buy a lemon pound cake sometimes which she liked, but I was partial to the marble one with the swirl of chocolate batter mixed in. She’d serve it to us as a slice and then top it in some ice cream and chocolate syrup (although my sister recalls just having chocolate syrup only on top). That was always what pound cake was to me. I think on occasion my Mom would heat a piece up in a pan (probably to help thaw it – this was before microwaves were a thing), but it was always best to me when it was at room temperature with the ice cream and syrup.
I think the first homemade pound cake I ever had was made by our friend Paula. This was back in my twenties and I was living on one side of a duplex house while Paula, her husband (and my cousin) Charlie and their two kids (at the time) lived on the other side. Paula was quite the baker, in fact she continues to carry on the tradition of Key Lime Pie and Chocolate Mousse making at the great Ye Olde Alpha Restaurant in Wheeling, WV. But living close by, I would sometimes reap the benefits of someone who liked to cook and pound cake was always a welcome addition, especially her chocolate chip one. I just remember it being something special – dense, sweet and delicious. As I reflect on this, I am wondering if I have the story right. Paula was always a great cook and always sharing her specialties with us, her happy well-fed neighbors. But I wonder if in the strange workings of my brain, I am thinking of the name Paula Poundstone (comedienne) and somehow confusing that info to associate pound cake with our Paula. No, I’m almost positive that Paula made a great pound cake. This is what happens to your brain as you get old. Regardless, Paula’s cooking still deserves all the accolades I can give her. Paula Poundstone’s cooking is probably not as good, although she can sure tell a good joke.
I had a recipe picked out for today for Marbled Pound Cake. It looked kind of cool and was fairly easy. It had you take your chocolate batter and your plain batter and put it into your loaf pan in a checkerboard fashion. That would help achieve the swirled effect. I was ready and all I needed from the store was buttermilk and some cocoa powder. This recipe specifically called for Dutch process cocoa powder. All I had was natural cocoa powder. When I got to the store, it turns out that they did not have Dutch process cocoa powder either. I hopped on my phone in the middle of the aisle to try and investigate if it was a big deal to substitute natural powder, and it turns out that it is. It comes down to the Dutch cocoa being alkalized which would effect how your cake rises depending on the leaveners you were using. It was all starting to sound a little complicated and science-y, so I had to go to an audible and find a new recipe. I landed on a recipe from the folks at Duncan Hines that was made using their Signature Fudge Marble Cake mix. That was easy enough, so I picked up all I needed and headed home to get baking.
I know – making a cake mix is cheating. But this recipe required a few extra ingredients and special maneuvers, so it was really semi-homemade. Plus, I was thwarted by the recipe gremlins in the grocery store and I had to find a quick way out. I wasn’t looking for the quick mix, it found me while I was dumbstruck in aisle four at Clement’s Market. I was ok with this. You combine the mix along with some vanilla instant pudding, four eggs, oil and water. Once that’s all combined, you scoop out a cup of the batter and you combine that cup with the cocoa packet that comes with the cake mix. You are left with the regular batter and the chocolate one. You pour the regular batter into the loaf pan, then pour the chocolate patter on top of that. To help create the swirl, you run a knife through the batter in the pan so it combines in a swirly way. It then takes about 45 minutes in the oven.
First off, it smelled awesome. It was the smell of a nice sweet cake in the air with a hint of chocolate to it. It filled the whole kitchen with joy. After it cooled, it came out of the cake pan without effort and to my delight, was in good shape. We were kind of hungry at the time and the smell was making us salivate, so I cut into it right away and we each had a piece. A nice warm piece of pound cake out of the oven is quite the treat. It’s really a nice sweet cake. It was light and fluffy too, and I’m not sure if that was because it was still cooling. My image of a pound cake was something a little denser. But this was good as it was. Sweet, hints of chocolate in every bite and just a great little treat on a Saturday afternoon.
Later in the night, I decided to have more and this time I wanted to recreate the taste of my youth, so I put a piece in a bowl, placed a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and drizzled it with chocolate syrup. It was actually just as I remembered. The pound cake was a bit denser now, although still light, but it soaked up all the chocolate syrup in every bite. The ice cream gave it that nice balance of cold and sweet too, holding up against the warm sweet taste of the cake. I remembered why I was such a fan. This was better than Sara Lee.
I was excited when I saw it was National Pound Cake Day because it’s not a cake I often have. I thought about getting a Sara Lee cake from the freezer section, but I figured a homemade one would be a better celebration. The bakery at Clement’s Market also sells pound cake too in different varieties, and I thought I might go that direction. But in the end, I felt like I should give a try at baking this myself. I may have gone the easy route, but the end product filled our house with a wonderful smell which made it taste that much better. I think the future may hold some more pound cake in store for us. Maybe next time I’ll use the pound of butter recipe too. What could go wrong?
Next Up: National Cheese Doodle Day