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Pound Cake, or True Pound Cake?  What’s the difference?  Just like the debate here in North Carolina over which barbecue is best, Eastern or Western style, there is also much debate over Pound Cake. We’ve pretty much lost sight of what True Pound Cake is these days, but let’s look at where it began and work our way up.

True Pound Cake is a recipe that dates back to the 1700s.  It gets the name of pound cake, because of how it’s made.  Originally, the recipe called for one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. Whether or not it contains any type of flavoring will stir up debate just about as much as questioning whether cornbread does or doesn’t contain sugar.  Can’t we be pleased with both?

Early cookbooks, like The Virginia Housewife (1838) and Seventy Five Receipts (1832), both call for the addition of ingredients like brandy, wine, rose water, nutmeg, mace, grated lemon peel, and/or cinnamon.  And let’s not even get into the Indian Pound Cake recipe, also printed in the Seventy Five Receipts cookbook, that calls for using corn meal and wheat flour instead of cake flour. So, which recipe actually produces the original, or true version of this golden delicious simple Pound Cake?

We’ve come to recognize the four, one-pound each of ingredients, as True Pound Cake, which we’ll present below.  One thing that both of the above mentioned cookbooks had in common was that the recipes called for powdered sugar.  Was that the same as what we buy today?  I don’t know.  Another suggestion from more modern recipes says to use cake flour instead of just regular flour.  So, I set out to use both powdered sugar and cake flour in this recipe.  And I’m going to show you how to make your own cake flour at home.

I set my heart to follow suggestions like baking the cake for TWO hours, starting in a cold oven.  And, to the critics that say flavorings aren’t allowed, I point you to our very own North Carolina State Fair. The fair has competition categories for both Pound Cake and True Pound Cake. Their True Pound Cake category (butter, flour, sugar, eggs) allows for the addition of “liquid flavorings, including vanilla and spices.”

So, let the next debate begin.  Is THIS recipe really a True Pound Cake, or is it just another plain cake that needs a new name?  I’ll look forward to reading your comments as I place another scoop of ice cream on a slightly toasted slice of this very tasty pound cake that I was very pleased with. Ready to try it yourself?  Alright then, let’s get cooking!

What you’ll need to make the cake

  • 1 pound butter (4 sticks)
  • 1 pound confectioners sugar
  • 1 pound eggs (10 large eggs)
  • 1 pound all-purpose flour, or cake flour (3 3/4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

True Pound Cake Recipe (PDF)

True Pound Cake: You'll need these ingredients. We're going to use the All-Purpose Flour to make our own "Cake Flour," as called for in many recipes. And, I'm going to take the liberty of adding some Vanilla Extract, as it's considered acceptable to many of the earlier recipes as well.

True Pound Cake: You’ll need these ingredients.
We’re going to use the All-Purpose Flour to make our own “Cake Flour,” as called for in many recipes. And, I’m going to take the liberty of adding some Vanilla Extract, as it’s considered acceptable to many of the earlier recipes as well.

To Make Your Own Cake Flour: I started by weighing out one pound of All-To Make Your Own Cake Flour: I started by weighing out one pound of All-Purpose Flour. You can buy Cake Flour straight off the shelf in your favorite grocery store, but I decided to make my own, and show you how to do the same. If you decide to use purchased cake flour, you can skip on down a few steps to where we sift the Powdered Sugar.

To Make Your Own Cake Flour: I started by weighing out one pound of All-To Make Your Own Cake Flour: I started by weighing out one pound of All-Purpose Flour. You can buy Cake Flour straight off the shelf in your favorite grocery store, but I decided to make my own, and show you how to do the same. If you decide to use purchased cake flour, you can skip on down a few steps to where we sift the Powdered Sugar.

How many cups are in a pound of flour? That depends on the type of flour you are using, and probably on who is doing the measuring to some extent. In order to also deal in "cups," I measured out the flour, using level cups. Flour should always be measured as a "level" cup. That means, spoon your flour into a measuring cup. Then, take the back of a knife and drag it across the top of the cup to "level" it off. Easy stuff. For the record, I measured out 3 and 3/4's cups of flour from the original pound of flour.

How many cups are in a pound of flour? That depends on the type of flour you are using, and probably on who is doing the measuring to some extent. In order to also deal in “cups,” I measured out the flour, using level cups. Flour should always be measured as a “level” cup. That means, spoon your flour into a measuring cup. Then, take the back of a knife and drag it across the top of the cup to “level” it off. Easy stuff. For the record, I measured out 3 and 3/4’s cups of flour from the original pound of flour.

To make Cake Flour, you'll need to remove two Tablespoons of flour for each cup measured. I removed 7 Tablespoons of flour and placed it back in the bag.

To make Cake Flour, you’ll need to remove two Tablespoons of flour for each cup measured. I removed 7 Tablespoons of flour and placed it back in the bag.

To make the Cake Flour, you'll replace the removed flour, Tablespoon-per-Tablespoon, with Corn Starch. Thus, I measured out 7 Tablespoons of Corn Starch to replace the same amount of flour that I had just removed. Still with me?

To make the Cake Flour, you’ll replace the removed flour, Tablespoon-per-Tablespoon, with Corn Starch. Thus, I measured out 7 Tablespoons of Corn Starch to replace the same amount of flour that I had just removed. Still with me?

To make the Cake Flour, add the corn starch to the flour. I then took a fork and mixed it up a bit.

To make the Cake Flour, add the corn starch to the flour. I then took a fork and mixed it up a bit.

To make the Cake Flour, place the combined flour and corn starch in a sifter that you've placed in a mixing bowl. We'll need to sift the flour 3 different times, so you'll also need another mixing bowl.

To make the Cake Flour, place the combined flour and corn starch in a sifter that you’ve placed in a mixing bowl. We’ll need to sift the flour 3 different times, so you’ll also need another mixing bowl.

To make the Cake Flour, sift the flour into the mixing bowl. That's one time completed.

To make the Cake Flour, sift the flour into the mixing bowl. That’s one time completed.

To make the Cake Flour, place the sifter in another bowl. Spoon the sifted flour back into your sifter and sift it for the second time.

To make the Cake Flour, place the sifter in another bowl. Spoon the sifted flour back into your sifter and sift it for the second time.

To make the Cake Flour, place the sifter back in the original bowl. Spoon the sifted flour back into the sifter and sift again for the THIRD time. Congratulations, you've just made your own Cake Flour. That's all there is to it. Set the Cake Flour aside for the moment.

To make the Cake Flour, place the sifter back in the original bowl. Spoon the sifted flour back into the sifter and sift again for the THIRD time. Congratulations, you’ve just made your own Cake Flour. That’s all there is to it. Set the Cake Flour aside for the moment.

OK, this part got a bit messy. Spoon the Powdered Sugar into your sifter. Keep the sifter down in the bowl as much as possible as you sift the Powdered Sugar. I'm not sure why, but this produced a great deal of static, the more I turned the handle on the sifter. The sugar then decided it wanted to cling to my sifter, and to my body, flying in all directions out from under the sifter and attacking my kitchen.

OK, this part got a bit messy. Spoon the Powdered Sugar into your sifter. Keep the sifter down in the bowl as much as possible as you sift the Powdered Sugar. I’m not sure why, but this produced a great deal of static, the more I turned the handle on the sifter. The sugar then decided it wanted to cling to my sifter, and to my body, flying in all directions out from under the sifter and attacking my kitchen.

You'll need a good sized mixing bowl to continue. Add the pound of softened Butter to the bowl.

You’ll need a good sized mixing bowl to continue. Add the pound of softened Butter to the bowl.

Using a mixer, beat the butter until it's light and fluffy. At first, my little hand mixer didn't want to do this for me, but after the butter warmed up a little, we moved forward.

Using a mixer, beat the butter until it’s light and fluffy. At first, my little hand mixer didn’t want to do this for me, but after the butter warmed up a little, we moved forward.

Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, throughout the process of mixing the batter.

Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, throughout the process of mixing the batter.

Gradually add the sugar a little at a time, and continue to mix it all together.

Gradually add the sugar a little at a time, and continue to mix it all together.

Scrape down the sides again, and cream the butter and sugar together until it's light and fluffy.

Scrape down the sides again, and cream the butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy.

The next step doesn't take as long as you might think. We're adding the eggs, one at a time, until we've got them all incorporated into the sugar and butter. It's always best to crack the eggs into a small bowl before adding them into your batter. That way, should any egg shell fall in, you can easily see and retrieve it.

The next step doesn’t take as long as you might think. We’re adding the eggs, one at a time, until we’ve got them all incorporated into the sugar and butter. It’s always best to crack the eggs into a small bowl before adding them into your batter. That way, should any egg shell fall in, you can easily see and retrieve it.

Beat the egg just briefly after you add each one. You only need to mix it until the yolk has been mixed in. Do not over mix the eggs.

Beat the egg just briefly after you add each one. You only need to mix it until the yolk has been mixed in. Do not over mix the eggs.

You'll then repeat the process of adding one egg at a time, until they are all incorporated. Again, just beat lightly after adding each egg. The less you have to work the batter at this point, the better the end results.

You’ll then repeat the process of adding one egg at a time, until they are all incorporated. Again, just beat lightly after adding each egg. The less you have to work the batter at this point, the better the end results.

Gradually add the Flour, about one cup at a time. With the mixer, beat this in the batter until it's incorporated, but don't over do it. Continue to add the flour until it's all been added to the batter.

Gradually add the flour, about one cup at a time. With the mixer, beat this in the batter until it’s incorporated, but don’t over do it. Continue to add the flour until it’s all been added to the batter.

Add the Vanilla Extract. Use the mixer briefly to incorporate the flavoring. Then, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and fold the batter together a time or two more.

Add the Vanilla Extract. Use the mixer briefly to incorporate the flavoring. Then, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and fold the batter together a time or two more.

You'll have a fairly thick batter at this point.

You’ll have a fairly thick batter at this point.

Use a "Baking Spray" of choice, and spray the inside of your pan. I wanted to use loaf pans but only had one on hand. I found my Bundt Pan and used it instead. You could use Butter to grease the pan, then flour it, but the baking spray helps get into all the edges of a Bundt Pan fairly easily. Just remember, Baking Spray contains flour already. A regular cooking spray does not and will not work by itself for this recipe.

Use a “Baking Spray” of choice, and spray the inside of your pan. I wanted to use loaf pans but only had one on hand. I found my Bundt Pan and used it instead. You could use Butter to grease the pan, then flour it, but the baking spray helps get into all the edges of a Bundt Pan fairly easily. Just remember, Baking Spray contains flour already. A regular cooking spray does not and will not work by itself for this recipe.

You don't want any excess spray gathering in the bottom of the pan. I took a pastry brush and smoothed this out by brushing up the sides of the pan and up the sides of the tube in the center. You really need to be sure that the entire inside of the pan is well coated before adding the batter. Exercise a little patience here and get it right. You'll be happily rewarded with a cake that releases easily from the pan.

You don’t want any excess spray gathering in the bottom of the pan. I took a pastry brush and smoothed this out by brushing up the sides of the pan and up the sides of the tube in the center. You really need to be sure that the entire inside of the pan is well coated before adding the batter. Exercise a little patience here and get it right. You’ll be happily rewarded with a cake that releases easily from the pan.

Carefully add the batter to the pan. I held the bowl and turned the Bundt Pan as I poured the batter. Then, I used my spatula to smooth the batter out inside, and get it as level as possible all around the pan.

Carefully add the batter to the pan. I held the bowl and turned the Bundt Pan as I poured the batter. Then, I used my spatula to smooth the batter out inside, and get it as level as possible all around the pan.

When the batter is smooth, lift the pan up a couple of inches and just let it drop back down on your counter top. This should break up any bubbles that might have formed in the batter. Do this several times, just don't crack your counter top in the process. Any bubbles would just cause holes in your cake. Pretty in bread, not so pretty in cakes.

When the batter is smooth, lift the pan up a couple of inches and just let it drop back down on your counter top. This should break up any bubbles that might have formed in the batter. Do this several times, just don’t crack your counter top in the process. Any bubbles would just cause holes in your cake. Pretty in bread, not so pretty in cakes.

Take the spatula and carefully run it through the middle section of your batter. Force the batter up the sides of the pan and the sides of the tube just a little. This will help the cake to rise more evenly once it begins to bake.

Take the spatula and carefully run it through the middle section of your batter. Force the batter up the sides of the pan and the sides of the tube just a little. This will help the cake to rise more evenly once it begins to bake.

START IN A COLD OVEN: I placed the cake on the middle rack in my oven. Do not preheat the oven. Just place the cake in the cold oven and close the door. Turn the heat up to 275º and let the cake start to bake. It will need to bake between 1-and-1/2 hours, to two hours. I had vowed to let this one bake a full two hours just to see what would happen. I do not have a glass door on my oven, so that became a bit of a task to complete. I made sure to keep sniffing around the oven to make sure it wasn't burning. I must admit though, I tested the cake at an hour and 45 minutes to see if it was done. I saw just a few crumbs on the wooden skewer that I inserted into the cake. I think it would have been best to have pulled the cake out at that point, but again, I was mindset on baking for two hours. Resist the urge to open the oven door so your cake doesn't fall while baking. Ovens will vary, so you'll have to trust your own instincts as to when it's best to remove your cake.

START IN A COLD OVEN: I placed the cake on the middle rack in my oven. Do not preheat the oven. Just place the cake in the cold oven and close the door. Turn the heat up to 275º and let the cake start to bake. It will need to bake between 1-and-1/2 hours, to two hours.
I had vowed to let this one bake a full two hours just to see what would happen. I do not have a glass door on my oven, so that became a bit of a task to complete. I made sure to keep sniffing around the oven to make sure it wasn’t burning. I must admit though, I tested the cake at an hour and 45 minutes to see if it was done. I saw just a few crumbs on the wooden skewer that I inserted into the cake. I think it would have been best to have pulled the cake out at that point, but again, I was mindset on baking for two hours.
Resist the urge to open the oven door so your cake doesn’t fall while baking. Ovens will vary, so you’ll have to trust your own instincts as to when it’s best to remove your cake.

The top center of the cake will be the last to bake. The old recipe books called for inserting a wooden "twig" into the cake, all the way to the bottom to test and be sure it was fully baked. I used a wooden skewer, but a toothpick inserted in the top would be just as good. If it pulls out clean, the cake is done.

The top center of the cake will be the last to bake. The old recipe books called for inserting a wooden “twig” into the cake, all the way to the bottom to test and be sure it was fully baked. I used a wooden skewer, but a toothpick inserted in the top would be just as good. If it pulls out clean, the cake is done.

Set the cake on a wire rack and let it cool for 20 minutes before you try to remove it from the pan. As you can see, it rose a good bit once it baked. Don't you just love that "crack" that runs around the entire cake. This is normal and expected. It would have looked great in a loaf pan too. Now, will it come OUT of the pan OK?

Set the cake on a wire rack and let it cool for 20 minutes before you try to remove it from the pan. As you can see, it rose a good bit once it baked. Don’t you just love that “crack” that runs around the entire cake. This is normal and expected. It would have looked great in a loaf pan too.

Beautiful! After 20 minutes, place the wire rack on top of the cake. Gently hold the rack against the cake and flip it all over. Set the rack and pan down on your counter. If the cake doesn't fall right out, gently tap around the bottom of the cake pan. You'll hear a slight change in the tone of your tapping, once the cake falls out. I did have to tap mine a time or two, and held my breath as I lifted the cake pan away.

Beautiful! After 20 minutes, place the wire rack on top of the cake. Gently hold the rack against the cake and flip it all over. Set the rack and pan down on your counter. If the cake doesn’t fall right out, gently tap around the bottom of the cake pan. You’ll hear a slight change in the tone of your tapping, once the cake falls out. I did have to tap mine a time or two, and held my breath as I lifted the cake pan away.

As you can see, it came out clean. Whew! I had one spot, smaller than your little fingernail, that stuck to the pan. Let the cake cool completely before slicing. That was the hard part, I wanted to taste it right away.

As you can see, it came out clean. Whew! I had one spot, smaller than your little fingernail, that stuck to the pan. Let the cake cool completely before slicing. That was the hard part, I wanted to taste it right away.

Overall, I think it turned out a little brown on the outside, but it made for a good crust. It IS very dense, compared to many of your regular Pound Cakes that add more ingredients. The baking time might be a little longer than needed, as it was just a tad drier than what I've become accustomed to. It was quite tasty though, and I was glad I had made it with the powdered sugar and baked it for two hours. I can only imagine what this would be like, baked on a hearth near an open fire, or even in a wood cook stove. Surely it took on a bit of that smokey flavor from the burning wood. That would have been awesome! Enjoy!

Overall, I think it turned out a little brown on the outside, but it made for a good crust. It IS very dense, compared to many of your regular Pound Cakes that add more ingredients. The baking time might be a little longer than needed, as it was just a tad drier than what I’ve become accustomed to. It was quite tasty though, and I was glad I had made it with the powdered sugar and baked it for two hours. I can only imagine what this would be like, baked on a hearth near an open fire, or even in a wood cook stove. Surely it took on a bit of that smoky flavor from the burning wood. That would have been awesome! Enjoy!

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Gordon is an award-winning food preservationist and fisherman based in Sanford. He regularly contributes recipes at ourstate.com and operates a Southern recipe blog, tasteofsouthern.com.