The Little Black Dress of Cakes

My friend John Wills, a fine cook who grew up in east Texas, went to high school in Chicago, attended college in Alaska and now lives in Maine, told me that of all the Southern recipes he brings to the table, the one that most of his guests remember and ask about is pound cake. To be honest,” he said, “I think a lot of people also believe it’s popular in the South because you didn’t have to be able to read to make it, all you had to remember was a pound each of butter, flour, eggs and sugar.”

These days you’ll rarely find a pound cake recipe that doesn’t include milk in some form; Egerton’s “half-pound” recipe in Southern Food (1987) has whole cream. A good pound cake recipe is essential to any cook’s repertoire, and the best to have is a good sour cream version. This recipe comes from Jackson native Winifred Green Cheney’s Southern Hospitality Cookbook (1976). “With no exceptions,” she writes, “this is the best pound cake I have ever tasted.” As with most of Winifred’s recipes, this one is ludicrously meticulous; an eighth of a teaspoon of salt? Resift three times? Honestly.

1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup commercial sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour, measured after sifting
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, lemon, or 1/2
teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond)
Powdered sugar

Cream butter by hand or an electric mixer until it has reached the consistency of whipped cream. When you think you have creamed it enough, cream some more. Slowly dribble in sugar a tablespoon at a time; beat well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream. Put measured flour into sifter with soda and salt, and resift three times. Add flour cup at a time to creamed butter, blending well with mixer on lowest speed. Add flavoring. (I use vanilla and almond along with 2 tablespoons brandy.) Pour batter into one Bundt pan and one small loaf pan or two large (cake, see below: jly) pans, greased and lined with heavy waxed paper. Bake in a preheated 325° oven: Bundt cake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. small loaf for about 55 minutes, large loaves for 65 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool on rack 15 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Remove from pan and allow to continue cooling to prevent sweating. Yield: 1 (10-inch) Bundt cake and 1 (7- x 3- x 2-inch) loaf cake or 2 (9- x 5- X 3-inch) cakes—40 to 44 servings.

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