The Pound Cake: A Whole Lotta Goodness
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We are truly living in an age of baked food abundance, the likes of which our ancestors could have only dreamt of. You can instantly order the most delicious cake from the palm of your hand and have it delivered in no time. It can be topped with a variety of delectable extras, with tasty cream being the baseline. Simplicity may seem out of fashion in such a scenario, but there is one cake that has withstood both judgment and time to reign supreme because of its simplicity: the pound cake.

For generations, poundcake has been a household and bakery staple. The recipe was designed to be simple enough to be understood by people who couldn’t even read. While modern versions have deviated slightly from the traditional to accommodate changing tastes, the original has withstood the test of time and modern baking methods. This article gives you a slice of what this cake is about and the reason for its name (and no, it’s not derived from the extra weight you may add from overindulging in it).

The Wholesome Foursome

The term "pound cake" refers to the quantity of ingredients used in its preparation. The original recipe consisted of 1 pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar. This combination reduced the number of instructions needed to bake this cake. And in a time when literacy rates were notably low, this simplicity was just the solution. It ensured that people didn’t have to read a cookbook to create it, and they could easily remember it because these four ingredients are used every day.

Since each of the ingredients was to be used with a full pound’s measure, the resultant cake was rather big. It could feed an entire family on the cheap and easy. Those looking for a less satiating experience could reduce the quantity of the ingredients to bake more appropriately sized cakes.

Here too, the pound cake’s simplicity helped, as all they had to do was reduce each ingredient to equal proportions. There was no need for complex measurements to reduce individual ingredients to maintain the taste. Only after other ingredients like vanilla flavoring came into the picture did such micromanagement in ingredient quantity reduction or addition have to happen. Thus, people got a wholesome treat for little effort on their part.

The pound cake is said to have begun its journey in England in the 1700s. Starting in the early part of the century, it made its way all over the country and into Europe throughout that century. It then spread across the Atlantic to the Americas. The first American reference to this cake’s recipe is found in a 1796 cookbook written by Amelia Simmons called American Cookery.  

The book essentially Americanized the recipe by introducing ingredients and terms commonly used in the United States. This was in contrast to the cookbooks at the time, which were primarily of British origin when America was just a combination of colonies. There were now recommended spices to taste for up to ten eggs (instead of four to five that made up a pound of eggs). The recipe recommends that this combination, along with some water used for mixing, be cooked in a flow oven for 15 minutes.

The 1800s saw more deviation from the recipe, especially to reduce the weight of the entire thing. It was when more flavoring made its way into it too. Typically, it was vanilla or almond flavoring that went into it. Some dry fruits were also added for taste. It was also the time when regional variations across the world became more solidified.

But it was the 1900s that brought a twist to the original recipe. It was when artificial leaveners like baking soda and baking powder were added. They helped reduce the cake’s density and lighten it. Butter also started getting replaced with vegetable or cooking oil in some cases. An example of such a substitution is the US’s sour cream cake, where the butter takes a backseat to the sour cream, giving the cake a tangy flavor while also moistening it.

The Caribbean also adds its uniqueness via mashed bananas and rum. The Spanish-speaking part of the world calls it Ponque (Panque in Mexico), drenches the cake in wine, and serves it with a cream or sugar coating. Today's cooks continue to innovate on the recipe while adhering to their ethos of simplicity.

Cake is a delicacy that brightens up any occasion, anywhere in the world. And pound cake is among the most versatile types of cake there is—there's a recipe for everyone and every occasion, be it a Christmas party, a summer vacation, or anything else in between. Some favorites are forever.