Monday, December 3, 2012

The Power of Pound Cake

Many Southerners are endowed with a special power. The power to make a mean pound cake. I've written before about pound cake before and I am inspired to do so again. There are a million other things I need to be doing and other things I need to be writing about, but I can't get this cake off my mind. It was definitely the best pound cake I've ever made. And who can I thank for that? Virginia Willis. I got the recipe from her first cookbook Bon Appetit, Y'all. The recipe was her grandmother, Meme's. It reminds me of my granny and mama's recipes, though I'm not sure that they ever wrote their recipes down. They knew how to make a pound cake as if it were second nature. And I'm sure Virginia does, too. That's what I love about her recipes. They are familiar, but refined. And I have heard her speak about her recipe development and testing process, so you can be fairly certain they are going to work. Definitely check out this cookbook and her newest, which I do not have yet, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

Too often my pound cakes have turned out too dry or flat - but this one was perfect. I'm thinking of making mini-loaves of it for holiday gifts. I also am going to try this out in cupcake form. I feel like I've reached a milestone. I'm empowered. Finally, I get the pound cake! If you fear the pound cake, give Meme's a try. I promise, she won't steer you wrong. 

Meme’s Pound Cake
From Bon Appetit, Y'all: Recipes and Stories from ThreeGenerations of Southern Cooking, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. For more information visit

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups White Lily or other Southern all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature 
5 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I used extract)
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, room temperature (preferably Crisco, per Virginia's recipe)
3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Generously grease a 16-cup (measure to the rim) bundt pan with butter. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the milk, eggs and the scraped vanilla seeds. Set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, cream together the 1 cup of butter, vegetable shortening and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the flour and milk mixtures to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating between dry and liquid, occasionally scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fill the prepared pan with batter. It should be no more than two-thirds full.

Bake for 15 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake an additional 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely.

Tips and Tricks
  • I used Spectrum organic vegetable shortening instead of Crisco. I also used organic sugar and unbleached all-purpose flour.
  • I think having the eggs and milk at room temperature is an important step that I used to leave out. Lesson learned!
  • I also used salted butter which may have added a touch more saltiness, of course.
  • It is OK for the cake to be a little gooey on top when you first remove it from the oven. I was afraid that I had undercooked it, but it was perfect when cooled - and perfectly browned on the outside. It was so perfect that we almost ate it up before I could get pictures!

Finally, I added a simple glaze and grated orange zest on top. Here's an approximate recipe of my own:

Orange Glaze

2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons half and half or milk (plus maybe more to get it to desired consistency)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier)
Dash of salt
Grated orange zest

Melt butter and whisk together with other ingredients until smooth. Slowly pour over warm cake. Grate orange zest on top of cake for decoration. Allow to cool until hardened.

Enjoy the simple, buttery pound cake goodness! Someone asked me at the family reunion if I sold them. Now there's a compliment. Thank you Virginia, Meme, Mama, Granny and all the amazing Southern cooks who came before.


  1. My Aunt used orange glaze on her poundage and it was so delicious. The recipe brought back very fond memories.

  2. It's funny - I used this same recipe as a jumping off point for my coconut cake. I've never made Virginia's (or Meme's) original version - you've inspired me to give it a try. I do love pound cake (as any good Southern girl should)!

    1. There is nothing like a good slice of pound cake! :)