For a cook in the 18th century, the recipe for poundcake was obvious from its name: a pound each of butter, eggs, sugar and flour, beaten together and baked until done. Golden-topped, rich and flavored with a splash of rosewater or dash of mace, it was the tight-crumbed grandparent of every butter cake we bake today.
Although the classic recipe needs no improvement, this hasn’t stopped bakers from trying their best over the past few centuries. They’ve tweaked everything from flavorings (Irish cream, peaches and dulce de leche), to texture (lightening it with baking powder or baking soda), to increasing the moistness with buttermilk, cream cheese or heavy cream.
And I kept all these variables in my head over the last few months, when I decided that this pandemic was the ideal time to come up with a poundcake recipe of my own. My loaf pan was already in near constant use, so why not give all that anxiety baking a more concrete goal?
After testing (and eating) my way through more poundcakes than I’m comfortable admitting, I started to see a pattern in the recipes I liked best. They were all on the lighter, softer side of the poundcake spectrum, with some kind of sour or fermented element to mitigate the sweetness. I also liked a glaze on top, preferably one with a candylike crunch that shattered when you bit it before melting sweetly on the tongue.
Gathering all these characteristics together in one loaf was the goal, and, many incarnations later, this crème fraîche poundcake is the result.
Its golden crumb is velvety moist, with a decided tang from the crème fraîche (or you can use sour cream), and a pronounced character from your choice of vanilla extract or good dark rum. I adore the rum, and have a hunch that bourbon or Cognac would be excellent, too.
As for texture, you’ll notice that, in the recipe, I give a range of amounts for the baking powder. To me, 1 teaspoon makes as perfect a poundcake as poundcake gets, a bit airier than, say, Sara Lee, without floating into chiffon cake territory. But if, like my husband and daughter, your poundcake desires skew denser, use ½ teaspoon. The difference is subtle, but noticeable.
Or try it once each way and decide for yourself. Once you start such delectable tweaking, it can be hard to stop.
Recipe: Crème Fraîche Poundcake