The pound cake is named not for its cost but for its original use of a pound each of butter, sugar, self-raising flour and sugar. That’s equivalent to 0.45 kilograms of each ingredient, but “not-quite-half-a-kilo cake” doesn’t sound quite the same.
Pound cake was my mother’s speciality—rarely as a cake, more often as the cake on top of stewed fruit. She called it a sponge; Americans call it a cobbler. It’s a rich, hearty, buttery, ethereal, standalone that, when it sits atop a bubbling stew of apples, or pears, or apricots, or berries or plums, or any combination of that lot—generally in a pudding bowl—produces a dessert that is truly marvellous, hot or cold, alone, or doused with cream or ice cream.
I used to be reluctant to make pound cake, as it requires that wrist-sapping creaming of softened butter, eggs that are always cold when you need them at room temperature (patience is not in the personality of the “dessert now!” cook), sugar, and self-raising flour. Often I’d have three of the ingredients, only to find that … Somebody Had Used The Last Of The Flour And Not Replaced It. Mainly, however, I had been put off by the delicacy of it, beating, then folding to produce an homogenous mix.
I was pleased to re-read, recently, that the venerable Jane Grigson shared my feelings. In her wonderful English Food, (Macmillan, 1974), she wrote that “until the mid-nineteenth century, it was laborious to make: ‘beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon’, says Hannah Glasse, writing in 1747”. Old Hannah must have had mighty fine forearms, belting 10 kilos of mix around with a wooden spoon. Grigson continues, in a vein that conveys a sense of relief: “Size and labour have now been beaten by modernity … to the extent that the pound cake—without loss of quality—has become the ideal cake for the non-cake-maker.” She went on to note: “I confess that it is almost the only one I produce regularly.” Modernity, in Grigson’s day (and my mum’s) was most likely a whirling hand beater, then an electric version, then a Sunbeam mixer, then a Kenwood, then a KitchenAid, then a Magimix, then a Bamix.
Now we have the Thermomix and it’s even easier than even modernity may have imagined.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease a loaf tin 13 centimetres x 24 centimetres and line it with baking paper—tear off a section and press it into the greased tin, tucking and pleating it to make a smooth lining. The cake may have a few dents here and there; meticulous cooks will cut out the baking paper into perfect lining.
3. Weigh the sugar into the mixing bowl and give it a 2 or 3 second burst on Turbo.
4. Weigh in the remaining ingredients. Mix 20 seconds/speed 9.
5. Scrape down the bowl and mix 10 seconds/speed 9.
6. Scrape the mixture into a prepared loaf tin. It will be thickish, but pourable.
7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a skewer into the centre comes out clean.
Adapted from English Food, by Jane Grigson (Macmillan, 1974)
AND … Once you have the basic model as your go-to cake, options for “improvement” are endless. As noted, pouring the batter on top of any stewed fruit (with minimal sugar) is a standout. The cake can be given more verve by adding spices such as cinnamon or vanilla bean when blitzing the sugar, or by “painting” the finished cake with lemon syrup (lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar cooked to lava stage). It’s also a crowd-pleaser sliced, lightly toasted, buttered and covered with jam. And you can use it as a base for lamingtons.