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Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe
Recipe Review

I Tried 4 Famous Pound Cake Recipes and the Winner Is Absolutely Flawless

updated Sep 25, 2022
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When pound cake is good, nothing else compares. But when it’s bad, it’s extra sad. (I still have vivid memories of a former roommate’s family recipe that was closer to cardboard than cake.) To me, the perfect pound cake is moist and flavorful with a crisp, golden brown crust. It should have a light, tender crumb, but still be sturdy enough to slice cleanly into thick pieces. It should be delicious on its own, and also be a tasty partner for toppings, like whipped cream and berries.

Pound cake is believed to have originated in Europe in the 1700s and introduced to America by Amelia Simmons in her 1796 cookbook American Cookery, which was the first cookbook authored by an American and published in the United States. Abby Fisher, who was enslaved in South Carolina before making her way to San Francisco after the Civil War, helped popularize pound cake in the South when she included not one, but two pound cake recipes in her 1881 cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking. Fisher’s book was the first known cookbook written by an African American.

Pound cake got its name from the fact that the original recipe used one pound each of sugar, eggs, flour, and butter. These proportions made it easy for anyone to whip up a cake, regardless of whether they could read or write. But using a pound of each ingredient would have created a mammoth cake — big enough to serve multiple families.

Over time, pound cake recipes were adjusted to include artificial leaveners like baking powder and soda, new ingredients and techniques were introduced, and the whopping amount of ingredients was scaled back to make it more appropriate for home bakers. 

Today, there are countless pound cake recipes, many of which claim to be “the best.” Some use sour cream for moisture and tenderness; others swap in cream cheese or heavy cream.

Other variations include sugared sides for extra crunch or the addition of flavored extracts to set their recipe apart. After narrowing down the field down to four contestants, I set out to see which pound cake recipe is worth making. 

Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

Meet Our Four Pound Cake Contenders

After sorting through dozens of pound cake recipes, I landed on these four, each of which has a slightly different approach.

Carla Hall’s pound cake recipe comes from her grandmother — and she claims it’s absolutely foolproof. What sets it apart is the use of sour cream, as well as five different extracts. 

Ina Garten’s recipe uses heavy cream, orange zest, and a vanilla bean, but the real curveball is that the cake is started in a cold oven.

King Arthur’s recipe has hundreds of five star reviews. This version is baked in a loaf pan rather than bundt pan, making it the smallest of the bunch. 

Grandbaby Cakes uses cream cheese in her Southern-style pound cake. Tons of glowing reviews suggest that cream cheese may really be a game changer. 

How I Tested the Pound Cake Recipes

To keep things fair, I made sure to use the same brand of ingredients for all four recipe tests: Florida Crystal sugar, King Arthur Baking flour, Vermont Creamery butter, and eggs from my own chickens.

I’m not going to lie, testing four cakes in a day was a LOT, but I wanted them to all be equally fresh when I tasted them. I let each cake cool to room temperature before testing a slice, then I tasted them side by side at the end of the night. 

Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

1. The Flavor-Packed Family Recipe: Carla Hall’s Granny’s Five-Flavor Pound Cake

This recipe came together quickly and easily, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt more like a tropical angel food cake than a classic pound cake. Instead of the crisp crust I was expecting, the exterior baked up smooth and oddly soft, and the inside sprung back and almost jiggled when poked. The combo of the coconut and rum extract added the tropical vibe.

With that said, there’s lots of room to play with this recipe. Try switching up the amounts of each extract, or even swapping in new ones (several five flavor pound cake recipes suggest orange or butter extracts) to create a flavor-packed cake customized to your liking. You could also scale down to just two or three extracts if you don’t have all five.

Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

2. The Best Basic Recipe: King Arthur’s Velvet Pound Cake 

Despite the fact that I’ve used their flour for years, this was the first recipe I’ve ever tried from King Arthur Baking Company. Their recipes are known for being reliable and easy-to-follow, and this one didn’t let me down: you basically dump everything into the bowl of a stand mixer and blend it together to create the batter.

But while I appreciated the ease, the texture of the cake wasn’t anything special —  it had a tight crumb that wasn’t particularly delicate or tender. This was particularly disappointing since it’s described as “velvet.” Flavor-wise, I liked that it wasn’t too sweet, but it could use a little oomph. Next time, I’ll throw it on the grill and top it with whipped cream and peaches.

Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

3. The One Packed with Smart Upgrades: Ina Garten’s Perfect Pound Cake

Ina calls this the perfect pound cake, and I wholeheartedly agree — it’s full of smart upgrades and was very close to taking home the first-place prize. It starts off in a cold oven (that means no preheating) and slowly cooks through, which results in a tender, even crumb.

Baking it low and slow also ensures that the crust doesn’t darken too quickly before the inside of the cake is cooked through, though I did have to bake mine for much longer than Ina suggested. Ina’s use of vanilla bean along with orange zest perfumes the cake, giving it the most incredible flavor.

But my favorite part was coating the sides of the pan with turbinado sugar, which created the most irresistible crackly crust. This textural contrast made it stand out from the crowd, and there’s no question I’ll be making it again.

Credit: Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

4. The Craveworthy Classic: Grandbaby Cakes’ Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I’ve only ever read glowing reviews of Grandbaby Cakes’ recipes, and now I understand the hype. Jocelyn goes above and beyond in her blog post to explain every single detail of this pound cake, from its history in her family to why certain ingredients and proportions are used. But most importantly, the recipe worked perfectly.

It has the most gorgeous golden brown exterior, and creaming the butter with oil and cream cheese created a super moist crumb. It certainly doesn’t need any toppings, but I have no doubt it would taste great paired with berries and whipped cream. I honestly can’t think of a single way to improve this recipe: it’s fantastic.

Be prepared that this recipe is baked in a 12-cup bundt pan and feeds a crowd, but that is kind of the whole point of pound cake. If you’re looking for a classic recipe, this is the one to make.

Do you have a favorite pound cake recipe? Let us know in the comments!