4 Tips for Making the Absolute Best Pound Cake, According to a Pastry Chef

published Apr 26, 2023
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Cream cheese pound cake seen from the side, with one slice cut out with whipped cream and berries on it.
Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

If you’ve ever had a delicious, high-quality pound cake made with the best ingredients, then you know it tastes completely different than the store-bought variety. An expertly crafted homemade pound cake has just the right amount of sweetness, moisture, and fluffiness, plus a caramelized crust on the outside. Store-bought pound cake is often too sweet and lacks a lot of structure or complexity. 

If you’ve experienced some trouble making a great one at home, there may be some methods that you’re skipping that are preventing your cake from being its absolute best. While most home cooks don’t necessarily have all of the fancy tools or cooking utensils utilized by professional bakers, there are easily accessible ingredients and simple techniques you can use to make any pound cake taste like it came out of a professional kitchen. To get the rundown on how to make an amazing pound cake, we consulted experts at the Institute of Culinary Education.

What Makes a Good Pound Cake?

At a technical level, there are some things that one should look for in a high-quality pound cake. According to Trung Vu, pastry and baking arts chef-instructor at ICE, visual and textural cues like a dense and even crumb as well as a well-formed crust on the outside are the main qualities of a good pound cake. The factors that influence these two qualities, however, depend on the types of ingredients you use and the techniques used to prepare and bake the batter. This also includes using ingredients and an oven that are the right temperatures.

4 Pastry Chef–Approved Tips for Making the Best Pound Cake

1. Start with a cold oven.

Yes, you may have seen this simple yet ingenious hack for making better pound cake (even Ina does it!). Vu says that there is indeed truth to the claim that baking pound cake by starting it in a cold oven makes for a better pound cake. “Baking cakes in ovens that have not been preheated can lead to a more even, but dense crumb,” says Vu. “The reason it would be a more even crumb is that the batter is heating as the oven heats so the center of the cake heats almost as evenly to the outside of the cake.” The crumb would come out more dense because it develops smaller holes due to its more progressive style of cooking.

2. Use the right type of sugar.

When making pound cake, the type of sugar you use and how much of it can make a noticeable difference in the texture of your finished product. While there are different varieties of sugar you can use, such as granulated sugar or brown sugar, you have to know how each one will affect your pound cake. “Using white granulated sugar does lead to more firmness in baked goods in comparison to brown sugar, which tends to yield more soft, moist and chewy results,” says Vu. “This is true whether discussing pound cakes or chocolate chip cookies.” If you want a pound cake to have a perfectly firm texture that will make for a clean slice and great structure, use white granulated sugar in the cake batter.

3. Use sugar as a topping for the pound cake.

In addition to using the right type of sugar for your pound cake, it’s also important to not forget about the top crust as well. To make sure the upper part of your cake develops a nice crust, Vu recommends reaching for the granulated sugar one more time. “Some chefs like to sprinkle the top of their loaves with white sugar before baking,” says Vu. “[This] makes a crispy, sugary layer on the top.” In fact, this is a common technique used for making blueberry muffins — you can use regular granulated sugar or, for a more firm crust, demerara sugar. 

4. Make sure your ingredients are the right temperature.

You’ve likely heard this rule once or twice when it comes to baking, and it’s because it can have a large impact on the texture of your baked goods. Vu says that this rule does in fact matter, especially when it comes to pound cake. “When creaming butter with sugar, it is best for the butter to be room temperature so that it emulsifies with the other ingredients well and makes a homogenous cake batter,” says Vu. “Cold eggs or milk may also seize butter, so even those are best incorporated at room temperature. If you’re following a recipe that calls for any of these ingredients, make sure to take butter out of the fridge in time for preparation and allow eggs to sit on the counter for a bit to help them come to room temperature.

Now that you have a bit more insight into making bakery-quality pound cake, you can feel confident from the moment you pick up ingredients at the grocery store until it comes time to finally pull that pound cake out of the oven.

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