Sometimes, the best things in life are so simple.
Pound cake is most certainly one of those things. Rich, yet somehow light, simple yet elegant, straightforward and still complex. There is something so deeply profound about cooking one of your grandmother’s recipes. It almost feels ritualistic….passing down a recipe to another generation….memories, smells and tastes that are the essence of our experience with family, and the food we enjoy together.
Nana’s pound cake was a Christmastime staple in my family growing up and when I smell it in the oven, it feels like home. I never knew my Nana well but when I bake this cake, I feel like she is with me, probably giving me pointers here and there…and relishing the fact that her granddaughter is still baking her pound cake after all these years. This cake feels like a time travel back to a simpler moment, when baked goods called for basic ingredients, prepared in a very straightforward way and presented in a beautifully elegant manner. I have to marvel at all the celebrations, graduations, baptisms and holidays this cake celebrated. It’s had a good life and it’s still kicking!
The cake is almost indescribable, other than to say it is cake in its truest form. Wholesomely rich, with a deep crumb. It’s so dense you really should pick it up and eat it with your hand. No fork is needed. It’s richness needs no more than a dusting of powdered sugar, but somehow it feels light enough to enjoy with a morning coffee. If there is a mother of all cakes, this is it. As my almost three year old eloquently put it, this cake is “better than frosting”. That says a lot coming from her!
Nana was a smart cookie and kept the method, ingredients and presentation very simple. Who has time to bake an elaborate cake on Christmas Eve? The best part? It comes together in about 15 minutes, takes about an hour to hang out in the oven (bundts don’t like to be rushed!) and then takes another nano-second to decorate.
Doesn’t the powdered sugar remind you of a sprinkling of newly fallen snow? Perfect for the holidays.
The one wild card in this recipe is a spice called mace. It’s a cousin to nutmeg. It’s considered more subtle and delicate than the other traditional fall spices we commonly use. To quote Serious Eats…
“Imagine a cross between nutmeg and coriander, tinged with citrus and cinnamon. Add to that the same nostril-widening properties that nutmeg, mint, and basil share. Then add the complexity of raw sugar.”
I highly recommend trying it. If you can’t find it, nutmeg is a great substitute.
Bundts can be a little intimidating. What if it gets stuck? How will I know it’s done? I recently received a new bundt pan from Nordicware and the packaging included some great tips:
- Grease and flour the pan. Get every little crevice. You can use those cooking sprays that contain flour, but I always feel like I’m cheating a little when I use them. Maybe because Nana is watching.
- Spoon the batter into the pan. This will help ensure there are no air bubbles that could disrupt the beautiful shape of the cake.
- Turn the cake out on a wire rack about 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Don’t let it cool completely in the pan.
- Test for doneness just as you would test any other cake. The toothpick does not lie!
I’ve never had a bundt stick to the pan, but I’m sure its traumatizing! I think if you butter and flour your pan and it still sticks….it’s time to consider an upgrade. These pans are not your Nana’s bundt! And that might be a good thing. But you can still make your Nana’s pound cake in them 🙂
I love this recipe so much and it will definitely be on our holiday menu for years to come. My Nana was born in 1904, raised before the dawn of the world we know today. And while my children never met her, they have enjoyed her cake….and isn’t that the sweetest gift she can leave behind?
Yield: Serves 12-14 servings
Prep Time: 15 MINUTES
Cook Time: 60-75 MINUTES
Total Time: 4 HOURS (including cooling)
3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon mace or nutmeg (see note below)
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 3/4 cups (546 g) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 g) sour cream, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Lightly butter and flour a 10-cup bundt cake pan.
Bake the Cake:
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and mace together. Set aside.
Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. (I used 6 on KitchenAid Mixer) Scrape down the sides and add the sugar. Beat again for another 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and slowly beat until combined. Add vanilla and beat until combined. Slowly add dry ingredients, alternating with sour cream and beat until just combined. Spoon into prepared pan (spooning will help prevent bubbles and help maintain the bundt’s shape).
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (65-75 minutes). Watch this closely as the oven temperatures can vary greatly.