Pound cake. Although 1 pound is but a blip on the scale, the word, when applied to cake, sounds weighty. Maybe I'm just playing word association and thinking of Shylock's gruesome demand of "a pound of flesh." In any case, pound cake is not inspired by a Shakespearean line. It is much more prosaic: the cake was named for the ratio of ingredients it is made of: 1 pound butter, 1 pound eggs, 1 pound flour, 1 pound sugar. (Inquiring minds want to know, why isn't called "FOUR Pounds Cake?" Semantics, I suppose).
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Pound cake is characteristically a dense cake with a compact, buttery crumb (note that pound cake is not chemically leavened). Large amounts of eggs and butter are responsible for its rich taste and its sunny yellow tint; all in all, an impressive cake given that a sparse number of ingredients yield so much flavor.
Now the problem with pound cake is its tendency to be too heavy and overly dry. Over-mixing is often a problem, and many recipes, this one included, call for cake flour instead of all-purpose. Cake flour has a lower protein content, meaning it will produce a lighter, more delicate crumb, which is a requisite here given how solid the cake is by nature. Even though the butter, sugar, and eggs in this cake are beaten until light and fluffy with an electric mixer, I've chosen to incorporate the flour by hand to further lessen the danger of overworking the batter. The flour is sifted over the butter mixture in three batches and folded in with a rubber spatula. Another note on this cake: there is more butter in it than the ratios normally specify, and, in addition to whole eggs, yolks are added to provide a plusher crumb.
Pound cake, in its elegant simplicity, adapts to a number of variations and additions. In this recipe, almond paste flavors the base batter and a portion of it is then mixed with Vahlrona chocolate for an intensely aromatic, deeply flavored, and gorgeously marbled cake. Do splurge and use high-quality chocolate; each ingredient is discernible and thus, vital.
Store leftover pound cake tightly wrapped at room temperature; it keeps for a good two days. If leftovers hang about for longer than that, spread slices lightly with softened butter and griddle on a skillet over medium heat until golden on the outside.
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