I’m a sucker for a good heirloom recipe. In fact, I’d venture to say that if I were a Hilton or a Rockefeller or somesuch, I would be apt to say something like, “Forget the jewels and the inheritance, Grandmummy, what I really would like is the family chef’s recipe box!”. I should note that I go to these extremes in my mind because a) I’ve always kind of wanted to be a socialite and b) because my own family doesn’t really have a whole lot of heirloom recipes to speak of. But that didn’t stop me from trying to pry a few out of my Gramma the last time we got to visit with each other out in Denver this past August–she’s always been quite the baker when she gets around to it. You’ve really never had a better sugar cookie in your life. I am very serious about this claim.
Anyway, I’d only been back in San Francisco for a day or two before a cheery card from Gram showed up in my mailbox, stuffed thick with handwritten recipe cards for some of her favorite desserts (doesn’t she have the loveliest handwriting you’ve EVER seen?). I was unnaturally excited by all of this–it was the stuff that schmaltzy food blog entries are made of. But I’ll spare you all of that and just say that within the hour of opening that envelope, I was cranking up the oven and baking up my great aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake.
Aunt Phyllis was my Grampa’s sister, from the Foropoulos side (Greek, much?) of the family. Most of this branch of the family live in and around Memphis, Tennesee, so I’ve never really known any of them very well, just from stories that my mom and aunts would tell or a few fuzzy memories from when they’d come up to visit us Yankees in Chicago when I was really little. I do know I have a second cousin down there who is about my age and who has always had a freaky resemblance to me. And now I also know that I really should have been going down there to visit more often if these people are turning out baked goods as fantastic as this pound cake.
Now, I know what you’re thinking–um, pound cake? Snore. But! Before you click-click away from this post to find something that involves chocolate or cream cheese and is generally more food porny, let me make a case here. First, you can never really try enough pound cake recipes. Everyone should have a no-fail favorite pound cake in their repertoire. Because with a good pound cake as your foundation, you dessert options are seriously limitless. It’s the chicken of the dessert world.
Secondly, and maybe this is one of those things I should keep to myself, but I always sort of marvel with childlike amazement at how many different results can come out of the simple combination of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, which is what every pound cake is based upon. Whether you settle on this one being your very favorite ever or not, every recipe you try helps you figure out what your idea of pound cake perfection is. Are you after super moist? Buttery? Eggy? Dense? Light and airy? Almost chewy? Crust, no crust? Have I blown your mind with how much their is to consider with the humble pound cake, here, people?
This particular recipe, as you may have guessed from the name, is of the buttery, crusty variety. It’s basically the most awesome kind of pound cake, because the buttery flavor and crunch of the crust make it interesting and delicious enough to stand on its own, but it’s not so absurdly moist and dense that its overkill to add some fruit, chocolate sauce, a syrupy coulis or ice cream (or hey, maybe all of those things–I won’t tell if you won’t).
The light and fluffy batter, with its fabulous use of cake flour instead of all-purpose and a good dose of sour cream, gives you a clue as to how tender this cake is, but don’t let it trick you into thinking that it’s at all precious–this is a sturdy, no-nonsense cake. Bake sale material of the highest order, I’m telling you. It also is the perfect blank canvas on which to put your own twist–cinnamon sugar, citrus zest, a scrape of a vanilla bean, chocolate chips, berries of all sorts–very little would ruin this workhorse of a cake. Double the recipe, freeze one cake to “have one on hand” and feel like a champion of domestication–you’ll be searching for ways to use it up before you know it.
Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake
I’ve reworked this recipe a bit–note that it calls for the flour to be spooned into the cup and then leveled. The original recipe makes one large cake in a Bundt pan or angel food cake pan, but you can also divide the batter and bake it in two standard loaf pans (or halve the recipe for one loaf). I recommend making the full recipe in two loaf pans because this cake freezes beautifully. So bake one and freeze one–you won’t regret it.
Makes 1 large Bundt cake, or 2 9x5x3 inch loaves
3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream (not lowfat)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, angel food cake pan, or two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
Sift the flour, then sift it again with the salt and baking soda. The easiest way to do this is to first sift the flour onto a large sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, set the sifter over a large bowl, then use the sheet to help pour the flour back into the sifter. Add the salt and baking soda to the flour in the sifter, then sift all the dry ingredients together into the bowl.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the eggs one and a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir in the sour cream and vanilla on low speed. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time on low speed until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 90 minutes for a Bundt-size cake, and about 60-70 minutes for loaf pans. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack before inverting and slicing.
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