Oct 27, 2009

Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake

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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
6 eggs
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.

  • I personally can never get enough pound cake! I get excited over the simple things in life and pound cake is one of them! Can't wait to try this variation. Thanks.

  • This pound cake sounds like my kinda cake….the crust is very tempting and pushing me over the edge to try this recipe myself.
    Love your pictures!

  • Based on the handwriting and ample heirloom recipes, I must conclude we have the same grandmother.

  • The chicken of the dessert world!! I'm going to be giggling over that for a while–but it is completely true! Buttery, crusty pound cake, I think you are my new best friend.

  • You are so right about always needing to try more pound cake recipes. I've tried many and love a few that have found a permanent home in my arsenal, but I shall try this one too (and undoubtedly spin it my own way as I can never seem to resist doing) I was wanting to try a new pound cake recipe this week anyway…thanks 🙂

  • You kidding?!!! I wouldn't "click-click away" after seeing such a beautiful picture of a pound cake here on your site! You're right about trying different recipes for pound cake. I love pound cake – it brought back sweet, wonderful memories when I was a little girl….Then there's something about its simple nature that is quite irresistable!

    Definitely will try your Aunt's recipe and will let you know how mine turned out!

    Thanks for posting and for sharing!

  • I love pound cake, especially heirloom pound cake! I can't wait to give this one a try. And there's no such thing as too many cake recipes, whether they be pound cake or chocolate cake!

  • Woo-hoo! Pound cake lovers unite!

  • Shauna, it's my first time here and I cannot leave this space without telling you how much I loved exploring every nook n corner of it! 🙂

    Pound cake looks so good! It's my bedtime in India and you have left me craving for a BIG bite of that yummmy cake!

    Will drop by again for sure!


  • Your cake looks lovely! I can't wait to try it out for myself. Your writing's lovely too, it has inspired me quite as much as the photographs of the cake.

  • Hi

    1/8 teaspoon of salt, is that enough salt for 3 cups of cake flour. I would think you will need more for that large amount of cake flour?

  • Jackie–That's what I've used, and always had success with the flavor. I actually adapted the recipe to make the salt 1/8 teaspoon since the original calls for a "dash" and I thought that would be too vague for most people. Increase it if you wish, it's about flavor, not leavening.

  • Well!!! Apparently, you are my cousin, since your Mom and I are cousins,my Dad was your Granddad's oldest brother and Phyllis was my Aunt! I miss them all! Love this site and I will give this great recipe to my wife and daughters. They're all terrific cooks and I'm sure we don't have this one! Thanks and keep up the great cook site!!! Wayne Foropoulos

  • I made this last night with buttermilk instead of sour cream, and I added lemon zest. Delicious! Great recipe for the repertoire.

  • I am right there with you on our "childlike amazments"! I still am amazed at how incredible it is for simple combinations such as eggs, sugar, butter and flour could produce wonderful things like pound cake! And speaking of pound cake, it is a such a personal thing to come up with a "perfect" pound cake, I Think! I personally like mine with a dense, tight, moist texture, but not overly heavily or eggy, and yes, a bit of that attractive brown crust with a good rise all over is a must!

  • thank you very much for sharing this recipe! this pound cake has been my best baked goods that i ever made! i am so glad that i found this blog and was able to share all of those wonderful recipes that you have, thank you very much big sister shauna!

  • Sending my thanks to you, Shauna and your Aunt Phyllis! I’ve never been a huge fan of pound cake, however I had a craving and remembered your site and this recipe. It is absolutely amazing, the perfect bit of everything! I added a little more vanilla and my whole house just smelled great! I plan on making a few more tomorrow and dropping them off to friends over the weekend! Thanks for sharing! (P.S. my baby sister’s name is Shauna and she loved it too)

  • […] /adapted from Shauna Sever/ […]

  • This is mouthwatering, can’t wait to try this. Looks divine!

  • I madethis cake it was Awesome

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