Welcome to the 7th and final “Cake Batter” class! In this class we’ll learn how to create pound cake perfection using the “Baker’s Formula”. Don’t worry if you haven’t followed the classes. If you don’t care about the science and are only here for a really great pound cake recipe, jump to the recipe and enjoy! If you’d like to follow the classes in order visit my Baking School page.
How to Achieve Pound Cake Perfection
A really great pound cake should have an even crumb with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and buttery, vanilla flavor. So let’s create a really great pound cake recipe given all we’ve learned throughout this “Cake Batter” course.
A successful cake recipe balances the ingredients that strengthen the cake structure (flour and eggs) with the ingredients that weaken and tenderize the cake structure (sugar and fat). Up until now I’ve worked from a formula of equal parts flour, sugar, butter and eggs (8 ounces of each). While that formula is certainly balanced, I found that a pound cake made following the strict quatre quarts recipe is less than ideal. It’s fairly dense, a little chewy and has a slightly flat taste. Before we start perfecting our recipe I’m going to introduce one more concept; the “Baker’s Formula” or “Baker’s Percentage”.
The Baker’s Formula
The Baker’s Formula is used to calculate the proper percentage of each ingredient for a successful recipe. The flour in the recipe is designated at 100% and all the other ingredients are designated relative to the flour.
Our quatre quarts recipe produces a so-called “lean cake”. A “lean cake” has a very simple 1:1 formula balancing the cake structure-builders with the cake tenderizers. In a “lean cake” formula the weight of the flour and sugar should be equal, and the weight of the eggs and fat should be equal. In other words, one structure builder balances one tenderizer.
The only liquid in our original recipe comes from the eggs. Liquid brings together the structure builders and the tenderizers in cake batter. The liquid activates the gluten and swells the starch in the flour. The liquid also dissolves the sugar and helps disperse the fat throughout the batter and, of course, provides moisture.
Thanks to the invention of cake flour, with it’s finely ground starch that absorbs extra moisture, we can change the Baker’s Formula to allow for more liquid. We can also use an emulsifier in the batter to help bind the liquid and fat in the batter. This allows for even more liquid in the recipe, and thus more sugar since you need liquid to dissolve sugar. A cake made with cake flour and an emulsifying agent is called a “High Ratio” cake because the ratio of sugar to flour can now be higher than 1:1 without compromising the cake structure.
A Better Pound Cake
I wanted to tweak the original quatre quarts recipe to lighten the crumb a bit, make the cake a little sweeter and produce a cake that is tender and moist enough to be eaten without buttercream. But I was careful to keep the characteristic even crumb and melt-in-your-mouth texture of a really great pound cake. I was not going for “light and fluffy” with this cake.
The first step was to lighten the cake a tiny bit, so I added a little baking powder to the recipe. A pinch of salt and a teaspoon of real vanilla extract were added to enhance the flavor.
Now that the cake was lighter I wanted to sweeten things up a bit. The Baker’s Formula for a high ratio cake allows for up to about 140% of the weight of sugar to flour. I found in my testing for the “sugar” class that I like pound cake with a ratio of 125% sugar to 100% flour. With this in mind I increased the sugar in the recipe from 8 oz to 10 oz.
I also wanted to add a little extra liquid for moistness, so I needed an emulsifier in the batter. Vegetable shortening will act as an emulsifier, but I prefer an all-butter pound cake for the unparalleled flavor. Instead of using shortening in the batter I used a few extra egg yolks because yolks are great emulsifiers and also add a little extra fat and flavor to the batter. I changed the 8 oz of eggs in the recipe to 4 whole eggs and 3 extra yolks.
Now that we have cake flour and emulsifying eggs yolks in the recipe we can add a little more liquid for additional moisture. I added whole milk to the basic recipe and then created variations using sour cream and honey. I love all three cakes for different reasons. My Pound Cake is the perfect melt-in-your-mouth buttery pound cake that I was looking for. The sour cream variation has an extra moist and tender crumb and the honey variation has a lovely tawny color and slight caramel flavor. I baked all the cakes in a 9”x5” loaf pan, but they also bake up beautifully in a Bundt pan.
Of course the “Baker’s Formula” is not only useful for perfecting pound cake recipes. If you want to create a light and fluffy cake that can be filled and iced with buttercream go ahead and test the limits of the “structure builders” and “tenderizers” to create your perfect cake texture.