The original pound cake got its name from its ingredients. It contained a pound of eggs, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of flour. It was a dense cake, but it had a tender texture that other cakes at the time lacked and it became popular enough that we still have pound cakes around today. There are lots of recipes for pound cakes out there, some adding additional ingredients and some cutting back on some of the original components, and many of them are good recipes. Sometimes, however, it pays to stick close to the original recipe and this one is pretty true to its roots.
This Vanilla Bean Pound Cake is a straightforward pound cake recipe, made with butter, eggs, flour and sugar. I added a little bit of salt to make the vanilla in the cake pop more and a little bit of milk, which prevents the finished cake from feeling too egg-y. As in traditional pound cakes, there is no leavening in this cake, so don’t be alarmed that there is no baking powder or baking soda on the ingredient list. The slight rise that this cake has comes mostly from the inclusion of the eggs in the cake batter. It has a very dense crumb but is so tender that it almost seems to melt in your mouth when you take a bite. It may not look fancy at first glance, but this is one of those cakes that I would choose over an over-frosted layer cake any day of the week!
The cake, although simple, feels very indulgent thanks to its buttery vanilla flavor. Since I used a whole vanilla bean in the cake, it is also loaded with specks of vanilla. This is one recipe where it is definitely worth splurging and using whole vanilla beans, scraping out the seeds and adding them to the batter. If you don’t have any, however, you can still get a good vanilla flavor into the cake by using 2 tsp of vanilla extract.
The cake is baked in a loaf pan and cut in slices to serve. It can be served plain, with a cup of tea or coffee, or it can be dressed up in a number of ways. For instance, you could turn it into the base of a strawberry shortcake and finish a slice with fresh berries and whipped cream. For summer entertaining, you can toast a slice on the grill to give it some extra texture and serve it with a big scoop of ice cream. The cake keeps well when it is stored in an airtight container and it can be baked a day or two before serving, if necessary. This also means that you can nibble away at your cake in small slices over the course of a week if you don’t have any plans to entertain or simply want to keep this cake all to yourself.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5-inch baking pan and line the bottom with a small piece of parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour and salt
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds inside using the back of a knife. Add vanilla bean seeds to the butter mixture and mix to incorporate.
Stir 1/3 of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, followed by half of the milk. Stir in an additional third of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Stir in remaining flour, mixing just until no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Pour into prepared cake pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.
Allow cake to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.