Pound cake is perhaps the father of most modern cakes – a term which could be applied to the standard butter-sugar-flour-egg based sweet quick breads, cakes and cupcakes that we all love. The original cake was nothing more than a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of flour and a pound of eggs, mixed and baked. It dates back to the 1700s, and the first printed recipes started appearing at the end of that century.
Once the initial cake was established, bakers naturally began for ways to make it taste better and lighter. Chemical leavenings like baking powder and baking soda were incorporated, as were beaten egg whites. Flavorings were added and the ratios went up and down to create hundreds of different types of cakes. But the classic pound cake stuck around with only a few modern tweaks to make it into the lovely dense, tender cake we know today.
This pound cake is a brown sugar spinoff of the classic pound cake and I was inspired to make it by reading a recent piece on James Beard in the New York Times magazine. The story recounted Beard’s pound cake recipe, which I used as a jumping off point for this recipe.
This pound cake is dense, but not too heavy, and is almost (but not quite) dry in the same way that shortbread is, since almost all of the moisture in the cake comes from butter. There are two types of leavening in this cake: baking powder and beaten egg whites. Both help the cake to rise during baking, but the beaten egg whites (a method apparently favored by Beard) can lead to a slightly uneven crumb because there will undoubtedly be some larger air bubbles in your egg whites and some small ones. Most recipes call for folding in beaten egg whites. Mine does not. The batter is so thick that it would be almost impossible to do so. Simply mix the whites in in batches using a mixer on low speed. Fold in the last small batch, if you can, and don’t worry too much if you need to use the mixer for that, as well.
The cake has a wonderful brown sugar and butter flavor, almost like butterscotch. The top of the cake, which browns wonderfully in the oven, is particularly good. I enjoyed the cake the most on the second day, after it had been wrapped in plastic wrap overnight because the “crust” of the cake was slightly softer. Eat plain or serve with ice cream, whipped cream or fruit.
Brown Sugar Pound Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9×5″ loaf pan.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat all four egg whites to soft peaks. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until sugar is fully incorporated. Egg whites should still be at soft or somewhat stiff peak stage. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t overbeat. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and remaining brown sugar (1 cup minus 2 tbsp). When fluffy, beat in all of the egg yolks and the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture. When all the flour has been incorporated, beat in 1/3 of the egg whites. When smooth and with the mixer still on low, beat in another 1/3. Fold in remaining egg whites with a large spatula, making sure no streaks of egg whites remain visible in the batter. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 40-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing
Makes 1 loaf. Serves 8-10.