Off-Script With Sohla

Sohla's All-in-One Guide to the Ultimate Pound Cake

January  4, 2021

Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique—and then teach you how to detour it toward new adventures.


Growing up, my mother always had a loaf of Sara Lee pound cake in the freezer. I don't remember it ever getting thawed. We'd carve off thin pieces and eat them quickly while still frozen, dense, and chewy. I loved the sticky crust and how cleanly the tight, tender crumb sliced.

This recipe bakes up just as delicate, has a thick brown crust, and is enriched with sour cream and an extra yolk. All the butter ensures that it will stay moist on your counter for days—but I still prefer it frozen, so the crust is jammy and soft, sticking to my fingers while I devour a sliver.

Because baking is a science, you must adhere to the core recipe. If you swap Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream, your pound cake will bake up dry. If you use brown sugar in place of white, the increased acidity will affect the rise. If you replace the butter (which naturally contains a bit of water) with something like olive or coconut oil (which are pure fats), your batter will look broken and bake up greasy.

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Top Comment:
“A good pound cake is an awesome dessert that keeps in the freezer and is ready when you are! Keep those videos coming! (Maybe you could calibrate your oven and avoid disappointment - cuz you deserve it!)”
— Katie W.
Comment

But don't fret! I'm going to show you when to follow the course and where it's safe to meander, so you've got the confidence to take pound cake off-script.

When this pound cake batter is mixed correctly, it’s stable enough to handle a few extra folds, so you can stir in blueberries, chopped nuts, cocoa powder, matcha, and more. You can change the flavor by stirring citrus zest or almond extract into the sour cream, topping the cake with a crumb, or adding a swirl of jam. Make it your own.

Behold: the greatest afternoon pick-me-up of all time. Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Sam Seneviratne.

For Good Measure

Fluffy ingredients, like flour and other starches, can compact in a measuring cup, so one person's cup of flour can weigh more or less than someone else’s. That's why it's best to use a scale. But you can still have excellent baking success without one; just take extra care when measuring.

When measuring flour by volume, I first whisk it up (in the container or bag) before spooning it into my cup until heaped. Then I'll level it off with an offset spatula or butter knife. With thick ingredients like sour cream, be sure to give the full cup a few taps on the counter to ensure it's lightly packed.

Take Off The Chill

Using room-temperature butter, eggs, and sour cream is crucial in achieving fluffy, tender greatness. Room-temperature butter is flexible, allowing it to expand with air as you cream it with the sugar. With a stand mixer, you might be tempted to slam some cold butter around with a paddle and, while it will get creamy, it will never gain the same volume as softened butter. This volume is game-changing because, even though there is baking powder in this cake, most of the lift comes from the air whipped into the butter.

Cake batter is an emulsion, a blend of two things that don't want to mingle. Butter is mostly fat, while eggs and sour cream are mostly water, so they need a little coaxing to get along. Room-temperature ingredients encourage everyone to play nice. If your batter looks curdled after adding your eggs, somebody was too cold. Let the mixture sit on the counter for a bit, then try and mix again.

My preferred way to temper the eggs, butter, and sour cream is to set them out the night before. If you're not comfortable leaving dairy out for that long (or live somewhere very cold), the microwave is your best friend. Zap your butter and sour cream in five-second increments, flipping the stick of butter and stirring the sour cream after every blast, so it heats evenly. To gently warm cold eggs, I'll put them in a big bowl of warm tap water for about 15 minutes.

Pick & Prep You Pan

Not all loaf pans are created equal—a metal loaf pan conducts heat faster than a glass one, resulting in a higher rise and more golden crust. That first hit of heat is a pivotal pound cake moment: The air trapped in the batter needs to expand and lift the cake before it sets; the baking powder reacts to the heat and produces essential bubblage. Avoid glass pans—they only lead to a dense, greasy cake.

Once you've got your metal loaf pan, skip the parchment and instead smear on a thick layer of softened butter. This will ensure a clean release from the pan and encourage browning for a toasty crust.

Scrape, Scrape, Scrape

Room-temperature butter will look creamy after a few minutes of paddling, but keep mixing. With more time, the butter and sugar will become feathery and light. This is where the pound cake gets its fluff, so don't rush it. The mixture should be lightened in color and look almost like buttercream frosting.

While mixing, you must stop the mixer, scrape the paddle, and scrape the bowl. Repeatedly! At least once while creaming the butter, after each egg, and at the end to bring it all together. Even if you have a paddle with a bowl scraper attached, you still have to stop and scrape the paddle itself. This is the only way to make sure every spec of the batter is fluffy-city! All you need is one bit of dense, uncreamed batter to create holes and tunnels in your cakes (aka a butter bomb). I know this seems like a fussy step, but it's the difference between a good cake and a great one.

Fill the Pan & Bake

This batter is super thick, which is excellent for mix-ins, but needs some assistance to snuggly fill every corner of the pan. When I tested this recipe, some loaves had big holes where the batter didn't settle. To avoid this, after adding the batter, give the pan a few firm taps against the counter, then swirl into it with a butter knife or offset spatula. This will knock out any air pockets and make sure the batter evenly sinks into the pan. A final score down the middle with a wet butter knife makes sure the cake splits right down the center as it rises and bakes.

Because the batter is dense, the pound cake takes a long time to bake. With the addition of streusel or mix-ins, it takes even longer. Don't worry if the crust looks very dark. It's better to overbake rather than underbake this moist cake. If my crust ever starts approaching burnt, I set a wire rack just above the cake and place a sheet pan on it to create a heat shield. This allows the cake to continue baking without getting too dark.

Black cocoa works its magic on this swirly, streusel-y loaf. Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Sam Seneviratne.

Ready To Remix

Yes, I've given you lots of strict rules to follow. But if you've gotten this far, you will have a creamy, thick, and stable batter that is ready to party! Here’s how to go off-script:

Keep It Simple With Mix-ins
  • Chopped dates and chocolate
  • Toasted almonds and cherries
  • Blueberries and pecans
Get Flashy By Lining the Pan
  • Spiced sugar (cinnamon, apple pie spice, or cardamon)
  • Cookie crumbs (Oreos, graham crackers, or Biscoff cookies)
  • Finely chopped nuts (peanuts or black sesame seeds)
Bump Up the Sour Cream
  • Citrus zest (lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime)
  • Any extract (vanilla, almond, or rum)
  • Instant espresso powder
Create a Swirl
  • Your favorite jam (strawberry, blackberry, or marmalade)
  • Lemon curd
  • Cocoa powder–ify half the batter
Add a Streusel
  • Black cocoa
  • Oat & pecan
  • Cinnamon crumble

Highly Recommended Pound Cakes

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Sohla El-Waylly

Written by: Sohla El-Waylly

Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae.

30 Comments

Sean S. January 14, 2021
Could you share the recipe for the Blueberry with pecan streusel, please? I do love the Sara Lee pound cake especially when it's chill.
 
Davida January 15, 2021
I just stirred in a cup of fresh blueberries right before putting the batter into my pan.
Found a streusel recipe I liked online, topped and baked

This weekend I think I will try chocolate chips!
 
[email protected] January 13, 2021
How much matcha?
 
Dana K. January 11, 2021
When can you add in the blueberries? And can they be frozen?
 
Davida January 11, 2021
Your video was my inspiration. Added blueberries and a nice streusel topping. So nice and moist. Can't wait to try it again!
 
Marcie(Marcia M. January 11, 2021
The pound cake additions, swirls, etc. sound delish, but how much of each?
 
lulieliv January 10, 2021
This looks fantastic! I don't have a stand mixer. Can I use the beaters on my hand-held mixer? Thanks!
 
Tiger S. January 10, 2021
I want my pound cake cooked in a bundt pan (just because that's how my grandmother did it, and nostalgia is half the wonderful flavor). Is this recipe big enough for an antique cast iron bundt pan?
 
amy B. January 10, 2021
Thanks for introducing me to Sohla! Her suggestions are just what average to good bakers need to elevate baked goods from fine to outstanding. And those “Boulder Crumbs” made me want to jump through the screen to grab! Where to find Recipe ?
 
AlwaysLookin January 10, 2021
Finally, someone promoting WEIGHING the ingredients!!

As an alternative to direct microwaving Butter to soften, try this - boil 2 cups of water in the microwave, then put cut-up butter in the microwave without turning it on - the Butter will SOFTEN, the time will depend on how Cold the butter is to begin with.
 
jpriddy January 10, 2021
James Beard made a wild Oregon huckleberry poundcake (blueberries are not an adequate substitute). Maida Heater made a Java cake. Those two are the only recipes I use that I did not invent myself.
 
Nancy N. January 8, 2021
Hate to say it but this was the driest pound cake I have ever made. Will not be making this again. Not the moist, dense pound cake I was craving. It tastes very good but this is not the recipe for the pound cake I know and love. I followed the steps and recipe to a T and did not overbake it. My ingredients were warm and everything came together as described. Was very disappointed in this recipe.
 
cocoa1134 January 7, 2021
As a single, I can't (re:shouldn't) make a whole pound cake just for me. Any ideas on how this recipe does in a muffin tin?
 
AZB January 12, 2021
Pound cake freezes really well. I slice, wrap each slice in wax paper, then aluminum foil and put it all in a freezer bag. Keeps beautifully. Nothing better than a toasted piece of pound cake and a cup of coffee!
 
Slaygirl January 7, 2021
my sis made pound cake it was chocolate, also can u make strawberry cheese cake poundcake and know some of the ingredients but not all
 
Slaygirl January 7, 2021
i had a chocolate pound cake/ and orange cranberry poundcake
 
havana January 6, 2021
Nice. Happy to hear that you are out on your own. Also, I have your same pan and since the metal is fold down on both ends, food gets stuck in the corners...gross when you're making a meatloaf.
Thanks for the great video.
 
Slaygirl January 7, 2021
i love meatloaf
 
Katie W. January 6, 2021
You are the cutest! Love your cooking videos! Especially the way you encourage folks to put their own signature on things - make it the way you would want to eat it! A good pound cake is an awesome dessert that keeps in the freezer and is ready when you are! Keep those videos coming! (Maybe you could calibrate your oven and avoid disappointment - cuz you deserve it!)
 
FrugalCat January 6, 2021
I usually bake in muffin tins- would I need to adjust the time any?
 
Eartha January 6, 2021
This may be sacrilege, but I prefer a less browned crust.
Any tips?
 
AntoniaJames January 12, 2021
That's not sacrilege at all. A brown crust on a cake like that = a dry crumb caused by over-baking. ;o)
 
FLAPKATT January 5, 2021
I am new here and just want to say I'm really excited to try it. I will definitely post my results. Thanks for sharing this.
 
NC January 5, 2021
Can you please share the black cocoa brand you used?