El's (Ersatz) Pound Cake, or, Easiest One-Bowl Pound Cake

When I was a kid, my mom made Pound Cake all the time. All the time. It just became part of the landscape for me because it was around so often, and I've always loved it. When I was in college, my mom used to make me an entire pound cake to take back to my dorm with me anytime I came to visit, and those days when I would walk into Smith Hall with a giant tin of pound cake to share with my hallmates are some pretty amazing memories. (Plus, the car ride from Raleigh to Atlanta always smelled a lot better with a cake in the passenger seat next to me!).

I've made a lot of riffs on my mom's pound cake: adding in peaches when I lived in Georgia, adding in cocoa when I wanted something more dessert-y, glazing it with lemon or dusting it with powdered sugar just to make it prettier, but my favourite way to eat it is still just plain. I haven't made a pound cake in ages-- they're not exactly cheap cakes, and they'll totally deplete your pantry if you're not careful, after all. But I was thrilled to find this recipe for Eleanor's Pound Cake in the box to see where my mom drew her inspiration from. This is definitely not the same recipe as my mom used when I was growing up (hers was sour-cream based, while this one has milk as the star ingredient), but it's delicious all the same, and it's interesting to see where my mom gained her baking knowledge from.

Weirdly, this recipe is labelled as 'El's Pound Cake,' but it's from Eleanor's own box, so I'm not sure why she felt the need to further explain it. It's also written in what could well be the sloppy predecessor to my mom's impeccably neat, font-like handwriting, on the back of a receipt for dry cleaning, which I just love. Based on the fact that the dry cleaner was in Florida (where Eleanor didn't move until the late 1950s) and my mom may have been the one who wrote it down, I'm pretty sure this one comes from the mid-to-late 1960s. While not a decade known for their culinary delights, this cake is amazing, not least of all because there is no ingredient in it that measures a pound... so why, in fact, is it even called a pound cake?

I don't know if pound cake is particularly common over here in Scotland, so just in case you haven't heard of it/had one, it's a cake traditionally made with one pound of every maind ingredient in it (flour, sugar, milk, butter/shortening). It's a dense, moist cake that goes absolutely perfectly with a cup of coffee for brunch, but can also make a perfectly fine snack or dessert. Most importantly, this one is a one-bowl recipe, which means you really have no excuse not to make it ASAP.

Additionally, I know that technically you can make a pound cake in any pan, but I grew up with my mom making it in her trusty bundt pan, so it never even occurred to me to make it in anything else.* If you choose to do the same, then note that this doesn't rise a whole lot and will only fill a standard-size bundt pan about halfway (if you have some of those adorable smaller bundt pans, this would be the perfect time to give them a try!). Even in a standard-sized pan, it still cooks up just fine, so don't worry if your pan looks only half-full. Alternately, in lieu of a bundt, you could make this in a loaf pan and it would still be just fine.

*Incidentally, my mom and Eleanor's proclivity toward bundt pans may be another sign of Eleanor's Polish heritage shining through-- in doing my research to make sure I was using the correct terminology, I learned that bundt pans originated in Germany and Poland, where they were used for making cakes called gugelhopfs.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. I'm really torn on this one-- it's not as good as my mom's (unsurprisingly), but it is really, really good. And so far 100% of the people who have tasted this one have voted strongly in favour of it, so it's getting 4 spoons.


As mentioned above, you can tweak this by throwing in a handful of fresh or frozen fruit, adding a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder, a handful of chocolate chips, or (my favourite) swap the vanilla for additional lemon juice, then add some lemon zest and lavender buds, or anything else your heart desires.
We got new mugs that I'm really excited about, because they somehow match the vintage plates i bought years ago at a 1950s thrift shop.

We got new mugs that I'm really excited about, because they somehow match the vintage plates i bought years ago at a 1950s thrift shop.

The recipe:

El's Pound Cake

the ingredients:

3 c flour, sifted*
1 ½ c sugar
1 c shortening
4 eggs
1 c milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
*The recipe calls for 'prepared flour,' and I didn't know how to prepare it other than to put it in a measuring cup, so I sifted it. This is probably optional.

The directions:

Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
If your pan is not non-stick, grease and flour it lightly.
Beat all ingredients for at least 5 minutes.
This will seem much longer than necessary, but the original recipe calls for 20 minutes. I compromised and beat mine for 10 because I figured today's mixers are probably infinitely stronger (and, because I use a transformer with an American mixer in my expatriate kitchen, I get nervous about leaving the mixer running for too long because it starts to sound funny).
Batter should be very smooth, light-coloured and have the texture of a can of paint.
Pour evenly into your pan, smooth the top and bake 40-45 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted all the way in comes out with just a crumb or two.