When I received a gift of fresh (raw) cream last week, my first thought was pound cake. You see, I knew the cream would become butter. And then the butter would become cake. And when I returned from the market with some beautiful Arucana (blue) hen eggs, well, that was just the nudge I needed.
I am a big fan of pound cake. I’ve made dozens of different recipes, but I’m here to tell you: Edna Lewis’ pound cake is perfection. And the beauty of the recipe is in the simplicity. Butter, eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla and a little lemon. I bet you have all of those ingredients in your house right now.
I first encountered Miss Lewis’ pound cake in her terrific book, The Taste of Country Cooking. If you haven’t read this book, please do. It’s one of the classics – a must read for anyone who loves food writing. (It was edited by Judith Jones, Julia’s editor!) The curious instruction to put the cake in a cold oven – and gradually increase the temperature over the course of an hour – captivated me. And from the very first time I made it, I was sold.
I’m not sure when the pound of flour, pound of sugar, pound of butter meme came about, but this recipe has nothing to do with pounds of anything. Edna Lewis declared success was certain with “a slow oven, cold butter, carefully measured flour, and the patient mixing of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour” in this Saveur article.
In subsequent recipes for pound cake she changed a few things and I’ve tried them all, but I come back to the first, the original, recipe every time. The one that starts in a cold oven. There are links to the recipe here and here.
When you bake it, start the cake in a cold oven, turn the temperature to 275°F for 20 minutes. Increase to 300°F for the next 20 minutes, then finish the cake at 325°F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean as a whistle. It’s nice to make in a fancy Bundt pan, but a tube pan works well, too. I haven’t had success with a loaf pan, so don’t do that.
Makes: 8 Tablespoons (4 oz., the equivalent of one “stick” of butter), and about 8 ounces (one cup) of full fat buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, optional
- Whip the cream using the whisk attachment of the stand mixer or a hand mixer. It will go through several stages, foamy, then frothy, then soft peaks and stiff peaks and eventually, butter. Start at medium speed and increase to high. It will take anywhere from six to 15 minutes until the butter separates from the buttermilk and it starts to spatter. Alternatively, shake the cream in a wide-mouth quart jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake and shake and shake until butter forms and separates from the buttermilk, about 15-25 minutes.
- Pour the buttermilk into a container. You should have about a cup. (This makes exquisite biscuits or pancakes.)
- Over a colander in the sink, make a ball of butter and wash it under cold running water. (Is the butter too soft? Float it in a bowl of ice water for 20 minutes, then continue.) Working under running water, squeeze and form the ball of butter again and again to remove all the buttermilk. Once the water is running clear from the butter in your hands, knead firmly to remove all the moisture. Salt the butter if you wish. Wrap in wax paper and store in the refrigerator. Use within a week.