Classic and simple, pound cake a.k.a. madeira cake is lovely, especially with an apricot jam glaze.
There are a few quirky cakes where the weighing out of the ingredients is their USP: the sette vasetti - seven pots, for instance. It’s an Italian yoghurt cake for which you measure out the other ingredients with a yoghurt pot.
So far so clever you’ll think, but in fact what an awful lot of faff it is. Just think: you need to wash the yoghurt pot and dry it, then probably wash it again after measuring out each next ingredient.
So in the end you’re forever washing that damn pot instead of using the kitchen scales in a civilised way.
The ‘seven pots’ cake has also its French equivalent and to be fair to the French, they have justified that awful pot-vasetti palaver by claiming it’s a toddler’s cake - since toddlers, even French, do not usually read scales very well.
That regardless of the fact that they bake yoghurt cakes at such an early age, and undoubtedly churn out savarins as soon as they start junior school.
Cake of four parts
Quatre-quarts as it’s known in France, ‘four parts’ cake has none of the pot nonsense but still, weighing is the key.
Four elements: eggs, sugar, flour and butter, weighed out in equal quantities, make the most beautiful and the simplest (which often goes together) cake in the world.
We call it a pound cake in Britain though that goes a long way back. Not even Mary Berry encourages you to make a four-pound cake these days since that's where the name comes from: it took a pound of each ingredient for the recipe.
Quatre-quarts, pound, yellow or madeira cake is a pure form cake. You don’t need to frost it or add any raisins or chocolate to the mix, and the only adornment should be a discreet dusting of icing sugar – or, like in my suggestion, a lick of good apricot jam.
How to make pound cake batter
The first thing is to weigh the three eggs – in shells, before you ask. My recipe specifies amounts but it’s indicative: eggs are not all the same weight. That same weight should now be measured out in sugar, butter and flour.
No denying: with a standing or a handheld mixer the job is easy, whisking by hand – nor so much.
I remember my grandma and her special cake-mixing bowl, stone or terracotta, with super rough inside. She also had a kind of wooden beater to mix the batter with, a wooden ball on a stick. And wouldn’t you know, she was able to produce the palest, fluffiest butter mix with just those utensils – and a lot of elbow grease.
But in a mixer, it’s a short shrift. But the better you initially beat the butter with sugar, till it glistens and forms tiny feathers around the sides of the bowl, the better the cake will come out.
I like using light brown sugar here so the crumb is less dry. After beating it perfectly with butter, you then add eggs one by one with a little flour with each, to stop the batter from curdling.
It’s a plain Jane of cakes so some flavouring is needed: zest of lemon, vanilla extract and a spoonful of ground cardamom, if you have some.
Then the rest of the flour is gradually added and beaten in until the batter is smooth and fluffy.
Baking and glazing
It’s quite a long bake, between 45 minutes and 1 hour, depending on your oven and the cake karma (which I firmly believe in: the came cake mix in the same oven will differ in baking time, I swear). So the skewer method is the most reliable indicator
Will it crack? It usually does, which is nothing to worry about. No oven is ideal and the absolutely precise temperature is difficult to maintain: that’s why cakes crack. It only makes them look more handsome though, in my view.
After about half an hour out of the oven we can glaze the cake and I adore apricot jam for this. If it’s very chunky, you might pass it through a sieve, otherwise just warm it up a little in a small pan or in the microwave, to make it more spreadable. Spoon it over the top and let it drip down, for a lovely shiny final touch.
More pound cake recipes
Crème fraiche is probably the best pound cake ever baked. It’s both rich and fluffy, it melts in your mouth, and it has this amazingly satisfying quality of a pound cake: velvety and smooth.
Chocolate pound cake with chocolate streusel, the latter well worth the bother. This chocolate pound loaf cake can also be frosted with ganache instead of streusel, depending on the preference.
Peach pound cake is the richest, most buttery and tender crumb made with peach puree, with diced fresh peach embedded in the batter. Jerrelle Guy’s recipe from NY Times Cooking with minor tweaks.
More loaf cake recipes
A great pumpkin cake baked in a loaf tin, with dried cranberries and walnuts, a perfect autumnal recipe for pumpkin bread.
Honey and apricot brack, inspired by traditional Irish bread with raisins and currants aka barmbrack, this one is full of dried apricots, sultanas and walnut chunks.
Parsnip loaf cake, festive with orange zest, cinnamon and raisins. This parsnip cake is made with fresh grated parsnips and has lots of flavour. Carrot cake, here’s some serious competition!