Pound Cake – Historical Context

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A Pound Cake is a rich, dense cake that has traditionally been a popular dessert in the southern United States. It is said to be originated in the 1700s in England and was included in Hannah Glasse’s “Art of Cookery” published in 1747. [1] The name Pound Cake comes from the fact that the original pound cakes were made from equal portions (a pound each) of butter, sugar, eggs (about 8 large eggs weighing 2 oz each), and flour. The original recipe did not include ingredients (such as leavener) other than the air whipped into the batter. [2] This simple and easy to remember recipe made it a favored dessert in the days when many people could not read. A cake made of 1 pound of each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour would have been very large and would have been able to serve multiple families. However, the recipe began to evolve in the late 18th and early 19th century and made gradual breaks from the original dry and un-sweet cake. With the invention of rising agents (such as baking powder) as well as the inclusion of liquids such as milk and alcohols, the cake became more moist, light, and flavorous, but retained the “pound cake” name. [3]

Although pound cake was known to other western European countries in mid-1700s and was called by several names such as Quatre-Quarts in French, Queque Seco in Spainsh, and Sandkuchen in German, it was first introduced to the American populace by Amelia Simmons through her cookbook “American Cookery” published in 1796. [1] Simmons’ pound cake included rose water and spices in addition to original four ingredients, thus marking the beginning of an evolutionary trend over years in which the recipe for pound cake would be constantly modified for differing flavors and textures. Over time, pound cake became much more popular in the southern states as evidenced by their inclusion in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife and Abby Fisher’s What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking (Ms. Fisher was an African American slave). The subsequent cookbooks published throughout the southern states continued to deviate from the original “a pound each” recipe, tweaking the ratio to include extra ingredients such as brandy, mace, vanilla, lemon, nutmeg, etc. [2, 3]

Coming from the original relatively dry and un-sweet cakes to today’s rich, luscious, and velvety cakes, pound cake has evolved in variety and its appeals and is now largely served as dessert in almost every American restaurants and coffee shops. Because it is a standard dessert that can be served at any occasions or times of the day around all seasons, pound cake is a popular go-to dessert and is enjoyed enthusiastically by people of all ages and cultures.

Wash the salt from a pound of butter, and rub it till it is soft as cream–have ready a pound of flour sifted, one of powdered sugar, and twelve eggs well beaten; put alternately into the butter, sugar, flour, and the froth from the eggs–continuing to beat them together till all the ingredients are in, and the cake quite light: add some grated lemon peel, a nutmeg, and a gill of brandy; butter the pans, and bake them


Brief Timeline

1800s – By the mid 1800s, pound cake recipes began to deviate slightly from the original formula to make a lighter cake.

1881 – The Pound Cake has traditionally been a popular dessert in the southern states. The first known cookbook written an African-American, Abby Fisher, called What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. Mrs. Fisher, born a slave, somehow found her way to San Francisco soon after the Civil War and created a life and business there manufacturing and selling “pickles, preserves, brandies, fruits, etc. Mrs. Fisher could not read or write. It is said that her friends wrote down her recipes and helped her publish her cookbook. Her cookbook includes two Pound Cake recipes.

1900s – Artificial leaveners (baking powder/soda) were added. Today, pound cakes use different proportions of the same ingredients as the original formula to produce a lighter cake. (Stradley, 2004-2014)


References

  1. “Pound Cake.” CooksInfo.com. COOK’S INFO, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. http://www.cooksinfo.com/pound-cake

  2. “Pound Cake | Pound Cake Recipe | Recipe For Pound Cake.” Pound Cake | Pound Cake Recipe | Recipe For Pound Cake. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. http://www.poundcake.net/

  3. “The Pound Cake Project.” Food History. N.p., 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. https://culinaryhistory.wordpress.com/the-pound-cake-project/


Recipe 1
Recipe 2
View Historical Context on The Virginia Housewife