Tips on baking pound cake so the top does not crack.
Q: My pound cake came out beautifully, but the top of it was crusted. When I wanted to turn it out or cut it, the crust would break into pieces. Why? Can I do something so it won’t happen again?
— Nancy Kowalkowski, Chicago
A: A quick call to Kowalkowski yielded the recipe, grandmother’s pound cake from the 11th edition of “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook,” published in 1965. The recipe itself is brief, with this headnote: “Use an electric mixer for superior cake. Pound cake improves if stored a day or two. Butter is its characteristic flavor, but you may like to add 1/2 teaspoon mace, 2 tablespoons brandy or orange juice or 1 tablespoon caraway seeds or 1 teaspoon vanilla.”
Kowalkowski adds the vanilla to her pound cake. Here’s the recipe as worded in the cookbook:
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Butter and flour a large loaf pan or two or more small ones. Set the oven at 300 degrees. Cream until light and fluffy 1 cup butter, 1 2/3 cups sugar. Beat in, one at a time, 5 eggs. When creamy, fold in 2 cups pastry or cake flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spoon into the pan. Bake about 1 1/2 hours.
I posed your issue to Lisa Schumacher, who tests recipes in the Tribune test kitchen. She made a number of pound cakes using the recipe but adjusting baking temperatures and times. She found a very thin crust on top of the cake baked at 300 degrees for 90 minutes as directed. Schumacher didn’t encounter this crusting when she pushed the temperature up to 325 degrees and baked the pound cake for 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Some of the pound cakes Schumacher baked did have cracks on top. I had to wonder why. It’s “traditional and necessary for the steam to escape as the edges of the cake are baking faster than the middle of the cake,” she explained.
Schumacher offered these steps to lessen the chance of cracks and maximize the potential of pound cake.
1. All ingredients should be at room temperature; take butter and eggs out early enough to truly reach room temperature, or warm the eggs in a bowl of warm water while you beat the butter and sugar.
2. Mix the butter for 1 minute before adding the sugar slowly. Beat for 4 minutes. “As is right, this recipe calls for no chemical leaveners so now is the time to beat in all the air you are able,” Schumacher says.
3. Beat the eggs lightly before adding slowly to the mixture: “A whole egg is too much for the batter to handle at once.”
4. After the eggs, add the vanilla; beat for an additional minute.
5. Sift the flour and salt over the mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, and fold in gently. “You want to do this by hand so you don’t take out the air that you just put in,” Schumacher says.
6. Use a heavyweight pan so the cake will cook evenly.
7. Preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes, so the temperature is accurate.
If the pound cake still cracks, you can always cover it with a thin layer of icing or frosting. I think a white, lemon-flavored icing would be quite nice.