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Pound cake help


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I'm working on a small-batch pound cake recipe for a class and have a couple of questions. I started with this "cold-oven" recipe and divided it by four. I'm happy with the texture (light and tender for a pound cake but firm), crumb (fine) and flavor, but my cakes fall in the middle. I'm using two mini-loaf pans (about 5"x2.5") and the amount of batter seems right. The cakes rise evenly but fall either right as I take them out of the oven or as they cool. It's not a deal-breaker, but I'd like to know if there's an easy way to correct that. Lower baking temp? I mixed everything very thoroughly at each step; is it possible that I overmixed the batter?

I also have a question about the directions to triple-sift the flour. As I understand it, sifting aerates the flour and helps keep the cake light, but I can't find any sources to substantiate that belief. I don't mind triple-sifting, but I know that my students will ask if it's necessary, and I don't want to give them incorrect information. I know I can make a batch without sifting to see if there's a difference, but I'd rather not if I don't have to.

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Sifting does aerate the flour and add lift. This was the subject of Rose Levy Beranbaum's master's degree thesis which I have a downloaded copy of. She had it available on her blog, but, I cannot find it again.

Try heating your oven 25 degrees hotter in the preheat, then drop the temp. Also, make sure you're baking it long enough. Could be too much liquid or sugar, but, I am guessing you're using a tested recipe. How's the humidity at your place right now?

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Lisa (and JAZ), the thesis is still available here: http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/2009/03/the_cake_biblein_the_beginning.html

I'd also wonder about the amount of leavening. Rose Levy Beranbaum makes a big deal in the Cake Bible about the amount of leavening that layer cakes of a particular size need. (IIRC, the short story is that the larger the cake, the less leavening, proportionately, they need.) I don't know how this translates across to a loaf cake. (However, the science teacher in me sees this as an ideal case for "combinatorial cooking" in a class setting: each person or group of people uses a different but prescribed amount of leavening, and the end results can be measured by the class!)

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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My father is not a fan of overly sweet things, and he absolutely loathes icing. So a pound cake is one of his very favorite treats (as a matter of fact, the only cake he'll eat), and I've been making them for him (reducing the amount of sugar) since I was about 12. I've used many, many recipes in those several decades, but like the one in Cook's Illustrated "The Best Recipe" the best. I've doubled the recipe and made several pound cakes from it, and have poured it into small loaf pans and made miniature ones as neighborhood Christmas gifts. They never, ever fall in the middle, instead rising and splitting beautifully and perfectly on the tops. Knowing those erstwhile folks at Cook's Illustrated as well as we all do, I'm sure if multiple siftings were the best way to go, they'd definitely do it.

But regarding flour, here's what they say that is apropos to this discussion:

First, they call for 1 1/2 cups plain cake flour. They say that "the recipe also makes 4 miniature pound cakes; use four two-cup pans and reduce baking time to 40 minutes."

And to add the flour: "Turn 1/2 cup flour into sieve or shaker; sprinkle it over batter. Fold gently with rubber spatula, scraping up from bottom of bowl until flour is incorporated. Repeat twice more, adding flour in 1/2-cup increments."

This recipe turns out the very best pound cake, in my view. And, like I said, I'm pretty positive that, if multiple siftings were the best thing to do, Cook's Illustrated wouldn't hesitate for a second to order you to do it.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I always thought a fallen poundcake was a flaw. Whenever I've had problems with a fallen poundcake, the recipe (printed, tested, or not) had too much liquid in proportion to flour. Add more flour for structure.

BTW, those ugly fallen poundcakes tasted real good, because less flour or starch allows the flavorings to be more intense.

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Sifting does aerate the flour and add lift. This was the subject of Rose Levy Beranbaum's master's degree thesis which I have a downloaded copy of. She had it available on her blog, but, I cannot find it again.

Try heating your oven 25 degrees hotter in the preheat, then drop the temp. Also, make sure you're baking it long enough. Could be too much liquid or sugar, but, I am guessing you're using a tested recipe. How's the humidity at your place right now?

Lisa, I'm using a recipe that calls for starting in a cold oven, so there's no preheating at all.

Knowing those erstwhile folks at Cook's Illustrated as well as we all do, I'm sure if multiple siftings were the best way to go, they'd definitely do it.

But regarding flour, here's what they say that is apropos to this discussion:

First, they call for 1 1/2 cups plain cake flour. They say that "the recipe also makes 4 miniature pound cakes; use four two-cup pans and reduce baking time to 40 minutes."

And to add the flour: "Turn 1/2 cup flour into sieve or shaker; sprinkle it over batter. Fold gently with rubber spatula, scraping up from bottom of bowl until flour is incorporated. Repeat twice more, adding flour in 1/2-cup increments."

This recipe turns out the very best pound cake, in my view. And, like I said, I'm pretty positive that, if multiple siftings were the best thing to do, Cook's Illustrated wouldn't hesitate for a second to order you to do it.

I'm quite happy with the recipe I'm using -- it's actually very similar to one on "Cook's Country" (CI's sister show/magazine/website). And in my experience, Kimball and the folks at CI often often seem to have a block against a certain technique, so that the entire recipe is dependent on avoiding that technique, whether or not it results in the best or easiest method. My guess in this case that they use cake flour precisely so they don't have to sift.

JAZ, just out of curiosity, where are you? Your altitude may also be playing a factor in falling cakes.

Pretty close to sea level -- high altitude isn't the problem.

Thanks, everyone. I have a few ideas to go on; I'll report back.

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I've used many, many recipes in those several decades, but like the one in Cook's Illustrated "The Best Recipe" the best.

I'm really curious about this. What have been the differences?

My understanding is that the recipe for a pound cake is all in the name - equal quantities (1 pound, originally) of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. In different recipes the base quantity may differ from 1 pound, and the flour and sugar may be listed as cups and not by weight, but a pound cake will always have equal quantities of those 4 ingredients. So I'm curious to know how different pound cake recipes are different?

FWIW when I've had troubles with cakes sinking, it's been because of too much leavening agent - something that can easily happen when using baking soda or baking powder as opposed to a self-raising flour. When a cake bakes, there's a point where the starches from the flour and the proteins in the eggs have enough strength to hold the cake's shape and ideally this happens at the same time that the cake has risen to its peak. The result will be a perfect cake. But if there's too much baking powder or soda, then the cake can rise too quickly and all the air can bubble out the top, letting the cake collapse again before it sets. The same thing can also result from the batter being too wet (not viscous enough to hold the air bubbles in) or the oven too hot (the cake again rises too quickly so the air bubbles escape before it sets) or the cake being taken out too soon (the air bubbles cool and shrink before the cake has fully set).

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Knowing those erstwhile folks at Cook's Illustrated as well as we all do, I'm sure if multiple siftings were the best way to go, they'd definitely do it.

But regarding flour, here's what they say that is apropos to this discussion:

First, they call for 1 1/2 cups plain cake flour. They say that "the recipe also makes 4 miniature pound cakes; use four two-cup pans and reduce baking time to 40 minutes."

And to add the flour: "Turn 1/2 cup flour into sieve or shaker; sprinkle it over batter. Fold gently with rubber spatula, scraping up from bottom of bowl until flour is incorporated. Repeat twice more, adding flour in 1/2-cup increments."

This recipe turns out the very best pound cake, in my view. And, like I said, I'm pretty positive that, if multiple siftings were the best thing to do, Cook's Illustrated wouldn't hesitate for a second to order you to do it.

And in my experience, Kimball and the folks at CI often often seem to have a block against a certain technique, so that the entire recipe is dependent on avoiding that technique, whether or not it results in the best or easiest method. My guess in this case that they use cake flour precisely so they don't have to sift.

Well, they are sifting, but only once.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I've used many, many recipes in those several decades, but like the one in Cook's Illustrated "The Best Recipe" the best.

I'm really curious about this. What have been the differences?

My understanding is that the recipe for a pound cake is all in the name - equal quantities (1 pound, originally) of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. In different recipes the base quantity may differ from 1 pound, and the flour and sugar may be listed as cups and not by weight, but a pound cake will always have equal quantities of those 4 ingredients. So I'm curious to know how different pound cake recipes are different?

That is the traditional recipe, which is why it's called "pound" cake. But the various recipes have been refined through the years. Naturally, Cook's Illustrated goes into some length about why they've come up with their exact formula, but it's a bit too lengthy to quote here. But just one example is their rationale for adding extra egg yolks: "Because they contain lecithin, yolks are good emulsifiers and thus help the batter retain air, making the cake light. Their fattiness contributes richness, tenderness and moistness while tamping the batter down a bit and thus militating against too fluffy an effect. Finally, the deep yellow of egg yolks gives the cake a beautiful golden color."

So, out of all of the many recipes I've tried through the years, I just like this one the best. I like the texture (not rubbery; not too heavy but not too light - substantial and dense enough), taste, crumb, appearance....I don't know exactly how all to explain it as I'm not really a "baker," but our whole family agrees that overall this recipe is the most pleasing.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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FWIW when I've had troubles with cakes sinking, it's been because of too much leavening agent - something that can easily happen when using baking soda or baking powder as opposed to a self-raising flour. When a cake bakes, there's a point where the starches from the flour and the proteins in the eggs have enough strength to hold the cake's shape and ideally this happens at the same time that the cake has risen to its peak. The result will be a perfect cake. But if there's too much baking powder or soda, then the cake can rise too quickly and all the air can bubble out the top, letting the cake collapse again before it sets. The same thing can also result from the batter being too wet (not viscous enough to hold the air bubbles in) or the oven too hot (the cake again rises too quickly so the air bubbles escape before it sets) or the cake being taken out too soon (the air bubbles cool and shrink before the cake has fully set).

This has been my experience also. I would, in this order: make sure I didn't overmix, make sure my oven is properly calibrated and accurate, and then start decreasing the leavening.

As for sifting, I always sift cake flour, or else a firmer clump may not mix into the batter properly. If the recipe directs to sift the flour (without other ingredients) three times, I wouldn't do it. If the recipe directs sifting the flour with the baking powder/baking soda, salt, cocoa etc three times, then I assume they want to make sure the other dry ingredients are properly dispersed into the flour. But I'd make my life easier and just sift once into a bowl, then use a whisk to further aerate and disperse the dries, before adding them to the batter.

Edited by DianaM (log)
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Shirley Corriher has some helpful cake formulas in her book Cookwise, if you can get your hands on a copy. I used the "lean" cake formula when I corrected a poundcake recipe from another cookbook. Corriher's high-ratio cake formula is available online. Your cake may be a high-ratio cake, "poundcake" labels aside.


http://www.finecooking.com/articles/ratios-for-great-cakes.aspx

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had similar problem with pound cake sinking with a ricotta pound cake (by Gina DePalma) http://bleedingespresso.com/2007/11/dolce-italiano-contestricotta-pound-cake.html

What I did notice when I made it might relate to the pound cake you are making. Pan size (or alternatively, how much batter I put in the pan) made a difference. Maybe even the difference between a straight brick-shaped pan as opposed to a pan where the rim is wider than the base could make a difference in how much batter is in the pan and how the structure forms during baking. After a couple of ricotta pound cakes that sank or overflowed and then sank, I decreased the amount of batter in the pan I was using and used the excess to make cupcakes (always a good thing!).

(The ricotta pound cake recipe also has an interesting instruction in terms of baking instructions but it doesn't really apply since you are using a cold over start. The cake bakes at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and then the pan gets rotates and the temperature is lowered to 325 for the remainder of the baking time. Note about that recipe in case anyone tries it, lots of online comments show that people found that extra baking time was necessary..)

Jayne

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