We all have family recipes that have been lost in the mists of time. Every time a grandparent, aunt or uncle dies, it seems a few more bits of family culinary wisdom slip away. Such, or so I thought, was the case with the famous Wilson family pound cake recipe, which was made for decades by my Great Aunt Fleta and mailed out to family far and wide.
You could always tell what your familial status was by how much of a cake you received. For a single person, half a cake meant you were in good stead. A quarter cake meant you hadn't made the trip to Kountze, Texas, to visit quite often enough. No cake at all meant you had some serious work to do.
I'll never forget that cake. It was nothing "fancy," no raspberry swirls or lemon glazes ... it was just golden yellow, with a light brown crust, and when lightly heated and topped with butter and perhaps a dollop of fruit preserves it was heaven on a plate.
I've looked for years for a recipe that could produce that cake, but apparently there's just something about a cake that starts with a pound of butter and a pound of sugar that frightens cookbook writers. I just couldn't get the results I was seeking.
Then, while researching recipes for the Thanksgiving season, I came across Chitterlings.com and the soul food recipes of Willie Crawford. One of his featured recipes is for pound cake, and it gave me the inspiration to play around a bit and, lo and behold, I reverse engineered Aunt Fleta's wondrous creation.
The absolute key to this cake is creaming the butter and sugar. I got my big Kitchen-Aid stand mixer out and gave the motor a real workout. Using the paddle, I mixed the butter and sugar together on speed 6 for five minutes, then gave them a couple of one-minute turns at speed 9, scraping the bowl in between, before finishing with 30 seconds on top speed.
If you prefer the old-fashioned wooden spoon method, settle in for a good, long session of stirring. The end product should be very smooth, without much in the way of grainy texture from the sugar.
1 lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 lb. granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 c. cake flour, sifted
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ c. buttermilk
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. eggnog (optional)
Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit.
Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. While the mixer is running, grease (pure vegetable shortening is best) and flour a Bundt cake pan. Use all-purpose flour for best results.
Once creaming is done, add eggs, vanilla, buttermilk, salt and eggnog (if desired). Mix thoroughly.
Add flour, ½ c. at a time, allowing each addition to mix in thoroughly. After all flour is in, mix batter 3 minutes at med-low speed, or at least 100 strokes by hand.
Spoon batter into cake pan, making sure to level off well.
Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a bamboo skewer inserted in the deepest part of the cake comes out clean. The first time you make the cake in your oven, check after 1 hour and at 10-minute intervals afterward to be safe.
Invert pan on cooling rack and carefully lift pan off cake. It is imperative that the cake not be allowed to cool in the pan, as that will ruin the crust.
Slice and enjoy! It will keep up to a week in an airtight container.
For a special treat, warm a slice of cake and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dust with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.
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