Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Quatre Quarts" Pound Cake

Here is a cake recipe that's really piece of cake: the pound cake. The name of this cake comes from the fact that all ingredients are weighed and used in equal proportions (traditionally, one pound each of flour, butter, eggs and sugar). In French we call it "Quatre quarts" (litterally "4 fourths"), also reflecting the fact that all 4 ingredients are used in equal amounts.
It is a very simple yet deliciously fragrant and addictive cake. No additional flavoring is needed if you choose good quality products. The biggest challenge is to beat and blend the ingredients well enough to make the cake moist and fluffy (otherwise "pound cake" will have a very different meaning!). So:
  • Take 3 large eggs and weigh them. They should weigh about 2 oz. each (60 grams).
  • Weigh the same amount of all-purpose flour: 6 oz. (180 grams) or 1 1/4 cups
  • Weigh the same amount of sugar: 6 oz. (180 grams) or 3/4 cup
  • Weigh the same amount of butter: 6 oz. (180 grams) or 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks).
    You can use unsalted and salted butter (50-50), or unsalted butter alone with a good amount of salt (up to 1 teaspoon). The first time I've used salted butter in a pound cake, I thought I'd just made a huge mistake (I intended to use unsalted butter) and panicked. But it turned out to be really good, maybe even better than with unsalted butter: all the simple and earthy flavors of the butter, sugar and egg are enhanced by the salt. And it gives the cake the unique flavor of Britany pastries, that also use "beurre demi-sel". Free trip to the beach!
  1. Pour the sugar in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter* and blend it in with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Set the whites aside.
  3. Add the egg yolks to the sugar-butter mix. Stir well (with the wooden spoon). The more energetically you beat, the fluffier the cake.
  4. Slowly add the sifted flour and incorporate it gradually as it falls on the batter.
  5. Add some salt (up to a whole teaspoon). This isn't needed if you are using salted butter.
  6. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat until stiff. If the egg whites have been beaten enough you should be able to flip the bowl upside down and they won't fall down... Up to you to take the risk!
  7. Incorporate the egg whites to the batter, one big spoonful at a time, very delicately, making under-and-over motions until evenly blended. The foam (air bubble) shouldn't "break". This is also a very important step in getting a fluffy cake.
  8. Pour the batter in a buttered round metallic cake mold (about 12" 9-10 inches in diameter).
  9. Bake at 350F (180C) for about 45 minutes or until baked (if you stick a knife in the center of the cake it should come out dry).

* For long I've melted butter directly in the cake pan, in the preheating oven. This way the mold was buttered and I didn't have to wash another dish. But it's easy to "over melt" the butter (i.e. get to the point where it's bright yellow and oily rather than white and foamy). Now that I have a micro-wave (it's only been a few months, believe it or not) I find it even more convenient to melt the butter in there. My micro-wave even has a "melt butter" button!


Elvira said...

Une merveille dont je raffole!

CARINE said...


Mrs Frog said...

This is a great recipe, and I have now subscribed to your blog

Ruchi said...

I came your website while looking for a pound cake recipe.I tried your recipe and lo behold,it tasted fabulous.I cannot believe that a cake could be so light and fluffy without baking powder or soda.Thanks a million.This is the best cake that I have ever made or eaten.

Estelle said...

A question please. I don't have a round cake tin that size but I do have a 9x5 loaf pan. Would that do?
Or do I have to get a large round pan.
Can't wait to try this cake. Looks divine.

Estelle (yes it's my name too)

Estelle said...

Hi all, thanks for your comments.
Estelle, I think your loaf pan will work great!

davina said...

I'm delighted to have found your web site and your wonderful recipe so well described. I'm the sort of person who needs instructions to be very precise; I look forward to trying the cake.
Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This is really perfect since I want to try making 'Madeleines' in this manner of Quatre Quarts, as I believe this may have been the method used, originally. I was looking for something like this and it is really appreciated to see the breakdown in cups, etc. Thanks a lot.

ineke said...

Lovely cake and clear instructions BUT the cake tin required is definitely not a 12" diameter as in your recipe. I went out and bought one and was puzzled at it's enormous size, large enough for a Christmas cake! Once I had made the mixture I used a 10" which was quite large enough. The resulting cake was extremely popular. I lived in France for a while when I was young and learned to make this cake but had forgotten the procedure so thank you very much for posting it.

Estelle said...

So I measured my cake tins again and I only have a 9" and a 10" (from the picture in this post it looks like I used the 10" one but both would work). A 12" pan would definitely be too big. Thanks for the correction!
I'm glad you found the recipe useful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Estelle, the cake looks great on the picture. Have you ever tried using a mixer (pieds mixeurs) ?


Estelle said...

Hi Isabel,
To me it sounds like using a mixer would be more work than doing this cake with a simple bowl and wooden spoon... It's really quick and you won't have as much cleaning to do afterwards! Plus I really like the feeling and sound of the egg yolks becoming foamy in the sugar and butter. So using a mixer would take away part of the joy :-)
I do use an electrical egg beater for the egg whites, though.

Isabel said...

Well, I did try your recipe and it was fan-tas-tic.

Today a colleague has given me pure cane sugar from Cuba; I've just been to the store to buy organic butter and try it again.
¡Ñam, ñam!

aaronetz said...

Just came out of the oven, tastes great! Thanks.

I like especially the crust. I was thinking of baking it in a larger pan to get more crust/crumb ratio. What do you think?

Estelle said...

Sure, if you like the crust go for a bigger pan. But you'd better check for doneness after a shorter baking time (say 30 min) to avoid it from drying out.

Anonymous said...

I made it in a square meat-loaf pan and it was fine. Today I am going to make it again but this time with blueberries, cranberries and walnuts. yummmm

Victor Noagbodji said...

merci Estelle. c'est bien la première recette de gâteau qui est sortie reussie de notre four du campus :)

je suis inscrit au blog.

Karina said...

I have a question for you, some unse melted butter and others cream the sugar and the butter, what would be the outcome of each way of preparing it..also, have tou tried making a coffee cake with the Quetre quarts recipe???can you share it with me???

Estelle said...

Hi Karina,
Yes you're supposed to cream the butter... which requires a good amount of elbow grease and the patience to let the butter warm up to room temperature. The lazy/quick way is to melt the butter. The taste is slightly altered - more oily. Creaming tastes better. But it's a subtle difference. I guess creaming was the only way to go before microwaves made their way into everyone's kitchen.

I've never made a coffee cake...

Karina said...

Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanx for the Quatre Quarts recipe. Just a gentle tick: WEIGHED n-o-t «weighTed» S.V.P. while subtle in spelling the semantic difference is HUGE.... NOone wants a weighTed cake! <6-)

Estelle said...

Weighed, of course! Thanks for the correction.

Krista said...

thanks for this recipe. I've never heard of quatre-quart pound cake before but I'm excited to try it out. I don't usually use a hand or regular mixer either but it looks like i might have to in order to beat the eggs... although, do you know if it's possible to skip that by just adding whipped cream or would that be too soft that it wouldn't hold up?... Let me know what you think, and thanks for your precise directions! Merci beaucoup!

Anonymous said...

Remember this little snack when I came home from school. My grandma would put bits of candied ginger in batter and yummmmmy!

Anonymous said...

This is the best and easiest cake recipe I've tried so far... and it tastes really good. It could do with half the sugar though. I reduced the quantity to 150g. I would recommend it to anyone who's baking a cake for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Estelle, can you comment on the difference in texture between the creaming method and your method?
I'm looking for a pound cake that is airy, soft and moist. Thanks.