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Why is it called pound cake? History, recipe and variations.

Updated on September 10, 2013

Origins of pound cake

A pound cake does not have to weigh one pound. Actually, in the old days, it would have weighed several pounds!

The name came about because it was originally made using one pound of each of the main ingredients: flour, eggs, sugar, butter. Optionally, a further pound of dried fruit could be added as well.

Recipes date back well into the 18th century, if not earlier and they were popular in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The French have a very similar dish. Their Quatre Quarts (i.e. four quarters) is made using equal weights of flour, eggs, butter and sugar, although the actual weight is not fixed.

A plain Quatre Quarts, the French equivalent of pound cake
A plain Quatre Quarts, the French equivalent of pound cake | Source

Hannah Glasse's 18th century recipe

Hannah Glasse gave the following recipe in her cookbook The art of cookery, made plain and easy: which far exceeds anything of the kind yet published, first published by subscription in England in 1747.

“Take a Pound of Butter, beat it in an earthen Pan, with your Hand one Way, till it is like a fine thick Cream; then have ready twelve Eggs, but half the Whites, beat them well, and beat them up with the Butter, a Pound of Flour beat in it, and a Pound of Sugar, and a few Carraways”

As if that was not enough beating, Hannah goes on to say you then need to carry on beating “all well together for an Hour with your Hand, or a great wooden Spoon” (my emphasis)

The cake was baked in a buttered pan for one hour in a “quick oven “ (i.e. a hot oven, about 400 degrees Fahrenheit).

Already in this very early recipe, Hannah suggests a pound of currants can be added to the basic mixture if desired.

Some other early recipes suggested adding brandy or Madeira wine to the mixture.

Modern pound cake recipes

According to Jane Grigson's classic cookbook, English Food, the cake as originally made was not only very laborious to produce, but also huge!

However, she considers that the availability today of self-raising (self-rising) flour and baking powder, plus the fact smaller cakes are needed for smaller families, means a far easier method can be used today.

It is now possible to throw the ingredients into a bowl in any order. With just seconds of beating with an electric beater, or three minutes or so with a wooden spoon, the mixture is ready for baking. In fact, according to Jane Grigson, the most important time-defining factor is to get the butter out of the fridge early enough for it to soften sufficiently before it is added!

For a smaller cake, Jane Grigson suggests using 4 ounces (quarter pound) of each of the four main ingredients. That preserves the concept of a “pound cake”, because it retains the notion of using equal weights of each principal ingredient, except pound now refers to their combined weight.

In Jane Grigson’s opinion, the modern version of the pound cake makes it “the ideal cake for the non-cake maker”.

Slice of pound cake served with drizzled chocolate sauce
Slice of pound cake served with drizzled chocolate sauce | Source

Theme: A basic recipe for pound cake

Use the scheme of a quarter pound each of flour, eggs, butter and sugar, in Imperial, metric and US measurements (nb the metric equivalent is not exact, but follows standard conventions for converting recipes):


4 oz (125 g, ½ cup) butter, which has been allowed to soften at room temperature
4 oz (125 g, ½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar: Use vanilla sugar for extra tastiness. Ordinary granulated sugar can be used instead of fine sugar, but will take a bit longer to beat in.
4 oz (125 g, 1 cup) self-raising (self-rising) flour mixed with 1 level teaspoon baking powder
2 medium eggs (which is approximately 4 oz according to Jane Grigson)

Optional: Adding a tablespoon of ground almonds will improve the texture according to Jane Grigson.


Heat oven to 350 deg F (180 deg C, mark 4)

Cut a piece of baking parchment to a width equal to the long side of a 9-inch (23 cm) loaf tin. The length should be long enough so that you can fold the parchment into the tin so it goes down one side, across the bottom on the inside, and up the other side, with a little bit sticking out above the tin on each side. You can then grease the lined tin lightly if you wish, but it is not essential.

Mix all ingredients to a smooth dough using electric beater, wooden spoon (or use hands like Hannah Glasse did!)
Pour mixture into loaf tin.
Bake for approximately 1 hour. Test it is baked through by inserting a skewer or knitting needle. The cake is ready if no dough sticks to the skewer.
Remove from oven and allow to cool in tin for 15 minutes.
Grab hold of the edges of the baking parchment and lift the cake out onto a rack to continue cooling.

Proud to say this hub is a:

I was delighted to be invited to submit a link to this hub as a featured recipe on Mycitycuisine!
I was delighted to be invited to submit a link to this hub as a featured recipe on Mycitycuisine! | Source

And variations: Ten ways to ring the changes

You can use each of these ideas alone or combine two or three according to inspiration, or experiment with your own ideas

  1. Brandy or other alcohol: 2-3 tablespoons of brandy, rum, Madeira wine, or other spirit/liqueur. Replacing one tablespoon of the brandy with strong coffee (or use Kahlua instead!) works well too, especially if combined with walnuts (see chopped nuts below)
  2. Brown sugar: Use soft dark brown sugar instead of the white sugar
  3. Caraway seeds: These will give the cake the character of Hannah Glasse’s original recipe. About one dessertspoon is a good quantity.
  4. Chopped nuts: Mixed or just one type as you prefer: 2 oz (60g, ½ cup)
  5. Dark chocolate chips: 3 oz (90g, ½ cup)
  6. Dried mixed fruit, currants, sultanas: 4 oz (125g, ¾ cup)
  7. Icing: drizzle glace icing over the top
  8. Layering: Cut the cake across into two or three pieces and sandwich back together with buttercream and/or jam
  9. Lemon: Grated rind of one lemon plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  10. Orange: Grated rind and half the juice of a large orange


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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

      3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Hello, WriteAngled! I didn't realize that the pound cake had such an interesting evolution. I love its buttery flavor!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Pound cake (when done well) is one of my favorites, and I've often wondered why they were called that. So, now I know! Thanks.

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      That does sound good!

    • profile image

      Ruth Lanham 

      6 years ago

      I love pound cake with strawberries and cool whip free. Almost like a strawberry shortcake.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The 18th c. recipe calling for beating the cake batter an hour will have considerably increased the gluten in the flour. In other words, the baked product will have to have been one tough, chewy cake, something akin to eating a sweet, buttery Ciabatta bread without the benefit of yeast.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      love that old recipe lol

      absolutely brilliant article with all the different things you can add

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This sounds very yummy!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      7 years ago from Planet Earth

      No wonder people didn't gain as much weight back then - they worked off a lot of calories by beating the cake for an hour! May even have been too tired to eat it after that. I've done meringue by hand (egg beater), and it took forever. I went out and bought my first hand mixer the very next week.

      Great hub - I've always wondered about the origin of the name of the cake. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you, Eddy. I need to try your laverbread recipe. I love it, but have always wimped out of trying to make it!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Another to bookmark in 'My favourite recipes 'slot.

      Here's to many many more to share on here.

      Take care,


    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Wjhata great hub and one for me to bookmark into 'My Favourite Recipes' slot.

      I now look forward to reading many more by you.

      Take care and enjoy your day.


    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Well, there are all those cartoons of angry looking and extremely muscular female cooks brandishing rolling pins!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I've always wondered about that - must have been a huge cake. And beating it for an hour? Boy, those cooks back then before electric mixers, must have had some amazing arms! Now, I've whipped egg whites by hand with a whisk and it doesn't take much longer than doing it with a mixer, but an hour? Sheesh!

    • mljdgulley354 profile image


      7 years ago

      I have never made a pound cake but with this recipe maybe I will try it.

    • eye say profile image

      eye say 

      7 years ago from Canada

      fantastic, I've always wanted to make one, this Christmas I will, thanks for this simple recipe.


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