Winning Recipes: Italian Lemon and Amaretto Pound Cake updates a classic

A traditional pound cake recipe with an Italian twist.
Italian Lemon and Amaretto Pound Cake. [LORRAINE STEVENSKI   |   Special to the Times]
Italian Lemon and Amaretto Pound Cake. [LORRAINE STEVENSKI | Special to the Times]
Published December 4
Updated December 11

The first pound cake recipe dates back to the early 1700s. A recipe was published in 1796 in the first American cookbook, American Cookery. It called for a pound each of four ingredients: flour, butter, eggs and sugar.

By the mid 1900s, recipes began to add chemical leaveners such as baking soda and baking powder to increase the rising power of the cake. This produced a lighter and less dense pound cake. Later versions added lemon juice, orange juice and dried fruit, as well as different butter mixing techniques.

Sour cream and vegetable oil were sometimes substituted for butter, which is intended to result in a moister cake. This is before the electric mixer came to be, so the ingredients were mixed by hand. Today’s powerful electric mixers can incorporate air into sugar and butter in just minutes. This “creaming” method is what gives a pound cake the rise or lift when the cake is baked.

Every country has a version of pound cake. The British invention is called Madeira cake. It is served with tea, liquors or Madeira wine. The French call their pound cake quatre-quarts, which means four quarters or equal parts. French Caribbean pound cake has added rum or even mashed bananas for extra moisture. Mexican pound cake is called panque and has walnuts or raisins. South American pound cakes, ponque, are soaked in wine and have a cream or sugar coating.

I have created many pound cake recipes over the years for contests and gatherings. I bake them in loaf pans, Bundt pans and muffin pans. Different toppings, icings, streusels and add-ins are what make a pound cake stand out. Here is a classic pound cake recipe with an Italian twist: Amaretto and fresh lemon.

There are no artificial leaveners in this cake, so the eggs give this cake the rise. The highlight is the infusion of a lemon and Amaretto syrup drizzled on top of the cake before it cools. The final sprinkle of lemon zest and sugar give the cake a beautiful presentation and extra sweet lemon flavor.

I created this recipe 15 years ago using the classic creaming method, which starts with beating the butter and sugar together until they’re lightened in color and fluffy. After lots of research, I have improved this recipe using a high ratio or paste method of mixing the butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Soft butter and room-temperature liquids are beaten into the dry ingredients until the texture is smooth and airy. The butter-coated flour slows the formation of gluten (which starts once flour comes in contact with liquid), and results in a slightly sturdier cake that is moist and soft in texture.

You can’t fail with this method, as it slowly incorporates the ingredients without the risk of a curdled batter and a fallen cake. This is my perfect pound cake recipe. It was a first-place winner in the NestFresh Egg-Cellent Baking Contest in May 2017.

Italian Lemon and Amaretto Pound Cake

Vegetable shortening

Flour

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened, cut into pieces

5 large eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

For the syrup:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup Amaretto liqueur

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the topping:

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange an oven rack to the middle of the oven. Lightly coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with vegetable shortening. Use a pastry brush and get into all the grooves. Dust lightly with flour until you see a thin white film completely covering the shortening. Tap lightly over the sink to remove any excess flour. Place the Bundt pan on a half sheet pan. This keeps the top from burning.

Make the cake: In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, sugar and salt. Add the pieces of butter on top. With the paddle attachment on medium-low speed, beat for 5 minutes or until the ingredients are well combined. The batter will look much like cookie dough.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the remaining wet batter ingredients (including the optional Fiori di Sicilia). On medium speed, add to the mixer bowl in 3 increments. Mix 2 minutes after each addition scraping the bowl after each addition. Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the batter a final vigorous stir with a large spatula. It will be thick and smooth.

Scrape the batter evenly into the pan almost to the top. Gently tap the filled cake pan on the counter a few times. This will remove any excess air bubbles in the batter. With a small spatula, push the batter to the outside of the pan pushing slightly up the walls. This will help the cake rise up the sides of the pan giving greater detail to the beautiful characteristics of the Bundt pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Do not over bake! Every oven varies in temperature and time. Lower the oven to 325 degrees or cover loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes if the cake is getting too brown.

Make the syrup: Make the syrup while the cake is baking. In a small saucepan on low heat, stir the sugar, Amaretto and lemon juice until the sugar melts and liquid is clear, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat to cool

Cool the cake in the pan 15 minutes and then gently remove onto a serving platter. Hold the cake pan with a towel and gently wiggle the cake back and forth, and up and down to loosen. You will hear a PLOP when the cake frees the pan. Brush the syrup over the cake and let it soak into the cake. Repeat with the remaining syrup. Let the cake cool before serving and storage. Just before serving combine the lemon zest and sugar and then sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Serves about 16.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski

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