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

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.