Though my mom made it a point to serve us home-cooked meals while growing up, a few convenience foods ended up in her kitchen once in a while. She was very flexible with snack items and allowed sodas and chips, the latter of which my younger sisters and I would sneak into each other’s bedrooms on Saturday mornings to eat while we watched cartoons (and before my parents would get wind of what we were up to). None of us kept the soda-drinking habit but the chips remain.
One other convenience food that I remember seeing in the kitchen around my junior high school years was Sara Lee pound cake. The cake came in an aluminum loaf pan with a cardboard lid. I remember the dense texture of the cake and the buttery top. I remember eating it straight out of the refrigerator, sliced thick, with a glass of milk.
Of course, much like most things for which one has no benchmark, the Sara Lee pound cake, for me, was a good cake. But time has a way of creating rosy memories of mediocre things and a reunion with them later in life is sometimes not as sweet. I don’t remember seeing the cake much after that period but now I wonder if the cake would maintain the integrity of my memories, if my grown up palate would still like it.
By chance, I came across Francois Payard’s version this week. He mentioned in one of his books that it was a Wednesday tradition for his father to bake a batch of his lemon pound cake while he grew up in the South of France. With little more than half a decade between us, it is safe to imagine that while I enjoyed my Sara Lee version here in California, there was a soon-to-be third generation French pastry chef who enjoyed a cake with the same name across the Atlantic. I had to try his family recipe.
More than twenty-five years later, the pound cake has come back into my life. The simple ingredients whip up into a light batter but transform into a beautifully dense cake. The texture is just like the one I enjoyed from childhood. It is perfectly buttery with no hint of oiliness. The addition of lemon zest lightens the cake–perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea. No need to walk down memory lane to tamper with my sweet pound cake remembrances. This loaf is now my gold standard.
Francois Payard’s Lemon Pound Cake
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (146 grams)
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Grated zest of 1 1/2 lemons (I used zest of two large Meyer lemons)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (87 grams)
- 6 tablespoons (86 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan, then dust it with flour, shaking off the excess.
- Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
- Using a hand mixer, beat the eggs in a large bowl over medium speed until they’re well-blended. Gradually add the sugar and the salt and continue to beat over medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about two minutes. Mix in the dry ingredients and the lemon zest, alternating with the heavy cream over low speed. Add the melted butter and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 65 – 70 minutes (mine was done in about 50 minutes in convection oven). The cake should be golden at the top and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Cool the cake in the pan over a rack for 15 minutes then remove from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature back on the rack.
- This cake can be made ahead of time, wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen. It can be thawed in the refrigerator overnight before serving.