The original goal was simple: a dense, moist, sublimely sweet pound cake. I’d tasted dozens of variations over the years since I’d moved to Georgia as a young bride. But the art of mastering the pound cake eluded me. No matter what recipe I tried, mine turned out pretty as a picture and as dry as a brick. My sister Susie joined me in this quest. I was working at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a features reporter, she was working a few blocks away, a nurse at the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta, one of the busiest ERs in the country. At staff gatherings, one of her co-workers, a black lady of a certain age, would bring in the lemon cream cheese pound cake of our dreams. Susie wrangled the recipe out of her, and we made it. And still, no dice. Dry. Dry. Dry. Months later, I was interviewing Shirley Corriher, the Atlanta-based award-winning food chemist and cookbook author. I mentioned our pound-cake roadblock to her, and she came up with some suggestions, after I described the recipe. More fat–meaning a quarter cup of vegetable oil added to the two and a half sticks of butter and eight ounces of cream cheese. More sugar–a quarter cup more, to be precise. Cake flour instead of regular flour. And most importantly, Shirley suggested we bake that baby low and slow–at 325 degrees instead of the 350 the recipe called for, and for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The results were mind-boggling. A pound cake so moist, dense, sweet it would make you slap your mama. And your grandma. The cake became our go-to dessert at family gatherings and potluck suppers. At Christmas, I sent one to my editor in New York, and my literary agent. Word spread. Pound cakes, it seems, were a novelty to jaded Yankees. The next year, at Christmas, I added a few names to the list of cake recipients. My publicist. My editor’s assistant. The head of paperback sales. And the next year, it was gently suggested that the head of marketing might like a cake. Also the head of publicity. And let’s not forget the folks who produced the audio versions of my books. And the art director–the person who was responsible for giving me those good-looking best-seller book jackets. And the telereps–the women I refer to as “the girls in the back office” who hyped my books to independent bookstores all over the country–didn’t they deserve a cake for Christmas? The years passed, and as my books became more successful, I became more grateful for the publishing and agenting team responsible for that success. The year after I had my first New York Times bestseller, I woke up a couple weeks before Christmas and realized that my list had grown to 30 cakes. Yes. Thirty. By then we were living in Raleigh, NC, and my kitchen came with an enormous Viking stove, plus a wall oven. If I really squeezed, I could bake six poundcakes at once. Of course, I had to hire my cleaning lady to come help do the prep work. And it took me two more days to wrap and package the cakes, plus trundle them off to the UPS store for shipping. I think that was the year that I later learned we’d mixed up the shipping labels, sending cakes with inside cards addressed to “Mr. Q.” to “Mr. Z” instead. The year after that, we moved back to Atlanta. We’d only been in our new house two weeks when it came time to start baking the Christmas pound cakes. I hadn’t even unwrapped all our cookware. And so I came to a compromise. I would still send out my full list of cakes. They would still be baked from my recipe. And they would be home-made. Just, not all of them made in my home. I found a small neighborhood bakery who would sub-contract the baking of half the cakes, from my recipe. Life was good. The recipients were still grateful. And I was able to relax and get on with Christmas preparations. I even managed to write a little. This year’s cake-baking took place two weeks ago. I hired my daughter Katie to come over and be my sous-chef, measuring out the flour and sugar, separating the eggs, and unwrapping all those blocks of cream cheese and butter. We managed to turn out eight cakes in one morning. On Friday, the recipients started letting me know they’d gotten their cakes, and how delicious they were. Last week, I got an email from one of the recipients, who was out of his office when his cake arrived. He assumed, he said, it was delicious, so thanks ever so for the PUMPKIN CAKE. Pumpkin cake????
Turn off the phone and shut out any other distractions when making this cake. It’s a bit of work, but the results are definitely worth it. I usually bake two cakes at a time when I get started, one to serve (or give as a gift) and one to pop into the freezer. Since it’s such a large cake, you can always slice and serve half, and freeze the other half for later.
Preheat oven to 325. Spray bundt pan with floured baking spray
2-1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese
¼ cup vegetable oil
3-1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 egg whites
7 egg yolks—yes, this means you’ll discard the two extra egg whites unless you’ve got plans for ‘em.
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups cake flour
¼ tsp. salt
Beat five egg whites until stiff and set aside
In mixing bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese and vegetable oil. Add in sugar and cream well. Beat in lemon extract and vanilla. Add egg yolks one at a time and beat well. In smaller bowl combine flour and salt, beat into batter, adding flour mixture by thirds. Fold in beaten egg whites, pour into prepared bundt pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes—check for doneness with wooden toothpick. Let cool 5 minutes, then remove from pan onto cooling rack and finish cooling. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap or store in large ziplock bag for freezing. You may choose to add a lemon glaze.