Here are some great tips for baking the best pound cake ever. I found most of this information in the December, 2004 issue of Southern Living Magazine, and as many pound cakes as I've made over the years, I still found this helpful, so I hope you will, too.

Many ovens do not heat to the exact temperature indicated on the oven controls. Some ovens bake hotter or cooler than the temperature to which they're set. Use an oven thermometer to check your oven's temperature for accuracy, and then adjust the setting up or down accordingly if necessary when preheating the oven.

Be sure to use the correct type of cake pan according to what the recipe calls for. Recipes calling for a "tube pan" won't always fit into a Bundt pan. Although both pans measure 10 inches in diameter, each holds a different amount of batter. Some 10-inch tube pans hold 12 cups of batter while others hold 14-16 cups. Also, the same pound cake recipe rises and bakes differently in each pan. To be sure, use a cup measure to fill the cake pan with water.

If your are making a smaller pound cake recipe which calls for a 9" x 5" x 3" loaf pan, there is less confusion except for the fact that the smaller 8-1/2" x 4-1/2" x 3" pan is too small and just won't do.

Grease cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, and always dust with flour. A slippery surface keeps the batter from rising to its full volume. Yah, I know---non-stick pans, PAM, etc.---but don't be like me doing that, do it properly and you'll have a beautiful cake.

A stand mixer such as KitchenAid is the best quipment to use; however, if you have a good sturdy hand mixer, it can be used. Use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, which is intended for general mixing.

Use name-brand ingredients whenever possible. For example, store brands of sugar are often more finely ground than name brands, yielding more sugar per cup than required and which can cause your cake to fall.

Also, store brands of butter may contain more liquid fat which will make your cake heavy.

Store brands of flour may contain more wheat, may be of questionable quality, and are often irregularly ground (see my "Lesson In Flour" on my Tips Page). This can also make your cake heavy and crumbly.

Measure your sugar and flour accurately, using the proper cups for dry ingredients. Do not use cups intended for liquid ingredients (i.e., Pyrex). First, stir the sugar or flour in its container before measuring, to release any impacted clumps. Then use a scoop or a large spoon to spoon the sugar or flour into your measuring cup to overflowing. Then use the flat side of a table knife to level the ingredients off to the rim of the cup.

This means "have all your ingredients measured and ready to use" and set out in the order they are to be used. It's very important for maximum volume to have all your ingredients at room temperature -- butter, eggs, any other liquids to be used, and even your flour if you keep it refrigerated.

So how soft should your butter be? Soft enough so you can incorporate the maximum amount of air needed for a light and tender cake. Butter will usually soften at room temperature in 30 minutes minimum but that time can vary according to the air temperature in your kitchen.

Test your butter by pressing the top of the center of the butter stick with your index finger---if an indentation remains but the stick still holds its shape, it's okay to use. Avoid softening butter in the microwave as it can melt too much too quickly and unevenly, which defeats the purpose of attaining maximum volume.

My trick is to cut up the stick of butter into tablespoon-sized pats, put them on a paper plate or piece of foil and place under the turned-on under-cabinet lights for about 30 minutes---works every time!

Beat softened butter, cream cheese, or vegetable shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. This can take from 1-7 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer. Then gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until light and fluffy. These two steps are very important because they whip air into the batter so the cake will rise during the baking process.

When adding eggs, add them one at a time, beating the batter just until the yellow yolk disappears into the batter. Overbeating the eggs may cause the batter to overflow the sides of the pan when it's baked, or it may cause a fragile crust that will crumble and separate from the cake as it cools.

Always add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. This prevents the batter from curdling. After each addition, mix just until blended. Overmixing the batter once the flour has been added creates a tough and rubbery cake.

Your oven should be preheated for at least an additional 10 minutes after the correct baking temperature is reached.

Place the pan on the center rack, in the middle third, of the oven. Keep the oven door closed until the minimum baking time has elapsed.

To test for doneness, use a toothpick or small wooden skewer and insert it into the center of the cake. It should come out clean. Also, the sides of the cake should be slightly pulling away from the sides of the pan, but should not be browning too much. If the cake requires more baking, GENTLY close the oven door again as soon as possible after testing. This retains as much heat as possible and prevents jarring the cake and causing it to fall if it's not done.

When the cake tests done, remove the pan to a wire rack or onto a cool burner on the stovetop. Cool the cake according to recipe instructions. When the cake is completely cool and removed from the pan, you can then frost it of glaze it as desired.

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