You can't go wrong with an old fashioned vanilla pound cake! This recipe is all about a handful of simple ingredients coming together to create a classic moist and buttery cake you'll love sharing with friends.
We're talking flour, sugar, butter, eggs, a pinch of salt, and a bit of baking powder as an insurance policy for that dramatic domed pound cake top. But the real star of this recipe is the concentrated vanilla bean paste which gives it that extra oomph of flavor.
The finishing touch is a simple vanilla bean glaze that gives this classic pound cake a beautiful shiny top.
Whether it's a casual get together or a special occasion, this old fashioned vanilla pound cake will absolutely steal the show.
Or if you're really serious about combining strawberries and pound cake, check out my fresh strawberry pound cake recipe! You may also like my moist chocolate pound cake recipe and my lemon-blueberry pound cake!
About This Recipe
A true old fashioned pound cake requires equal amounts of just four ingredients — a pound each of flour, eggs, butter, and sugar — to produce two loaf cakes. No chemical leaveners, no additional flavors needed. All of the rising power comes from the way the sugar whips air into the butter in the first step of the recipe.
It produces a cake that is dense and buttery but ultimately kind of plain — a blank canvas for whatever ice cream or berries you're serving it with. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But as a pastry chef and recipe developer, I'm all about cakes that made strong flavors the star of the show. You know, like this rosemary chocolate chip loaf cake or this pumpkin gingerbread pound cake.
So when I started working on my version of a traditional pound cake recipe, I wanted to make flavor just as important as that perfectly moist, dense crumb and golden pound cake crust. I wanted to take vanilla — a flavor that is often dismissed as plain, ordinary, and boring — and really make it shine.
I've added just three more ingredients — vanilla bean paste, salt, and baking powder. It's still a very simple pound cake recipe, just seven ingredients total! Powdered sugar and milk are optional eighth and ninth ingredients, necessary only if you plan to make the vanilla bean glaze.
Trust me, with the bold vanilla bean paste in this buttery old fashioned vanilla pound cake, vanilla flavor is anything but plain.
For the record, this is technically a "half pound" cake; with half a pound (8 ounces) each of those core ingredients it makes just one loaf! Even weirder, it's even not even written in pounds at all. I do my baking measurements in grams, and have converted the measurements that way.
Here are the ingredients that you'll need to make this old fashioned vanilla pound cake recipe! See recipe card for quantities.
- Unsalted Butter - This recipe uses unsalted American-style butter (e.g. not European butter like Kerrygold). If using a salted butter, cut the amount of salt in the recipe in half.
- Sugar - Plain old regular granulated white sugar.
- Eggs - This recipe uses large eggs. Extra large eggs will also work.
- Flour - Regular all purpose flour. Gluten free cup-for-cup all purpose flours should also work, but I haven't personally tested them.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands. If measuring by weight, it doesn't matter what brand of salt you use. But if you're measuring by volume and using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Baking Powder - Double acting baking powder helps ensure a dramatic rise on this old fashioned pound cake. For a true old fashioned pound cake you omit it and rely instead on the aeration of the butter and sugar to provide that lift, but the baking powder is an insurance policy that also gives the cake a little extra boost.
- Vanilla Bean Paste - I use Heilala Vanilla's vanilla bean paste in all my baking. It's a high quality vanilla with plenty of flecks of vanilla bean in every drop that gives an amazing vanilla flavor. I buy it in large 13 ounce jars which are a great value for how long they last (I've been using mine for over a year) but they have smaller 2 ounce vanilla bean paste jars as well. Vanilla extract will also work, the flavor just isn't quite as strong.
- Powdered Sugar - Also called "confectioner's sugar" this is needed only if you plan to make the vanilla bean glaze.
- Milk - For the vanilla bean glaze. You only need about a teaspoon of it, so any type of milk you have on hand is fine.
🍽 Mise en place (aka "the setup")
Mise en place is a French culinary term which literally translates to "putting in place."
It basically means: Measure all your ingredients and make sure you have all the right tools and equipment ready to go when you need them before you start working.
This can make a huge difference in a) how enjoyable you find the baking and cooking process and b) the success of your recipe!
Here's the mise en place you'll need for this recipe:
- Bring the butter to room temperature. Let the butter sit out at room temperature (70°F) for an hour or two prior to baking. If you need to speed this process up, microwave the wrapped sticks of butter for about 4 seconds per side. The butter should still feel slightly cool to the touch but and soft enough to press a finger into, but not so soft that it's greasy or melty — you're looking for a temperature of about 65°F.
- Bring the eggs to room temperature. Submerge the eggs in very hot water for about 10-15 minutes prior to mixing. This helps them incorporate into the cake batter easily. If they're cold when you add them to the butter and sugar, they'll cool down the butter, causing the batter to break and separate.
- Mix the dry ingredients together. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
- Locate your vanilla. This gets me every time — I think I know where it is and then it's time to add the vanilla and it's not where I thought! Make sure you know where it is before you start baking so you're not scrambling to find it.
Making an old-fashioned pound cake is all about patience and technique. This is not a recipe that can be rushed!
Pound cake is a classic butter cake and a textbook example of the creaming method of mixing. This is one of the three main mixing methods; so foundational to baking that I learned it on day one of my pastry school classes.
The Creaming Method is characterized by the use of a solid, soft, room temperature fat (shortening, butter, etc.) that is aerated with sugar.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until aerated.
- Add the room temperature eggs one at a time along with any extracts.
- On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and wet ingredients (if there are any), mixing just until combined. If there aren't any wet ingredients, add dry ingredients in two or three stages.
The first step — creaming the butter and sugar together — is particularly important when you're making an old fashioned pound cake.
Taking the time to do it right is crucial for producing a tall old fashioned pound cake with a beautiful domed top. So what does that look like? I got you.
Start by softening the butter. Cut the butter into two tablespoon chunks and beat them a bit in the bowl to soften them up.
Then add the sugar and increase the speed to medium.
Be patient — it can take up to 7 minutes for the butter and sugar to reach the right texture.
Pause and scrape down the bowl and beater at least 3 times (about every 90 seconds).
During the creaming process, the sugar granules tear lots of tiny holes in the butter (aerating it), which are then sealed up, trapping air inside. This trapped air will help the pound cake rise when we bake it.
Yes, we are adding a bit of baking powder as an insurance policy, but a true old fashioned pound cake is leavened purely by the air incorporated into the butter during this step of the mixing process.
When properly creamed together, the butter and sugar mixture will be pale yellow, light, and fluffy. If you rub it between your fingers the sugar granules should be almost entirely dissolved but still feel slightly gritty.
The next step is to add the eggs. And the goal is to add them in a way that won't break or collapse all the air we just worked into the butter.
How do we do this? By adding them one at a time and giving the butter plenty of time to incorporate each egg before adding the next one.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 45-60 seconds after each one to give them time to fully incorporate. Scrape down the bowl and beater before adding the next egg.
Add the vanilla along with the final egg.
On lowest speed, add the dry ingredients in two batches. Wait for the first batch to incorporate, scrape down the bowl and beater, then add the rest.
This prevents over mixing and gives your pound cake a light, soft texture!
As soon as the flour in the bowl has mostly been incorporated, stop using your mixer and switch to a spatula to finish mixing.
Scrape down the beater and the sides of the bowl and mix by hand to get any last bits of flour incorporated. Again, this prevents over mixing.
To bake, preheat the oven to 325°F and spray an 8x4" loaf pan with non-stick spray, then line it with a parchment paper sling. I use metal binder clips to help hold the paper in place.
Use a mini offset spatula to press the batter down into all the corners and edges of the pan then smooth it out across the top.
Cut a ⅛" sliver off the end of a cold stick of butter and slice it into thin sticks. Arrange them in a line down the center of the pan.
This line of butter step is technically optional but will give your old fashioned vanilla pound cake a beautifully cracked open top right down the center of the cake.
I've also seen people do this by running a wet knife down the middle of the cake right before baking, or by piping a line of softened butter down the middle of the cake. But this method is the one that works best for me.
Bake the cake at 325°F for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick or small knife inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. You really don't want to overbake an old fashioned pound cake or it will come out dry.
Let the old fashioned vanilla pound cake cool in the pan on a cooling rack for about 15-20 minutes. Then use a knife to make sure the cake isn't stuck to the pan at the top or bottom (where there's no parchment paper) and use the parchment sling to lift it out and onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
NOTE: The cake must be completely cool before you add the vanilla bean glaze or the glaze will melt off the top.
Vanilla Glaze Icing
This vanilla bean glaze is one of the SIMPLEST things you will ever make in your whole dang life.
It requires just three ingredients: powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and milk. It will look brown when it's first mixed due to the vanilla bean flecks, but as it dries on the cake it will look white in color.
Start by sifting the powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. I know it's tempting to skip this step, but I wouldn't tell you to sift if it wasn't truly necessary. Powdered sugar is notoriously lumpy and clumpy and if you don't sift it, those lumps will be there even after whisking it.
Add the vanilla and 1 teaspoon milk to the powdered sugar. Gradually add more sugar from the sides as you whisk.
Add more milk or sift in more powdered sugar as needed to build a moderately thick consistency in your vanilla glaze.
One teaspoon each of vanilla bean paste and milk should get you the perfect consistency, but depending on the brand of powdered sugar, the fat content in the milk, etc. there can be some variety and you may need to adjust.
To thicken the glaze, whisk in 1 tablespoon sifted powdered sugar. To thin it out, whisk in ½ teaspoon milk at a time.
If you lift the whisk and draw a zig zag or spiral in the air over the bowl, you should see the ribbon of glaze sitting on the surface of the glaze for about 1-2 seconds before sinking into it.
Spoon the glaze over the cracked open center of the cake and use a mini offset spatula to spread it in an even layer across the top.
Your old fashioned vanilla pound cake is now ready to serve!
I usually like to let the glaze sit for an hour or two before serving so that it forms a crust, but you can definitely serve it shiny and freshly glazed too.
Substitutions and Variations
- If you don't have Vanilla Bean Paste: Vanilla extract will also work, use 2X as much. If you want to be particular about a bright white vanilla glaze color, you can substitute clear vanilla instead.
- If you don't have enough eggs: You can replace one egg (50 grams) with full fat sour cream or full fat greek yogurt. Add the yogurt or sour cream in between the two additions of the dry ingredients. Your old fashioned pound cake may not get as dramatic of a rise with this approach, but it will work in a pinch.
- Extra tender cake: Add an extra egg yolk. That's four whole eggs PLUS one egg yolk, added just like you added the rest of eggs. Add the vanilla bean paste along with the egg yolk.
- Vanilla Citrus Pound Cake: Add the zest of 1 lemon, 2 limes, or 1 large orange along with the sugar during the creaming stage.
Here's the equipment I use to make this old fashioned vanilla pound cake. You don't need to have all of these same tools, but they may make the process easier!
- Electric Mixer - I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with the paddle attachment. An electric hand mixer will also work — the creaming stage may just take a little longer.
- 1 Pound Loaf Pan - A "1 pound" loaf pan is approximately 8 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3 inches tall. A 1.25 pound loaf pan (9x5) will also work but your cake may not have the same height that mine does in these photos as there's more room for the batter to spread out. Metal pans work best for getting that golden brown crust. You may need to adjust baking time and temperature if using a glass pan (King Arthur Baking recommends lowering the temperature by 25°F and adding 10 minutes to the bake time).
- Quarter Pan Pre-Cut Parchment Sheets - I use these pre-cut parchment sheets to create a parchment sling that lines the pan to make the pound cake easier to remove. You'll have to trim about an inch off one of the long sides for it to fit, but they work very nicely!
- Metal Binder Clips - To secure the parchment paper in place so it doesn't fold in on top of the cake in the oven. Do not use plastic binder clips in the oven. I repeat, no plastic in the oven.
- Mini Offset Spatula - For smoothing out the cake batter in the pan. Trust me, you'll think a regular spatula or a knife can do the same job, but once you try using a mini offset spatula, there's no going back.
Storage Notes & Freezing
This old fashioned vanilla pound cake can be stored at room temperature with an airtight cover for 4-5 days. You can also refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to a week.
The pound cake itself can be frozen for up to 3 months without glaze. Defrost in the fridge, then glaze and let come to room temperature for serving.
Practical Tips and Recipe Notes
- If the mixture begins to look split or curdled as you're adding the eggs, don't sweat it too much. It will come back together when you add the flour.
- When in doubt, SCRAPE DOWN THE BOWL. If it feels like you're stopping too often to scrape down the bowl, that means you're doing it right. You don't want any ingredients to go unincorporated or you'll end up with large air bubbles or clumps in your final cake.
- Mixing the dry ingredients on the lowest possible speed and stopping as soon as they're all combined is super important. The goal is to avoid developing gluten in the cake batter, which would make your old fashioned vanilla pound cake dense and tough, with lots of trapped tunnels of air bubbles inside.
- Make sure your baking powder is fresh! If you aren't sure, it's probably not. Baking powder is good for about 6 months, after that it loses its potency. To check if it's still good, Epicurious recommends mixing 1 cup very hot tap water with 2 teaspoons baking powder: "If there’s an immediate fizzing reaction that dissipates all of the powder, you’ll know it still works. If there’s no bubbling, the baking powder is no longer potent and needs to be swapped out."
Why Temperatures Matter
Make sure you pay attention to the temperature directions in this pound cake recipe.
- If your butter is too warm, it won't be able to incorporate enough air. If the butter is too cold, it will take much longer to cream properly.
- If you use cold eggs, they will cause the butter to firm up in the mixer and you risk it curdling or splitting.
- If your oven runs hot or runs cold, this can affect the cake's rise, the thickness of the crust, the texture, and the baking time. I recommend using an oven thermometer to make sure you're baking it at the right temperature!
A kitchen scale is more accurate than cup measurements and will give you the right ratio of dry and liquid ingredients so that the cake batter behaves the way we want it to. The name of this cake is literally pound cake — it's super important that you have equal amounts of flour, butter, and sugar by weight to get the best results.
I tested and developed this recipe using weight measurements. If I were to convert it to volume measurements, I would be using an online conversion calculator — just like you would. There's no set standard for how much "1 cup" of flour weighs (I use 120 grams, like King Arthur Baking does, but other recipe developers use as much as 150 grams as "1 cup"), which means this will produce wildly varying results. Use a kitchen scale for best results!
No. Almond flour is just ground almonds. It will definitely change the texture and rise of the cake. I recommend finding a pound cake recipe designed to use almond flour if that's all you've got.
Old Fashioned Vanilla Pound Cake
Vanilla Bean Glaze
- 60 grams powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 1 teaspoon milk
- Mise en Place. Bring butter and eggs to room temperature (the butter should be cool but soft to the touch, not melty or greasy). Measure sugar into one container. In another container, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Locate vanilla bean paste. Grease an 8x4" loaf pan and line with a parchment paper sling. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Cream butter and sugar. Cut the butter into chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed to soften, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until there's no loose sugar in the bowl, then increase speed to medium and continue creaming for 5-7 minutes, pausing to scrape down the bowl and the beater at least 3 times. Properly creamed, the butter and sugar will have a fluffy, airy, and paste-like texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl
- Add eggs and vanilla. One at a time, crack each egg into a small bowl (to avoid getting shells in your cake!) then dump the egg into the mixer bowl, beating on medium speed for at least 60 seconds and scraping down the bowl again before adding the next egg. Add the vanilla bean paste along with the final egg. Scrape down the bowl again at the end. The mixture may begin to look slightly curdled, that's okay.
- Add dry ingredients. With the mixer running on the lowest possible speed, add half the dry ingredients. When they are mostly combined, scrape down the bowl and beater, then add the rest of the dry ingredients with the mixer still running on low. Mix just until fully combined, then stop and scrape the bowl down. Use a spatula to mix in any final bits of dry ingredients from the sides of the bowl or beater. Do not over mix!
- Bake. Scrape the batter into the parchment lined loaf pan. Use a mini offset spatula to smooth out the batter, pressing it down into the corners and sides of the pan so that there aren't any trapped air bubbles. Cut a ⅛-inch thin slice of a stick of butter into small sticks and arrange them in a line down the middle length of the pan to help control the crack in the top of the loaf as it bakes. Bake in the center of a 325°F oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
- Cool. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let cool 15-20 minutes, then use the parchment sling to lift the cake out of the pan to finish cooling. Let cool completely before adding icing.
Vanilla Bean Glaze
- Sift powdered sugar into a medium mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste and 1 teaspoons milk and whisk together until smooth. You may need to add more powdered sugar or milk to reach the right moderately thick consistency.
- Use a mini offset spatula to spread the glaze over the top of the loaf cake. Let sit to form a crust or serve immediately!
- Pay close attention to the temperature cues given in the recipe — they're very important to how the final loaf turns out!
- For citrus flavors, add 1-2 teaspoons fresh citrus zest, rubbed into the sugar before adding it to the butter. You can omit the vanilla or leave it in. Alternately, swap the vanilla extract for another flavored extract or even an alcohol like bourbon or rum!
- 227 grams = 8 ounces = half a pound.