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Comparing Pound Cake Ingredients and Substitutions to Get the Best Pound Cake | Down the Baking Rabbit Hole Series

6 pound cakes on white plates with the ingredients being compared: butter, oil, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, and vanilla ice cream

Pound cake is the quintessential basic butter cake, but no one wants to eat a dry cake or one that’s super dense without any tenderness. There are so many recipes out there with a ton of advice about which ingredient substitutions can be made to change the texture of the cake crumb and what can be used to make the pound cake moister.

To determine which ingredient(s) make the best tasting pound cake with a moist and tender crumb, I did a side-by-side analysis that examined 6 different ingredients. Below are the details and results of my experiment where I was comparing pound cake ingredients.

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Watch “Comparing Pound Cake Ingredients to Get the Best Pound Cake”

https://youtu.be/oQzwEwvHctU

What Ingredients Did I Test?

I tested 1 control ingredient and 6 different ingredient substitutions to determine their effect on the appearance, texture, and flavor of a basic pound cake recipe.

Butter

Pound cake made with butter

Butter is the fat that’s present in the original pound cake recipe so it will serve as the control in our experiment today. See the “How I Tested the Pound Cake Recipes” section below for more information about the control recipe.

Not only does butter add flavor, moistness, and richness, but it also helps with leavening. This means that it helps the cake naturally rise when it’s been creamed with the sugar. This creaming process helps to create a light and tender cake texture.

Vegetable Oil

Pound cake made with vegetable oil

Vegetable oil is primarily used in baking to make your product moist. It also traps the gases released by chemical leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder which helps make a tender and fluffy texture. Another benefit of vegetable oil is that it remains a liquid at room temperature unlike butter, which becomes a solid. Using oil often helps cakes feel moist especially if the cake is put into the fridge.

Sour Cream

Pound cake made with sour cream

Sour cream is heavy cream that has been soured and thickened with lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive flavor, and it also helps to make moist, rich, and tender cakes.

Yogurt

While yogurt doesn’t have that much fat in it, the acidity from the yogurt reacts with baking soda to cause leavening. We don’t have baking soda in our recipe today, so we won’t need the acid to activate that ingredient, but it should provide moistness to the cake. Greek yogurt is frequently touted as a healthier alternative with few calories. While an argument can be made that adding yogurt into cake doesn’t make the dessert “healthy”, it definitely contains fewer calories than any of the other ingredients on our list. Yogurt also adds a tangy flavor to the final product.

Cream Cheese

Pound cake made with cream cheese

Cream cheese is a soft and spreadable cheese with a slightly tangy flavor. The fat in cream cheese helps increase moisture in a cake.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Pound cake made with ice cream

This is an unconventional ingredient to use, but there are some cake recipes that have been made with ice cream, so I wanted to compare it to see how it changes the recipe.

Control Recipe

I started by using the same base recipe (aka the control recipe) for each of the 6 cakes. This control recipe was Tish Boyle’s Plainly Perfect Pound Cake recipe from The Cake Book. I love her recipes and I they are a go-to when I’m starting my own recipe development.

How I Tested the Pound Cake Recipes

The control recipe calls for 1 cup (227g) of butter and this is the only ingredient that will differ across the experiment. When making all tests, I halved the original recipe so I would have less leftover cake. For the butter test (aka the control), I used the amount the halved recipe specified (i.e., 113g). For all of the other substitutions, I divided the amount of butter in half, kept half of the butter in each recipe (i.e., 57g of butter) and replaced the other half (i.e., 57g of butter) for the test ingredients. This way, we should still be able to get the leavening that occurs from creaming the butter and sugar together, but also compare the effects from the test ingredients.

The ingredient substitution rate also needed to be taken into account. All of the test ingredients except vegetable oil have a 1:1 substitution ratio. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, has a 1:3/4 ratio of butter to oil. Below are the amounts (by weight) that I used for each experiment.

  • Butter – 113g
  • Vegetable Oil – 43g (plus 57g of butter)
  • Sour Cream – 57g (plus 57g of butter)
  • Yogurt – 57g (plus 57g of butter)
  • Cream Cheese – 57g (plus 57g of butter)
  • Vanilla Ice Cream – 57g (plus 57g of butter)

All cakes were made on the same day to ensure there were not textural differences based on time. All ingredients and brands were the same across all cakes except the test ingredients. Test ingredient brands included Land O’ Lakes unsalted butter, Crisco vegetable oil, Daisy sour cream, Chobani whole milk plain greek yogurt, Philadelphia full fat cream cheese, and Breyers homemade vanilla ice cream.

I used the same bundt pan to bake all of the cakes and sprayed each pan with Pam baking spray made with flour to ensure that each cake would release. All cakes were baked just until a toothpick came out clean.

Results from Comparing Pound Cake Ingredients

https://youtu.be/oQzwEwvHctU

Check out my video on “Comparing Pound Cake Ingredients” to see a side by side comparisons of each of these cakes.

Control Recipe (aka butter only)

Pound cake made with butter

Appearance

  • Speckled appearance on the crust of the cake, but for the most part, it’s a deep, golden brown color.
  • The interior crumb consists primarily of small air bubbles with a few larger holes.
Slice of pound cake made with butter

Texture

  • The exterior crust is hard (but in a good way) with a soft interior crumb. It provides a nice textural contrast when eating the cake.
  • Dense cake texture with small air bubbles. Even though it’s dense, the cake crumb is still tender. This is what you want in a pound cake.

Flavor

  • First taste is the citrus, then the richness from the butter, and it ends with a general sweet flavor.
  • The crust provides a slight caramelized flavor.

Vegetable Oil

Comparing pound cake made with butter vs butter + vegetable oil

Appearance

  • The exterior crust is mostly an even, golden brown color, but there are a few, larger pale spots around the cake. It is unclear where these spots came from.
  • The crust has a shiny appearance.
  • The interior crumb consists primarily of small air bubbles with some tunneling.
Comparing slices of pound cake made with butter vs butter + vegetable oil

Texture

  • The exterior crust is hard with a soft interior crumb, however, the crust is crispy (almost like it had been fried), rather than hard/firm.
  • Dense cake texture with small air bubbles. Even though it’s dense, the cake crumb is still tender. The crumb appears to be more tender than butter since it flakes and breaks apart a little more easily than the control.
  • The interior crumb is moist and leaves some moisture on a finger when touching the crumb.

Flavor

  • A little citrus flavor at the beginning and then my palate was coated in oil. This flavor stayed throughout the whole bite and remain after I finished eating the bite. The oil flavor was the primary flavor. The aftertaste was unpleasant.

Sour Cream

Comparing pound cake made with butter vs butter + sour cream

Appearance

  • The color is very patchy with multiple, dull browns.
  • In comparison to the control, there are fewer small bubbles and more large bubbles/tunneling. The cake appears to be more dense because the bubbles between the large holes are practically not visible, meaning the cake is very dense in those areas.
Comparing slices of pound cake made with butter vs butter + sour cream

Texture

  • Has a hard, exterior crust with a soft interior crumb.
  • The interior crumb is moist and leaves some moisture on a finger when touching the crumb.
  • The cake crumb is very dense and almost “glued” my mouth shut as I was eating it and made the cake feel very dry while eating it. This was not a pleasant texture.

Flavor

  • You taste the citrus more than the oil.
  • Not a noticeable flavor difference between the sour cream and butter only cake versions.

Yogurt

Comparing pound cake made with butter vs butter + yogurt

Appearance

  • Primarily even, golden brown color except for the small ridges created by the bundt pan. Those ridges are lighter in color.
Comparing slices of pound cake made with butter vs butter + yogurt

Texture

  • Has a hard, exterior crust with a soft interior crumb.
  • In comparison to the control, there are fewer small bubbles and more large bubbles/tunneling. The cake appears to be more dense because the bubbles between the large holes are practically not visible, meaning the cake is very dense in those areas.
  • It was slightly less dense than sour cream, but it still resulted in a dry mouthfeel.

Flavor

  • Tasted the citrus flavor first then there was a flavor I couldn’t place (I said it was “weird” in the video – lol), and then ended again with citrus.
  • Slight caramel flavor from the crust.

Cream Cheese

Comparing pound cake made with butter vs butter + cream cheese

Appearance

  • Most even golden, brown color across the entire cake in comparison to all tested cakes.
Comparing slices of pound cake made with butter vs butter + cream cheese

Texture

  • Has a hard, exterior crust with a soft interior crumb.
  • Very tender and moist crumb that is more crumbly than the control cake. When eating a bite, the crumb is almost melt-in-your-mouth (but in a good way).

Flavor

  • Citrus flavor was very prominent.
  • In comparison to the control, there is more complexity to the richness with a slight tanginess from the cream cheese.
  • The crust provides a slight caramel flavor from the caramelization.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Comparing pound cake made with butter vs butter + ice cream

Appearance

  • Primarily even, golden brown color except for the small ridges created by the bundt pan. Those ridges are slightly lighter in color.
  • The exterior crust is shiny.
Comparing slices of pound cake made with butter vs butter + ice cream

Texture

  • Has a hard, exterior crust with a soft interior crumb.
  • Has a very moist.
  • Some crumbling of the interior crumb after cutting the slice, which indicates a tender crumb. Has less structure than the other pound cakes. It’s less like pound cake and a little more like sponge cake.

Flavor

  • Citrus forward flavor initially that mellows as you finish the slice.

Windy City Baker’s Ranking

  • Winner! – Cream Cheese
  • 2nd Place – Butter
  • 3rd Place – Ice Cream (this surprised me a lot)
  • 4th Place – Vegetable Oil
  • 5th Place – Yogurt
  • 6th Place – Sour Cream (this was also a very surprising result)

Summary of Comparing Pound Cake Ingredients

Well, there you have it. Butter plus cream cheese makes the best tasting cake that is moist and has a dense yet tender crumb. The control (i.e., butter) and vanilla ice cream cakes were also delicious and tender. They come in second and third place respectively.

Based on the results from this experiment, the vegetable oil, sour cream, and yogurt substitutions were not ideal in this recipe with the state substitution ratios tested. There are lots of recipes online that use these ingredients with a lot of documented support for their effectiveness and deliciousness. It is possible that using different ratios of these ingredients or even completely substituting the fat would have changed the flavor and texture in a more desirable way. That will have to be a test for a different day.

Leave me a comment below if you have a favorite ingredient that you like to use in pound cake.

Check Out the Other Posts in this Pound Cake Series

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