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Taste Kitchen

A classic, any way you slice it

When it comes to pound cake, traditional flavors count

Roche Bros. pound cake Roche Bros. pound cake (Debra Samuels for The Boston Globe)
By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / July 14, 2010

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There are few better accompaniments to fresh berries than a slice of pound cake, that perfectly balanced classic originally made with one pound butter, one pound sugar, and one pound flour. Now the formulas vary, but it’s always plain, unfrosted, dense, and rich.

We tasted five brands of pound cake, unadorned. Berries and ice cream came later. Cakes range from dense and compact (like frozen Sara Lee Pound Cake) to light and fluffy (Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake). Contrary to the advertising jingle, nobody among our pound cake pundits really liked Sara Lee. She was voted least favorite by six of the 10 tasters. “I’ve seen sponges that have more texture,’’ said one.

Everyone went for the ringer in the group, a cake made from a mix (all others are sold already baked). Betty Crocker Pound Cake Mix, to which you add eggs, butter, and milk, came in first. Cake mix aficionados caught on immediately. “Smells like store-bought box cake mix, which is a good thing, if you ask me,’’ announced one.

Alas, the list of stabilizers in some of these confections is staggering. The one from Roche Bros., called “Our Own 100% Butter Pound Cake,’’ is the closest to made-from-scratch with only seven ingredients. The loaves are baked on the premises and frozen immediately. Other brands contain up to 18 ingredients.

One taster always requests pound cake for her birthday and advised us how to prepare leftovers.

“Toast slices in a dry skillet or toaster oven. There is plenty of butter in the loaf without adding more.’’ Then, of course, pile on berries and ice cream.

Betty Crocker Pound Cake Mix

($2.79)

Prepare this mix and you get two 8-inch loaves and a kitchen that smells like imitation vanilla. Two ounces of butter give the cake a buttery finish, but that’s the only real butter in it. Several tasters gave Betty thumbs up for appearance: “Nicely browned.’’ “Healthy look makes it seem less naughty to indulge.’’ But one thought it had a “painful, rocky’’ look. “Outside color is quite light and it is hard on the top. Tastes like it’s from a mix.’’ (Astute.) Many found the cake’s texture to be “light, almost like angel food cake.’’ “Fluffy’’ and “airy,’’ said others. “Very vanilla. Great aroma. Not too greasy!’’ Another: “A lot of vanilla. Nice smell and texture, but a little dry on the edges.’’

Capitol Old Fashioned Golden Pound Cake

$1.19 for 10 ounces

This was the bargain of the lot. The label says “golden’’ but should say “lemon.’’ Every taster detected citrus flavoring. “Fruity taste,’’ said one. Another: “I like the lemon flavor.’’ “Has a very sweet orange taste.’’ “Tantalizing citrus aftertaste.’’ The appearance bothered some. “Points off for paper wrapping,’’ said one. Others: “greasy,’’ “extremely sweet,’’ and “processed.’’ Then again, one person’s greasy was another’s “melts in your mouth.’’

Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake

$4.29 for 11.5 ounces

Entenmann’s blue and white package is a supermarket standard. This was the most yellow cake of the batch, garnering comments like “bright easy appearance,’’ “looks homemade,’’ and “looks buttery.’’ That buttery quality made it seem “naughty to eat’’ for one taster. For another: “The split across the top is very attractive. It looks appetizing and moist. But looks are misleading. Only the top was moist, the rest is dry. It actually tastes more like pancakes than pound cake.’’ Two chose it as a favorite because they liked the moist texture, sweet taste, “pleasant light flavor,’’ and “good vanilla taste.’’

Roche Bros.

$3.99 for 16 ounces

Wow, this is a pound cake! And one true to the claim of 100 percent butter. Two chose it as their favorite: “The top rose up and is golden brown with a split down the middle. From looks alone I was most excited about this one. Very dense and buttery, tastes most like a pound cake. The top is sugary and pleasant.’’ Seems that most loved the crust, “Looks really good, like I want to pick just at the top, like a muffin,’’ said one. “Cookie-like exterior,’’ “great crust! Most homemade looking!’’ Judgments of the texture ranged from “dense’’ to “very dense’’ to “super dense.’’ You get the picture.

Sara Lee All Butter Pound Cake

$3.99 for 10.75 ounces

This familiar pound cake, from the freezer case, is often used as a base for layered desserts with fruit and cream. Going solo didn’t win it any compliments. “A little industrial.’’ “Strange, artificial appearance on top.’’ “Very flat top, doesn’t look appetizing. It tastes like frozen Sara Lee. Taste is very ordinary. I like bland, which is why I like pound cake, but this is pushing it.’’ Someone else picked up on this too: “Tastes and looks like frozen pound cake.’’ It wasn’t all bad. “Nice vanilla tones,’’ “sweet and creamy,’’ “not too rich or sweet,’’ “nice, unremarkable appearance,’’ and “overall, average.’’