The Only Cake Recipe You'll Need This Summer

June 19, 2017

My friend Jodi Rhoden started baking cakes out of her Barbie-pink house in Asheville, North Carolina in 2006. The venture became so popular, so fast, that she opened a bakery, and wrote a cookbook about Southern cake ladies, the home bakers everyone around town knows to call up for a birthday party, or graduation, or wedding, or just any old potluck.

Jodi traveled around the South to meet cake ladies, hear their stories, and borrow their favorite recipes, and she also explored the idea of a "modern" cake lady, who takes her business from the home, and transforms it into a brick-and-mortar bakery.

So, when I wanted a cake recipe to spend the summer with, Jodi was the cake lady to ask. And she delivered!

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Behold: the only sane reason to turn on your oven for the next three months.

Jodi’s pound cake has the steadfast sturdiness of a butter cake and, thanks to a boatload of sour cream, a deeply flavored, delightfully moist crumb. While a classic, old-school pound cake uses pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, with no leaveners, Jodi ups the fat and sugar ratios, then gives everything a boost with baking soda and salt.

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Top Comment:
“My only change was to cut out one cup of sugar. The recipe worked like a charm. I am thrilled with the result. This is definitely a keeper and will be made often. It is so much better than Ina's recipe. Thanks for this!”
— dinah25

Best of all, you can think of this recipe like beach sand—it wants to be monkeyed and messed with. Build a sandcastle. Dig a hole. Bury your kid cousin, so only her head sticks out, and she spooks strangers who walk by. (Okay, maybe don’t go that far.)

Here’s how to tweak the recipe:

  1. Whole grains: Swap out 35% (5 ounces) of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour, rye flour, or cornmeal.
  2. Nut flours: Replace 25% (3.6 ounces) of the all-purpose flour for nut flour (grind up nuts in a food processor until powder-fine).
  3. Different dairy: Don't have sour cream? Use ricotta, crème fraîche, or full-fat Greek yogurt in its place.
  4. New flavors: Instead of (or in addition to) the vanilla extract, try almond extract, bourbon, dark rum, or citrus zest.
  5. Miscellaneous add-ins: You can also add 2-ish cups of, well, almost anything! Try berries (coat them in flour before folding into batter, to help them stay suspended), chocolate chunks, sprinkles, toasted nuts, seeds, or coconut flakes—and adjust the amount to sight.
  6. Marbled with cocoa or matcha powder (my favorite variation!): After you finish the batter, separate 2 1/2 cups (19 ounces) into another bowl. Add 6 tablespoons sifted cocoa or matcha and stir until smooth. Add half the plain batter to the pan, then half the colorful batter in blobs on top. Add the rest of the plain, then the rest of the colorful. Swirl with a knife until a pattern starts to form, but not so much that it blends.

Here’s how to use your creation:

Photo by Julia Gartland
  1. Syrupy fruit, soft cream: Macerate the fruit of the moment—say, strawberries or blackberries, chopped peaches or apricots—by adding sugar, salt, and citrus zest to taste. Let relax in the fridge for about an hour. Spoon on top of cake slices with a dollop of slouchy cream.
  2. Ice cream sandwich: Freeze 1-inch-thick slices of cake until firm. Sandwich with an audaciously thick layer of ice cream. Wrap well and freeze again. (Sandwiches will keep for up to 1 month.)
  3. State fair-ify: Cut cake into 1-inch-thick "fingers." Fill a wide, high-sided saucepan with 1-inch of peanut (or other fry-friendly) oil. Heat to 375° F. Add a couple pound cake slices—smaller batches is better—and fry about 1 minute per side until deeply golden brown. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate, until no longer oily. Bury in confectoners' sugar.
  4. Sugared croutons!: Cut cake into 3/4-inch cubes. Drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar, plus a couple pinches of salt. Toss—gently! Spread in an even layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 350° F for about 25 minutes—turning halfway through—until deeply golden and crusty. Cool completely before sprinkling on top of ice cream or (frozen) yogurt, or serving with cold milk like cereal.
  5. Grill: Generously brush with olive oil. Grill until charred and smokey. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt.
Photo by Julia Gartland

Some starter combinations—flavors & applications—for your next cookout, getaway, or sleepy summer night:

  • Chocolate chunks + pistachios >> Serve with syrupy strawberries and soft cream
  • Matcha marble >> Turn into green tea ice cream sandwich
  • Cornmeal + bourbon cake >> Grill it, then spoon bourbon-caramel over top
  • Almond flour + almond extract extract >> State fair-ify
  • Crème fraîche + rainbow sprinkle pound >> Make sugared croutons, for cereal

What gets you to turn on the oven during the year's hottest months? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lois Barber
    Lois Barber
  • MStubbee
  • Leslie VB
    Leslie VB
  • joan
  • EmmyLoop
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Lois B. July 15, 2017
14.4 ounces flour? Seriously? You're writing a cooking column and you list that measurement as an ingredient? How about giving the measurement in cups?
Lois B. July 15, 2017
14.4 ounces flour? Seriously? You're writing a cooking column and you list that measurement as an ingredient? How about giving the measurement in cups?
MStubbee July 1, 2017
Hi Emma, have you or any of the readers ever made pound cake in a 9X13 pan? I am living in the UK and want to make a flag cake for my coworkers for the 4th and would rather have pound cake than white cake. Thanks!
Leslie V. June 28, 2017
I have many High A books & notes, I was JUST asking if you considered or someone one had made this with adjustments. Each recipe is different in ingredients so it is like a science experiment. And from past experience can be frustrating and expensive to make several batches to find the right formula. I use U of Colorado guidelines often.. As i said i am 4000' and very dry air in the High desert.
It would be helpful to think about we at HA when developing and publishing recipes. Thanks. Have a good day.
joan June 26, 2017
Instead of all purpose flour can I use almond flour only? What would be the total ounces? thank you
Emma L. June 26, 2017
Hi Joan, I wouldn't recommend that. Because almond flour contains no gluten, it acts very differently than wheat flour.
EmmyLoop June 25, 2017
Actually, I would love to be buried up to my neck in pound cake...yes, I went there...
Margie June 25, 2017
I'm wondering about high altitude too. I'm at 6000 feet. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Karen M. June 25, 2017
Perfect. Thanks
dinah25 June 25, 2017
I used a 350 degree oven and cooked the loaves for 55 minutes.
Karen M. June 25, 2017
That's great news. I will make it tomorrow! What oven temp and cooking time worked for you?
dinah25 June 25, 2017
I made the cakes today. Very easy to put together. My only change was to cut out one cup of sugar. The recipe worked like a charm. I am thrilled with the result. This is definitely a keeper and will be made often. It is so much better than Ina's recipe. Thanks for this!
anastasia June 25, 2017
Made this recipe and subbing some almond flour to the AP and totally failed. It overflowed from both 9x5" loaf pans, then sank. Also cloyingly sweet. I compared it afterwards to my go-to sourcream cake from Ina Garten, this recipe seems to be so much lower in flour and higher in wet ingredients. Anyone else had this problem?
dianna J. June 25, 2017
I made this today and used two loaf pans and they came out horrible. Both sank and while it tastes OK, it looks awful. Won't be making again any time soon.
Laureen M. June 25, 2017
I love to cook/bake( my favorite ) and the recipe sounds great, only there are no times for baking or temperature for the oven...?? I can guestimate but would like the original instructions.....please. thanks in advance!!!
Emma L. June 26, 2017
Hi Laureen, here is a link to the full recipe:
Lizzie G. June 25, 2017
The 'tweak' suggestions are great. When I try to print them to store with the recipe, all the ads cover the text. Any way to print this helpful stuff?
margothand June 25, 2017
To access the full recipes on Food52, you often have to hit the "Recipe" link (see the 2nd photo of the cake and click the icon for Recipe), which takes you to a different page.
Karen M. June 25, 2017
Sounds like a great recipe. Any way to reduce the sugar or swap out some of it for Sucanat?
Veronica S. June 25, 2017
Made 2 small Bundt Pans of this yesterday -- FANTASTIC! I for us, the other for the freezer when unexpected (or expected!) arrive for a meal. The ever-so-delicate sugar crust is sublime. Will have tonight with macerated apricots & some plain yogurt. THANK YOU--HEAVEN!
Leslie V. June 25, 2017
As you know most of the world does not live at sea level.... I am included.
ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR ME ( At 4000' ) AN OTHERS on changes we should make. Baking at higher altitudes is a diffident science. Thank you!!
Emma L. June 26, 2017
Hi Leslie, I have no experience with high-altitude baking myself, but maybe this chart can help!
Susan T. June 23, 2017
So the "two'ish cups" of add-ins is for both cakes? You could add one cup to one and one cup of something else to the other?
Emma L. June 23, 2017
Absolutely! I love that idea.
Susan P. June 23, 2017
thanks Emma !!!
anastasia June 22, 2017
Making this now. This recipe is too large for 2-9x5 loaves. They overflow in the oven. I would make this into 3 loaves next time.