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.
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.)
Whole grains: Swap out 35% (5 ounces) of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour, rye flour, or cornmeal.
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).
Different dairy: Don't have sour cream? Use ricotta, crème fraîche, or full-fat Greek yogurt in its place.
New flavors: Instead of (or in addition to) the vanilla extract, try almond extract, bourbon, dark rum, or citrus zest.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Grill: Generously brush with olive oil. Grill until charred and smokey. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt.
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.
Emma is a Food Writer & Recipe Developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 am, reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their cat, Butter.