As a baker, skipping the preheat feels like a breach of the principles I learned.
It’s common knowledge to bring your oven to temperature if you don’t want to end up with underbaked goods.
Yet, when it comes to pound cakes, many chefs recommend skipping the preheating step altogether.
Why do you start a pound cake in the cold oven? Today, I’ll discuss the science behind cold baking and explain how it can result in the best pound cakes!
You may have noticed that the first step in any recipe is to preheat the oven.
It takes a while to get the oven to a certain temperature. If you start cold, you bake for longer to ensure the whole dessert gets cooked through.
Skipping the preheat can make your baked goods dry and flat. Plus, with preheating, you get the most lift and browning on your confectioneries.
However, this isn’t the case for pound cake!
Leavening agents, like baking soda and baking powder, work by producing bubbles in your batter. Carbon dioxide bubbles form when acid, base, and water react once you combine your ingredients.
After placing the mixture in a hot oven, the gas finds its way into the air pockets you created by creaming the butter. Carbon dioxide and steam expand these pockets and add to the fluffiness of baked goods.
The process, known as oven spring, makes your product larger within 10 minutes of baking. Within this time frame, the heat caramelizes the sugar and sets the dessert.
This is great for bread and cookies, but too much heat makes large air pockets undesirable in pound cake!
During cold baking, you place your batter or dough in the oven while it’s still at room temperature. You only switch the oven on at the start of your timer.
How does it work, and can it control the oven spring? Here are some principles that make pound cakes better when cold-baked!
According to Bon Appétit, it takes 20 minutes for an oven to reach the baking temp. Once the batter reaches 155 to 180°F, it’ll solidify and trap any air pockets.
Cold baking prevents the cake from setting as soon as you place it in the oven.
Prolonging the temperature rise gives the carbon dioxide bubbles enough time to lift the cake. On the other hand, immediate heat will cause the gas to expand quickly.
This rapid expansion will set into large air pockets that may collapse after baking!
Did you know that heat activates 85% of the leavening agents in cake batter?
Baking powder starts working at 140°F, and the reaction ends at 167°F. Yet, if you preheat your oven, you raise the temperature to 350°F.
This means if you use the hot oven method, you end the leavening process without maximizing your baking powder!
In an experiment by Epicurious, cold oven and hot oven pound cakes got compared to see which method is better. Here’s what they found about the cold oven pound cake:
- It has a lighter pillowy mouthfeel.
- The air pockets are finer, which makes the cake delicate.
- Cold oven pound cake has a better crust. It’s thicker, browner, and aesthetically pleasing.
- The flavor is more caramel-like. It tastes like browned butter.
Meanwhile, here’s what it noticed on the hot oven pound cakes.
- The hot oven pound cake never rose as much as the cold oven pound cake.
- It didn’t develop a deep flavor and color. The crust is also too thin and pale.
- Hot oven pound cake is denser than cold oven pound cakes.
Why do you start a pound cake in a cold oven? The quick answer is it gives you more time to let the batter rise.
Once it reaches a certain temperature, the leavening agents stop working, and you end up with dense dough.
What’s more, putting pound cake mix in a hot oven creates large air pockets. Because of this, you can’t achieve a delicate crumb.
Overall, cold oven pound cake has a better texture and flavor than those cooked in a preheated oven!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.