This cake is an ode to the well-known pound cake from Stocks Bakery in Philadelphia that my family had at every get-together when I was a kid. It's got a velvety melt-in-your-mouth crumb and a smooth vanilla buttercream. Pound cakes have a better taste and texture after resting overnight, so I plan to make this loaf a day before serving, when possible.
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the center. Spray an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper to cover the bottom and longest sides. Lightly spray the parchment. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in the oil, vanilla, sour cream and warm water then set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Blend on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, a few pieces at a time. Mix until the butter has disappeared into the dry ingredients and the mixture looks like cornmeal, about 2 minutes. Add half of the liquid ingredients and blend on low speed to combine. Raise the mixer to high speed and beat for 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula and blend again on high speed for a few seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add half of the remaining liquid ingredients and mix until smooth. Scrape the bowl and then add the remaining liquids and blend on low speed just until combined. Give the batter a few folds with the rubber spatula then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Tap the pan on the counter a few times, place it on a sheet tray and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out with a few moist crumbs, 68 to 70 minutes.
Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes then use an offset spatula to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan. Using the parchment handles, pull the cake out of the pan onto a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes more. Remove the parchment paper and discard. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap while still warm and let cool completely, preferably overnight for the best texture and flavor (see Cook’s Note). Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry the stand mixer bowl and paddle attachment.
For the buttercream: Beat the butter on medium speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar, blend on low speed to combine then beat on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and paddle. Add the remaining ingredients and mix on low speed. Scrape the bowl then mix on high speed for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and mix again on high speed for another few seconds.
Trim a bit of the cracked crown off the top of the cooled cake, if desired, and then frost the top of the cake with buttercream. Store in a covered cake dome for up to 5 days.
The lemon is optional but adds a bright flavor to the cake and buttercream.
Wrapping the cake while warm allows the moisture to redistribute in the cake.
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