Spoiler: It's not because the cake weighs a pound.

If someone asked you how much the average pound cake weighs, would you say a pound? If so, you've been understandably tricked by this strangely named dessert staple. 

The pound cake, a delightful dessert typically made in a bundt or loaf pan, is a popular confection, especially in the Southern states. But it's name doesn't derive from the weight of the completed dessert itself. Rather, it's a hint at the ingredient list, a relic of a time when recipes were largely passed along orally. 

Pound cake first came about during the early 1700s in Britain. At that time, the average person was unable to read or write, so recipes that could easily be spread by word of mouth tended to be the most popular. Pound cake also called for simple ingredients that most households could afford, a factor that remains a part of its popularity. The oldest recipes for pound cake call for a pound each of sugar, eggs, butter and flour; two variations of these types of pound cakes can be found in Amelia Simmons' famous 1796 book, American Cookery. Given that one pound of ingredients was called for in those recipes, a true pound cake would weigh about four pounds total. 

Pound Cake
Photo by Meredith

Today, the humble pound cake's construct has evolved to entail plenty of variations on the original concept. Most recipes don't actually call for a pound each of eggs, flour, sugar and butter. Oil is used by some to create a more moist pound cake; sour cream is added by others to lend a tang. And in truth, even 18th Century Britons didn't necessarily have to make a four-pound cake if they wanted pound cake. The fact that the cake hinted at even proportions meant that cooks in 1700 could use a quarter pound of each ingredient and still end up with a pound cake. (In that scenario, such a pound cake would weigh the same as its name). 

Of course, modern pound cakes can be dressed up in ways that the desserts originators likely wouldn't have dreamed of. If you're fond of pound cake and looking for a new way to serve it, try making stuffed pound cake by filling the cake's center with a thick, sweet mixture (like this cookies-and-cream cheese). You can also top your cake with a seasonal icing, like pumpkin, or add in buttermilk for a tangy flavor boost. The logic behind pound cake's name might not be as intuitive in the present day, but the dessert itself will always be a popular favorite.