Le Quatre Quarts

The four quarter cake is the most simple of all cakes and almost every other cake is a variation on these ingredients and proportions. Quatre Quarts (ka-tre kar) is French for four quarters, i.e. a quarter kilo butter, a quarter kilo sugar, a quarter kilo flour and four eggs. I couldn’t figure out why four eggs would be a quarter of anything but 16, but so it is. Not three eggs, which would at least be a quarter of a dozen, but four! Ah, les Français!!

In my last post (Here We Go Again…) I mentioned this humble cake and then realised that I had not actually made a proper, basic quatre quarts in a long while and so with prompt resolve I did:

Le Quatre-Quarts – The Pound Cake

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g flour
  • 4 whole eggs (minus the shells)
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder (optional)

Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature! This is vital for the success of your cake. If it can’t be done in the timeframe you have, don’t bother to even start (but see below for what you can do to get an edible cake nevertheless). You will need two different beaters for your stand mixer to make this cake. Alternatively, you can use the mixer to whisk up the butter-sugar mix and finish the rest by hand, which will give you a decent workout. Sift your sugar at the start of the operation and grease your cake tin. If you ae using baking powder, sift it into the flour and mix it well. Heat your oven to 175ºC with the rack positioned so that the cake will be in the middle of the oven.

Your butter is hopefully at an airconditioned room temperature, not molten at our Malaysian ambient 34ºC. Toss the butter into the bowl of your mixer, attach the whisk, pour in the sugar and start the machine at low speed. Once the mix has fluffed up a little and occupies more space in the bowl, increase the speed. You may need to scrape down the sides from time to time, if you see the colour at the side be deeper than the middle. It will take a good 10-15 minutes for the mix to be properly processed. You can test by rubbing a little between your fingers. If you can still feel the sugar crystals, you’re not done.

Your butter-sugar mix should have doubled in size and become very pale. Turn off the machine, change from whisk to blade. Crack your first egg into a bowl, check there are no bits of shell in it and it’s not off and then pour it into the mix. Turn on the beater at lowest speed and process until the egg is completely incorporated, then switch the machine off. I actually do this by hand with a wooden spoon. It allows a much better control of the texture.

Crack the second egg into the bowl and slip it into the bowl. Process again. There will be not much danger for the first two eggs, but the third and especially the fourth can leave you with a curdled batter. It’s not the end of the world. Just the end of the perfect quatre-quarts. Once the last egg has been added successfully, stop working the batter immediately. Working it more may curdle a perfectly good batter.

Sift the first 2-3 tablespoons of flour into your batter and mix in. Be gentle, but thorough. Keep sifting in 2-3 tablespoons at a time until all the flour has been incorporated. Spoon into your buttered cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes, until a skewer (or pairing knife) comes out clean. That means there will be streaks of fat on it, but no batter at all. The cake will crack and split across the top, so if you want to make sure the split is even, you will need to cut along the top of the batter as soon as it has risen and is starting to set. This is merely cosmetic and will have no bearing on the flavour of your cake.

I have to admit that I cheated and added the zest of 1 lemon to my cake, as I really fancied a lemon butter cake. You can add the zest of a lemon or an orange without changing the texture at all, so feel free.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag:     If you are in a rush, but still want to make a butter cake, cut your butter into small cubes and spread it out in the bowl of your mixer. Leave it to soften for 15-20 minutes while you sift the flour and butter the tin. Add the sugar and mash the butter and sugar together to soften the butter further. Use the blade of your mixer and process the butter and sugar for 5-10 minutes, then add the first egg and process to incorporate. After having incorporated the second egg, add a tablespoon of the flour. Add another tablespoon of flour after the third egg and all should be well. The texture of your cake will not be the same, but it will still be a good cake.

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