Lemon Pound Cake, or Quatre quarts au citron


“Take any number of eggs and weigh them. Then weigh the same amounts of  butter, sugar and flour. Beat the egg whites, combine with the rest and bake”. Could there be a shorter, easier and more foolproof cake recipe? I don’t think so and every quatre quarts I make confirms this observation. Contrary to what my post title might suggest, “quatre quarts” is not the translation of the English Pound cake, nor the other way round.  Both are very old cakes and both have four ingredients with exactly the same weight.

The English pound cake takes its name from the weight of each of the four ingredients. At the time it was invented families were bigger and lighting an oven wasn’t as quick as nowadays, so everything was baked in big batches. Even though nowadays few people put a pound of each ingredient, this cake has kept its original name.

The French traditional “quatre quarts” comes from Brittany region and is based on the identical principle, but its name doesn’t precise the weight of each ingredient. “Quatre quarts” means “four quarters” and the cake is composed of four ingredients, each of them weighing exactly fourth of the total weight (initially based on the eggs’ weight). This is one of the simplest French cakes I know and definitely the easiest recipe to remember, thanks to the “four quarters” principle. If high quality ingredients are used, it has a beautiful butter and sugar aroma and doesn’t require any additional seasonings. On the other hand, Quatre quarts is a perfect support for aromatic modifications, such as this lemon version.

This recipe comes from Petit Larousse de cuisine, an excellent French cookery book I strongly recommend. My only modification was adding lemon zest and juice instead of the advised rum or cognac. The cake’s texture is soft, slightly moist, slightly crumbly, with a crunchy crust. Simple, irresistible, old-fashioned cake.

TIPS: Some pound cake recipes call for baking powder, but if you beat the egg whites (like the below, French recipe indicates), the cake rises very well without any additional help.

Quatre quarts is usually rectangle-shaped, but a couple of days ago I saw it in a beautiful bundt cake (kugelhopf) shape version, baked by Liz (That Skinny Chick Can Bake), so choose any baking tin shape as long as it’s high.

Preparation: 1 hour

Ingredients (for a 20 x 10 cm/about 8 x 4 inches baking tin):

3 eggs

flour (weight=eggs’ weight)

caster sugar (weight=eggs’ weight)

soft or melted butter (weight=eggs’ weight)

pinch of salt

zest from 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks.

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Combine all the ingredients apart from egg whites. (The butter can be melted, but if it’s only soft, mix everything in a food processor).

Stir the egg whites delicately into the cake mixture.

Pour into a greased baking tin (or lined with baking paper) and bake until golden brown (about 45 minutes).

This cake keeps fresh for two-three days if wrapped tightly in cling film.


50 Replies to “Lemon Pound Cake, or Quatre quarts au citron”

  1. I love lemon poundcake and actually I even pay for one. This recipe sounds easy enough. I should make my own (finally). I need to check my baking pan size… See I don’t bake often so I don’t even know the size. It’s a typical size but not sure if it’s same for American and European. Looks so delicious. I love citrus cake. I am working on something citrus (side dish) too… 🙂 have a lovely day Sissi! Good nite!

    1. Thank you, Nami! It is very easy indeed. And has always worked. I like it because I hate checking cakes recipes every time I make them (even if I bake something for the 50th time I often don’t remember the recipe). Here it’s so easy!
      No matter what size or shape of the pan you have. The cake dough should arrive to more or less 3/4 of the height. Good luck! Good night, Nami!

  2. I’ve never made my own pound cake and I see recipe after recipe for the quatre quarts and I resisted but the photo of your cake has done me in. I’ve got to make this.

  3. Sissi, pound cake just happens to be one of my very favourites (next to anything with dark chocolate of course – ha-ha!! Oh wait, light bulb moment, maybe I could drizzle dark chocolate all over this beauty ~ just kidding!!) – adding the lemon just brings it to more dazzling heights 😉 I love the levity of pound cake, its moistness and sweet notes without being drenched in sugar. You’re right, that’s the perfect way to remember the proportions (now, if I could just get my hands on a food scale…;)).

    p.s. I didn’t know Larousse made cookbooks… is that the same publisher as the French dictionaries?

    1. Kelly, I think all the modifications are allowed here. I’m sure it taste great glazed with chocolate. You mean you don’t bake with a food scale? only cups? I like cups system sometimes, but find scales more accurate in certain cases and such things as whole eggs are difficult to “weigh” in cups 😉 Larousse has edited several cookery books. They edit all kinds of reference books, also cuisine-related.

        1. I suppose it’s just a difference between Europe and North America. Everyone has and uses scales in Europe. I have mine all the time ready to use, just next to the rice cooker. French confectioners say one should even weigh liquids (and not count them in mililitres) because thus it’s more precise. Certain (very very complicated) sweet recipes probably require it. My favourite recipes however are those which do not require any weighing or memorising (crumble, my chocolate cake etc.).

  4. When I was younger, I used to eat a lot of Saralee’s pound cake and come to think of it, it’s been ages since I had one! I’m surprised that it’s so easy to remember the proportions of the ingredients and I love the zesty addition you made to it!

  5. I’ve not made a pound cake in forever, this looks fabulous and has me craving a slice!! Especially that it is lemon! I’m getting ready to post a lemon bread that at first glance I thought this looked like!! Beautiful cake Sissi, flavor and presentation!

  6. Sissi, I am IN LOVE with pound cakes! Though I have not actually made one, but every time I pass by a pastry display case, they are definitely admired, often purchased and eaten…

    Thank you for the recipe, I have to give it a try very soon, yummmmm!

  7. Pound cakes are wonderful and can be cubed and dipped in the chocolate of a chocolate fondue because they’re relatively firm. I haven’t made one in a while cause baking for one is a dangerous thing to do though unless the item freezes well, which these do. 🙂

  8. Oh lemon pound cake is so good. Yours looks moist and delicious. I don’t mind having several slices of this cake. 🙂 The only thing is that I don’t bake and I am not sure if I would even try but I guess one of these days. Enjoy the rest of the week, Sissi! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ray. I couldn’t live without the oven. I baked my first cake when I was maybe 9 years old… I have noticed in Europe and North America it’s much more popular. If you like pound cake you should try it, it’s so easy! And certainly tastes better at home (unless you buy from an excellent baker or pastry shop).

  9. Who doesn’t love pound cake! It is so versatile and can be served with a range of different accompaniments. That’s very interesting about the history of the pound cake. It had never occurred to me.

  10. Sissi, I’m curious how you measure the eggs. Is it while they’re in the shell? Cause it seems it would be hard to crack open the eggs, weigh them and THEN separate the whites from the yolks. 🙁

    1. I weigh them in shells. I suppose they could be weighed without them too, but it would be a bit difficult 😉 The shells don’t weigh much.

        1. Of course, you are absolutely right to ask! Especially since it’s the only recipe I know where whole eggs are weighed.

  11. Ahhh … my kind of recipe. Pound cake recipes always put me off with the pound measures .. just so huge. This is a super base for so many desserts. Looks so beautifully moist! Do I need to whisk the egg whites at all? You mentioned beating it earlier but not in the instructions … just wondering.

    1. Hi, Ping. Shame on me. Such a short recipe and I have forgotten about one stage… Thank you for asking this question. I have just added the missing sentence. (Yes, the egg whites should be beaten.) Thank you for the compliment! The cake is moister than a sponge cake or a bundt cake. Sorry again.

  12. Beautiful pound cake, Sissi!!! Yours has the perfect crumb…just lovely! And thanks for the mention…you made my day 🙂

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Liz. I couldn’t not have mentioned your beautiful and originally shaped quatre quarts. I have always made mine in the same baking tin and started to think maybe I should change 🙂

  13. I just had a very unmemorable meal in the hotel that I’m staying in, and now I’m dreaming of pound cake. What I wouldn’t give for a cuppa tea and a piece of your lemony pound cake. I was already to start grating the lemon zest (when I get home of course) until I saw that I needed a scale to make the pound cake! Hmmmm….I’ll need to see what else I’d use it for. Love the history on the pound cake — very interesting.

    1. Thank you, Barb. I’m so sorry for your meal. I hope it hasn’t spoiled your stay! What else can you use your scales for…. most of my recipes (especially sweet ones)? Just joking, but you will make all the European recipes you find on internet! I had the same thing with a measuring cup. I had to buy it to make American and Canadian recipes 😉

  14. This reminds me of the basic “Victoria Sponge” recipe my mother (and me) always make. “6-6-6-3”, that is “6oz each of Butter, Sugar and S/R Flour, and then 3 eggs”. Easily scalable to 4-4-4-2, though in metric it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
    “179.xx grams of 3 things plus 3 eggs” – uh-huh :p

    I’d be interested in doing it this way next time… I wonder how much the three eggs I use will weigh, and how much different it will be in the final flavour compared to the victoria sponge! Extra easy for me now that I have my sweet new digital scales too 😀

    Might knock out a cake this weekend. It’s been a while since I made a good, normal cake – thanks for the idea Sissi, and the wonderful photo of the cake!

    1. Thank you, Charles. It’s weird because from what you say the Victoria Sponge has exactly the same amounts… (Three eggs usually weigh 185 grams, so your mum’s cake is exactly the same as pound cake.) All the sponge cakes I have ever had had much more eggs than the Victoria Sponge, which made them spongy, i.e. with lots of small holes and lighter. (I have never had a British sponge cake though) Pound cake is denser and moister. Or maybe Victoria Sponge is not a typical sponge? Or maybe the baking powder is added and the holes are created? Pound cake rises, but there are not much holes. Good luck with your weekend baking!

  15. I bet it’s delish. The history is really interesting and the weighing part makes tremendous sense. Sometimes I wish I stayed with my kitchen scale and didn’t have to translate everything into cups and spoons. But the North American cook is spoilt and since I write my recipes for my very North American descendents I keep on using the cup. The lemon — I LOVE the lemon in poundcake!

    1. Thank you so much, Zsuzsa. I can understand cups method can be easier, but from my experience it’s not as accurate as weighing. Especially in tricky, complicated pastry. I also use cups sometimes when I make US or Canadian recipes, but often prefer to convert the amounts to grams.

      1. yes you are right Sissi. Even though we try to stress the 1/2 cup sweep method, using the cup measure is always touch and go. But grams never let you down.

    1. Thank you, Martyna. It is really one of the best cookbooks I have ever seen. Definitely worth buying.

  16. Nie ma to, jak tradycyjny, ‘babciny’ quatre quarts 🙂 Dzis wiele przepisow na ciasta ucierane pochodzi z tej wlasnie receptury, ktora mozna potem modyfikoac do woli.
    Cytrynowy to chyba moj ulubiony, do popoludniowej harbatki 🙂

    Bon dimanche!

    PS. A u mnie jutro w skrzynce powinien byc ten Grand Larousse, juz sie nie moge doczekac :))

    1. Dzieki za wizyte, Bea! Robie to ciasto strasznie czesto z roznymi dodatkami, ale chyba cytrynowa wersja to moja ulubiona tez. Ciekawa jestem czy Ci sie spodoba ksiazka! Milej niedzieli 🙂

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