“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):
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.