Pity the poor pound cake. It wears no feather boa, no three-inch heels. It sits on a rickety wooden chair in the corner of the gym. In a car full of cheesecake, the pound cake is the girl who drives.
The pound cake is the confectionary Golden Girl. Its timorous charm has been swept under the sugared skirts of ginger tartlets, Butterfinger-chunk fillings and anything baked by the French. Its glory days were the time of ladies' bridge and sewing clubs, along with Alicia Rhett Mayberry's Lady Baltimore Cake and Sheila Hibben's Orange-Lemon Pudding Cake.
Though the layer cake has returned to the runway (foodies place it under the overused rubric "comfort food"), the pound cake inspires as much excitement as aspic.
On the North Side of Pittsburgh, however, there lives a pound cake capable of garroting a ganache. It's baked by Gloria Townsend, a tall woman with a broad smile. Townsend has been baking her pound cake since her tiny hand fit into an oven mitt.
Townsend's recipe is her grandmother's creation, which was prominently featured on the counter of Alma's, her restaurant in the Hill District. The secret ingredient -- or not so secret, as Townsend is loose-lipped about it -- is lemon-lime soda. Also not a secret is butter, and lots of it.
Fruits and chocolate sauce provide crutches to an otherwise limp pound cake. Townsend's cake -- a buxom gal weighing in at about four pounds -- needs no frippery.
It can be sliced and frozen, provided there are leftovers.
As a child, Townsend spent afternoons in the kitchen with her grandmother, with the restaurant her after-school destination. "It was a special time," says Townsend. "I was at her side all the time, learning to cook."
Alma's Pound Cake recipe, now in the hands of her granddaughter, has wooed a new generation of groupies. She began baking the poundcakes for co-workers and friends; now she offers them to the public for $15. She bakes them from her home and sometimes, if she has the time, will deliver.
One fan described Townsend's cake as the "one pound cake that always ran out first at church."
Cakes can serve up to 16 pieces. To order, call Townsend at 412-513-8775.