The Original Van Halen Pound Cake: Where It All Started


Van Halen Pound Cake

Best. Pound-Cake. Ever.


I told you guys I would be reporting on the making/baking/de-panning/eating of Miss Patsy's famous pound cake recipe, sent to me by friend and reader Cindy.  I have been sworn to secrecy about the exact recipe, so I can't print that, but I can print my modifications.   And where does Van Halen come in?  I was invited to Mary Lou's house for New Years Day.  She told me to bring something sweet.  I told her, via facebook, that I would bring this pound cake.  She posted, "Is that like Van Halen pound cake?"  I was confused, and I had to ask her what that meant.  She told me that Van Halen has a song called Pound Cake.  I don't think it's about a baked good, but that's neither here nor there.  So, for my purposes, my few tweaks to Miss Patsy's famous pound cake will be known from this point onward as Van Halen pound cake.

First, a bit about pound cake.  The original recipe is a perfect balance of structural elements and tenderizing elements.  1 pound each of flour and eggs for Team Structure balanced against 1 pound each of sugar and butter for Team Tender.  A perfectly balanced but fairly dense and fairly flavorless cake.  The recipe has been tweaked over the years and now usually includes extra sugar, some flavorings, a little extra liquid and some leavening.  Here's the ingredient roll call for Van Halen Pound Cake:

  • 13 oz. cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt (fine sea salt--it blends in much better than kosher salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz. butter flavored shortening
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • zest of 1 1/2 lemons
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup half and half

First, you really need to use a stand mixer for this.  Generally, you need 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour (which I usually measure at 4-ish ounces), and I used just 1 teaspoon to leaven three cups of flour.  The baking powder will give off some carbon dioxide and keep the crumb from being really tight, but the main leavening comes from adequate creaming of the fat and sugar.  A stand mixer makes pretty short work of this.  I put this cake together using The Creaming Method.  You can read about it on this very blog.  This is exactly what I did:

  1. I measured all of my ingredients and let them sit until everything was no cooler than about 68 degrees, F.
  2. I whisked the flour and baking powder together really well.
  3. I creamed the butter and shortening together for about a minute.
  4. I added the flavorings and the salt and creamed for another minute.  (Fat carries flavor really well, so adding them at this point makes sense).
  5. In went the sugar, and I creamed everything on medium until the shortening was lighter in color and fluffy--about 3-4 more minutes.  Much bowl scraping occurred too, to ensure even creaming.
  6. In went 1 egg at a time.  I beat on medium for about 30 seconds with each addition, scraping the bowl every time.
  7. I dumped in about half the flour/baking powder and beat until combined.
  8. In went half the dairy.  I beat until just combined.
  9. Then, I put in 1/2 of the remaining flour/baking powder and mixed on low until combined.
  10. I drizzled in the last half of the milk, then added the rest of the flour and the zest.  (If you add the zest earlier, it will just get all snarled around your paddle attachment like seaweed around a boat motor, and none of it will end up in the cake).
  11. I turned the speed up for literally just 2-3 seconds to make sure everything was well combined.

How to prepare the pan:  I used a Bundt pan, and I knew that Cindy has had issues with the cake sticking.  I really like a Wilton product for this.  It's their Cake Release.  It's not the spray kind; it comes in a bottle with a flip-top lid, like the old Bactine bottles, if you remember.  I just squirted some in and then painted it all over the inside of the pan with a pastry brush.  I am truly convinced that the Cake Release is the Best Product Ever for making a cake come bounding out of a pan, and using a pastry brush really helps to get it in all the nooks and crannies in a Bundt pan.  If you don't have any of this magical product, other options include pan sprays with oil and flour in them, fat and then flour or fat and then sugar.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, F, and baked the cake in the lower third of the oven for a total of about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  I knew he was done when he was just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan and when I toothpick I stuck in the center came out clean.  I let him cool in the pan for about an hour, then I turned him out onto a rack to finish cooling.  Fortunately my Cake Release did me proud and the cake sprang forth from the pan like the Little Gingerbread Man from the oven.

I made a glaze for the little guy, too.  I used some powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, the wee-est splash of my brand new Sonoma Syrup Co Special Blend Pure Vanilla Bean Extract "Crush" Madagascar Bourbon and Tahitian Vanilla with Vanilla Bean Seeds (that's what the label says.  I just call it vanilla) and a little half and half.  Then, once the cake was cool, drizzle, drizzle, drizzle.  In case you were wondering, it's called "Crush" because it has crushed up vanilla beans in it so there are wee vanilla specks.  It is, hands down, the best vanilla I've ever had.

This is a great recipe, folks.  It's buttery, and the mixture of the extracts lends a subtle and can't-put-your-finger-on-it quality to the cake.  I heard a lot of, "What exactly am I tasting?"  The folks at the party loved it, and I give full credit to Miss Patsy for the original recipe and to Cindy for sharing it with me.  Thanks, Cindy!

Here are some extra Van Halen pound cake pictures for your enjoyment.


You can see a bit of the lemon zest.  The crumb is tight, but not too tight.

You can see a bit of the lemon zest. The crumb is tight, but not too tight.



I hope everyone had a great celebration last evening and are enjoying a relaxing day.  By the way, I'm a bit peevish with Rita for believing that Dexter could possibly be addicted to heroin, but that's a whole other story.

***For an updated, fiddled-about-with version, check this out.


  1. mee says

    hahaahaaa!! XD your poundcake is good!! 😀 I like it, and I love the name!! 😛 the Van Halen Poundcake!! 😀 its the best XP have you ever heard the song?? its really cool 😀 woah..yeah its like woah XD hear it! haha…they say that a woman its like a Poundcake ^^ cute….well..ok I hope you keep cooking more Van Halen Poundcakes!!! XD haha bye

  2. Shirley says

    So glad I found your site. Thanks for your insightful tips, and recipes. I can’t wait to get started. P.S. I don’t know what the little star is at the top of my post, but I was trying to give you as many stars as I could. I think I may have messed it up. : (

  3. says

    Jenni, I couldn’t resist snooping around, especially the pound cake recipes. I’m showing my age but the Van Halen one really caught me eye! It’s definitely a rockin pound cake!

    • says

      LOL Thanks, Rhonda! This is the cake that started it all. I also have a Sneaky Blog where I have testers testing some of my new recipes that will be exclusive (ish) to the book. If you’d like an invitation to that, I’d be happy to have you come over and take a look! So excited about our potentially working together!

  4. says

    Just stopping by to tell you that I adapted your recipe for this month’s Bundt Bakers, adding in lemon juice (and some baking soda, of course) to the batter, along with blueberries, blueberry jam and some cream cheese as a filling. The filling sank, making it more like your own pineapple upside down pound cake, but never mind. The important thing is that it is buttery and delicious! (And I covered the top with sweet cream cheese drizzle.) I’ll send you a photo.


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