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Dr. Pound Cake

Dr. Kenneth Lyles of the Duke University School of Medicine has developed an unusual side specialty: Pound cakes. Over the last decade-plus, Lyles has baked and distributed some five thousand pound cakes. He tells you all about it.

Here’s the recipe. The transcipt of the interview follows after.

Pound cake recipes from Ken Lyles (2006)

Mrs. Hill’s Pound Cake

1 stick margarine
1 ½ sticks butter 1 tsp vanila
5 large eggs 1 tsp. lemon extract
3 cups sugar 1 tsp rum (or extract)
3 cups cake flour 1 tsp. brandy (or extract)
1 cup evaporated milk
½ tsp salt

Measure all ingredients and let stand at room temperature so butter, sugar and eggs cream well. If all ingredients are out, you will not have to stop the mixer. Grease pan with part of butter and flour with part of cake flour. Cream butter and sugar in mixer. Add eggs one at a time. Alternate adding flour and milk, beginning with flour. Add extracts and salt and mix well. Put into cold oven and set at 300 degrees. Bake 1 ½ hours. Do not disturb while baking. Let stand until just warm and then turn ont waxed paper. When cool, turn top side up. This can make either 1 large tube pan or 2 loaf pans. It freezes very well.

Variations: Use basic recipe and alter the spices as follows:

For the lemon pound cake, use 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tbsp. and 1 tsp. lemon extract and optionally, 1 tbsp. lemon zest

For the chocolate pound cake, add four squares unsweetened bakers chocolate and use only 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. almond spices.

For the chocolate orange, the spices are 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp orange extract.

Vanilla Wafer Pound Cake

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, beaten
1 7 oz. pkg. coconut
1 12 oz. box vanilla wafers, crushed
½ cup milk
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 tsp .vanilla
1 tbsp. and 1 tsp sherry

Cream butter, then add sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into greased tube or bundt pan. Bake at 325 for 1 to 1/14 hours. Let cool in pan at least two hours.




I’m Scott Huler, and this is the Devils’ Share, a podcast of Duke Magazine.

I tease people I tell them I have three great pieces of equipment.

Dr. Kenneth Lyles, Duke professor of medicine and Senior Fellow in the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, does high-level research into osteoporosis, fractures, and other aspects of aging.

My youngest brother gave me an oh-three-six chainsaw with a 22-inch bar. I have a 1997 5.9-liter Dodge Ram pickup truck with Flowmaster mufflers and oversize tires.

And like anyone involved in any high-level pursuit, he has a deep connection to his equipment.

And I have a superior kitchenaid mixer in both our cabin and our house in Durham.

Okay wait: his mixer? Dr. Lyles is in love with his mixer?

So I can whip out some pound cake. There’s never a problem.

Pound cake. And you need a weapons-grade mixer because…?

I’m gonna do ‘em en masse.

En … masse?

My wife and I have talked about it. We do ‘em in runs. Sometimes I’ll just do two runs, which will make anywhere from four to five pound cakes, depending on how I divvy it up.

If Lyles sounds like the manager of an auto plant, talking about thousands of units per day, it’s because he’s cooking his pound cakes on that scale: in the hundreds of pound cakes per year. How many?

In 2010 one of the Duke chief residents, called me up he knew I recorded my pound cakes, and said Ken how many pound cakes have you made in the last five years. I said my willingness to give you that answer depends on your promising me one thing. I said, When I do it you’ve got to promise not to send people with a strait jacket to lock me up.

So the answer for that was 1,239 and it became a question at medicine trivia bowl, and there’s the piece of paper I did the calculation on. I save everything.

Lyles became Dr. Pound Cake accidentally. When he was an intern at the Medical College of Virginia, his wife worked for another physician.

Mrs. Hill’s husband was a patient of the physician. Whenever Mrs. Hill saw Dr. Harbison, she brought a pound cake. … Sandy got the recipe. I’m happy to share that with anybody. It’s called Mrs. Hill’s Pound Cake. And for 44 years we’ve made that because it’s the perfect pound cake. It’s a very standard pound cake but I think what takes it to another level is the lemon, rum, brandy, and vanilla flavoring in it.

Okay, good pound cake. His wife Sandy would make them a few times a year and Lyles would sometimes distribute them. Everyone loved them: the recipe ended up in church cookbooks hither and yon. Sandy had her own projects, though, and Lyles once asked for a couple extra pound cakes.

When I asked her for six instead of four pound cakes, she said yoyo: you’re on your own. So I began to make pound cakes, and then I wanted to fiddle. I would make pound cakes but I couldn’t just leave it alone.

There followed for Lyles a great period of intellectual output. Chocolate pound cakes. Key lime pound cakes. Almond pound cakes. Vanilla wafer pound cakes. He learned that freezing pound cakes made them even better, which again upped the volume, and they began to be his trademark. He noticed that some female colleagues always brought food to teaching events.

If they could take food, why couldn’t an old man do it? I do a lot of teaching conferences in my own particular style, where I interact with house staff. I’m going to fuss a little bit, and everyone who’s in the room is gonna be involved, so I figured it was easier to get people involved in the conferences if they were chewing on my pound cake.

The volume has not diminished.

You’ll be pleased to know that when this cake came out it was one of 4,800 I’ve made in the last 12 years. Do you understand?
Do you have a special freezer for them?
Two. They’re going to put me in the nut hut after this appears.

Not likely. A man has a Saturday hobby.

From 12 to 2 that’s set aside for baking. I put on the television, mute the TV, I turn on basketball, stock car racing, or football, and I pick up beach music.

But yes, that’s a lot of baking.

Listen, I’ve worn out a pan. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve worn out an aluminum pan. It’s getting thin.

And apart from feeding friends, colleagues, and students, the pound cakes feed him.

I’m accomplishing something. There are a lot of things you do if you’re an investigator that take a long time to happen. But if you have a pound cake that comes out of the oven, it’s satisfying.

On that you may rely: Duke Magazine staff sampled two cakes Dr. Lyles supplied and found them excellent. And any remaining pieces quickly vanished from the community food counter. You may find the recipe at Bon appetit from the Devils’ Share.


If you’re one of my friends of a colleague, and you need a pound cake, all you have to do is ask for it.