Amaretto Sour Pound Cake

A couple of weeks ago, in lieu of going out and spending (probably) too much money on a Friday night, husband and I stayed in for the sake of science (SCIENCE!). Food science, that is. That’s right – it was kitchen experiment time!

I’m entering another cake into a bigger state fair this time around, and going in for some sweet, sweet flour money to fund my baking addiction errr, business. While I intended to simply enter my previous fair winner, Almond Buttermilk Pound Cake, I noticed a section for “Creativity” in the guidelines for this particular contest. Sure, my previous cake is pretty delicious (if I do say so myself), but it’s not particularly creative. I wanted something I couldn’t find with a simple Google search, but something that also tasted good without overpowering the flavor of the original cake.

Enter the Amaretto Sour Pound Cake.

I love me an amaretto sour: it’s tangy, just sweet enough, and not terribly boozy, so I can enjoy it without getting too silly. And I’m not talking about some bullshit with store-bought sweet and sour mix – that stuff looks and tastes like sugared-up highlighter fluid. Bleckkkk. Do yourself a favor and make an amaretto sour with fresh-squeezed lemon juice (not the bottled stuff. Never the bottled stuff.), simple syrup, and decent amaretto. (By “decent,” I mean mid-shelf. We aren’t that fancy, unless you want to buy us some high-end stuff.) You’ll never waste money and resources on sweet and sour mix again.

So, because there are almond pound cakes, and because there are lemon pound cakes, and because the combination of lemon juice and amaretto is so delicious, I thought, why not combine the two together? And while I’m at it, why not figure out what the best proportions for re-creating the flavor of a good amaretto sour in cake form? This is where the science came in.

The Experiment

We worked with the following combinations of ingredients in the pound cake batter:

  • control batter: amaretto pound cake (all other variations below used this batter)
  • lemon zest
  • lemon juice and lemon zest
  • lemon juice, lemon zest, and maraschino cherry juice
  • lemon zest, and maraschino cherry juice
  • lemon zest, lemon juice, and maraschino cherries on top

Some recipes for amaretto sours include maraschino cherries for garnish, or even mixed in with the amaretto sour itself, while others do not, so I included them in some versions of the recipe. I also made two glazes: one with powdered sugar, amaretto, and lemon juice, and one with just powdered sugar and amaretto, in case the lemon overpowered the cake itself.

Husband and I made ourselves a good amaretto sour (for science) and got to work taste-testing the cakes. We determined that a pretty strong lemon presence was needed in the cake to mimic the drink (“sour” is in the name, after all), but must not overpower the amaretto flavor. As mentioned before, some recipes call for maraschinos in the drink itself; when we made the drink with this mixed in, however, they changed the flavor of the drink significantly – not bad-tasting, by any means, but no longer an amaretto sour. This ruled out including maraschino cherry juice in the glaze, as well as cherries in the cake itself as the winner. The amaretto glaze (the one without lemon juice) was too bland for the cakes, so we ruled that out as an ingredient, as well.

The combination that won out over all of them was the cake with lemon zest and maraschino cherry juice, glazed with the lemon-and-amaretto icing. It seems the addition of lemon juice itself in the cake batter tamed the lemon flavor too much, while just using zest kept it fragrant and lemony. On the other hand, the cherry juice did not add significant cherry flavor, but actually brought out the lemon’s fruitiness in both the batter and the glaze that the non-cherried batters did not have. This made the cake taste like an actual amaretto sour, precisely what I was going for.

Sure, I could perform multiple experiments to see if this results would be repeated, making it truly food science. But wouldn’t you just rather make and eat the damned cake already? I would. Without further ado, here it is.

Amaretto Sour Pound Cake

You will need:

For the cake:

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 3 c sugar
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • ΒΌ tsp baking soda
  • Β½ tsp salt
  • 1 c buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 c amaretto
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp maraschino cherry syrup (from a jar of maraschino cherries)
  • 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp lemon zest (about 2 large lemons’ worth)

For the glaze:

  • 1 c powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp amaretto


  1. Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour a 3 quart tube pan.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter for 1 minute. Gradually add sugar to butter, then cream butter and sugar for at least 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition.
  5. Gradually add one fourth of the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Add one third of the buttermilk until just combined. Repeat two more times, alternating between the flour mixture and buttermilk and ending with the flour mixture.
  6. Gently mix in amaretto, cherry syrup, and lemon zest.
  7. Pour batter into prepared tube pan, spreading the batter evenly and tapping the pan against a surface to break any large air bubbles. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 80-90 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the mixture comes out clean.
  8. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for at least 1 hour or until completely cool. Remove from pan.
  9. To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and amaretto until fully combined and pourable. (If the mixture is too thick, add more lemon juice, a teaspoon at a time.) Pour evenly over the cooled cake.

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