Quatre-Quarts: a French Twist on Southern Pound Cake

Simple but ingénieux tips from the author the new cookbook Gâteau

Photo: Amanda Heckert

There are two recipes that every child in France memorizes in school. One is for a gâteau au yaourt and the other is for this gâteau quatre-quarts, which translates roughly as four-fourths. The principle is much the same as in an American pound cake, which traditionally called for a pound each of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs. In a quatre-quarts, the eggs are weighed first in their shells, and then the butter, flour, and sugar are each weighed to match that number. The true difference, however, between these two very similar cakes is in the technique used to make the batter.

When making a pound cake, butter and sugar are creamed together. In the last step, flour is folded in gently and swiftly to keep the crumb delicate. The French have an altogether different approach. For starters, they use melted butter. This coats the flour in fat, preventing the formation of gluten, which leads to a tough cake. Gluten forms when the flour is exposed to the water in egg whites and the stress of mixing. The high fat content in the butter shields the flour from the water in the egg whites and creates a moist batter that requires minimal mixing. It is about as foolproof as a recipe can be, and it lends itself to nearly any adaptation you can imagine. The French add nuts, chocolate, coffee, spices, zest, extracts, crystallized ginger, liqueurs, and floral waters. A quatre-quarts doesn’t need a glaze but is happy to have one. It is moist but can absorb a syrup. And, like a pound cake, it is partial to fruit.

A quatre-quatre can be made in a loaf pan, a round pan, or a square one. As it is not so much a recipe but rather a ratio of equal parts, it is easily halved or doubled. The lack of a leavener such as baking powder or baking soda is not a mistake. It is simply not needed, as the eggs provide the lift. This cake couldn’t be easier to make, but here are a few pointers.

Eggs. Large eggs, still in their shell, weigh about 57 grams. (Without their shell, they weigh closer to 50 grams.) But some can run small, notably fresh farm eggs. When in doubt, weigh them. You may need an extra half or full egg. If you need only half an egg, whisk the egg and add half when you add the yolks. 

Flour. Either all-purpose flour or cake flour can be used. Both work nearly equally well, given that there is little chance for gluten to form when mixing the batter. That said, the equivalent of all-purpose flour in France has a percentage of protein that is somewhere between our cake flour and our all-purpose flour. Using cake flour or half cake and half all-purpose flours does seem to yield a particularly tender crumb. If you have cake flour on hand, use it. If you don’t, no matter.

Butter. Yes, butter. The French have a lot to say about butter, and for good reason. In a nutshell, theirs is better. French butter has a higher fat content and gives baked goods an added layer of indulgence. If you feel like splurging, use it. If you decide to brown the butter, increase the amount you use by a tablespoon, as some of the liquid will evaporate during the browning. The French often use a slightly salted butter when baking. But as we [Americans] rarely do, I’ve added salt to the recipe.

Vanilla. The French don’t reach for vanilla when baking with quite the same habit as we do in the States. They are as likely to reach for rum or Cognac. The age-old traditional recipe for a quatre-quarts doesn’t call for vanilla or any flavoring, in fact. But today, in Paris, it will most likely contain vanilla or rum and the zest of either a lemon or an orange. And that is how I’ve come to love it.—Alexandra Crapanzano, from her new cookbook, Gâteau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes.

Read more from Crapanzano and the connections between French and Southern baking here.


  • Quarte-Quarts

    • 4 large eggs, weighing roughly 200 grams in their shells

    • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

    • 14 tbsp. unsalted butter, preferably European, melted and slightly cooled

    • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

    • Zest of 1 lemon or orange, grated

    • 1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon (200 grams) cake flour

    • 1⁄2 tsp. fine sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a nine-by-five-inch loaf pan, or pan of your choice.

  2. Separate the eggs and let them come to room temperature. In a good-sized mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up a bit. Add the sugar and whisk until they are thick and pale. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and lemon zest, and whisk until smooth. Add the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.

  3. Using electric beaters or in a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the salt and beat until they form stiff peaks. Stir a quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for fifty-five minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out nearly clean. Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack.

  5. Serve at room temperature. If not eating the cake until later, allow it to cool all the way to room temperature, then wrap it in plastic and store at room temperature.

  6. Variations for Autumn

  7. APPLE AND CALVADOS: Reduce the vanilla to 1 tsp. Add 3⁄4 cup chopped peeled apples and 2 tbsp. Calvados, applejack, or apple cider (either hard or not) to the batter before folding in the egg whites.


  8. BEURRE NOISETTE: Increase the amount of butter to 15 tbsp. Brown the butter. Be sure to use all the good dark bits on the bottom of the pan.


  9. BOOZY: Eliminate the vanilla. Add 1½ tbsp. of the spirit of your choice, such as dark rum, Cognac or Armagnac, or bourbon.


  10. CINNAMON APPLE: Reduce the vanilla to 1 tsp. Add 2 tsp. cinnamon powder when adding the melted butter. Add ⅔ cup chopped peeled apples to the batter before folding in the egg whites. Consider adding 1⁄2 cup toasted walnut pieces as well.


  11. PEAR: Reduce the vanilla to 1 tsp. Add ⅔ cup chopped peeled pears and 1½ tbsp. Poire Williams to the batter before folding in the egg whites.

Reprinted from Gâteau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes, copyright © 2022 by Aleksandra Crapanzano. Published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.