The sourdough madness continues!


Sometimes I feel like I am on the brink of sourdough madness. I am a bit obsessed. This week, however, I feel a lot better about myself. I stumbled onto a couple of recipes that put things into perspective for me. I can still call myself an avid hobbyist baker. I am not yet mad. I have not yet used sourdough as a batter for frying red meat. I have not yet put strange vegetables in my bread. I’m all right.
Things started quite innocently this week with a conversation with my best friend. I had emailed her to say thank you for sending me two gorgeous, scrumptious jars of homemade jam. One peach the other blueberry. She emailed me back and asked me if I saw the plum kuchen in this month’s Gourmet magazine and could it be made with sourdough. Well of course I noticed the plum kutchen in all of it’s beauty and glory. I noticed it again when it appeared with an even prettier photo on Smitten Kitchen. I did of course think I’d like to make it with sourdough.
I’ve been baking with my sourdough for a couple of years now but I had yet to try to make a cake. I first noticed sourdough cake when thumbing through the Joy of Cooking and have always had it in the back of my mind to bake a cake someday. Since I have no experience baking any cake with sourdough, I emailed my friend back that one of us would need to try it and report back. (I’m a coward, I know!). It was my first impulse to shy away from converting that recipe to sourdough because I have no understanding of how sourdough works in baked goods other than bread.
Today that changed for me. Instead of doing responsible adult things, I started to obsess about that kuchen and wonder what the heck yeast does in cakes. My research did not come up with an easy answer so I started looking at recipes. A particular recipe caught my eye because all of the ingredients or some reasonable substitutions were available here at home. I would just have to bake something and see what I think sourdough does in the recipe.
The recipe I chose for cherry sourdough coffee cake looked good but there were a couple of changes I made. Here’s why: the normal thing to do in any cake recipe I’ve baked in the past is to cream the sugar and butter. This results in a nice fluffy cake. The baker who created the recipe has you mix together all the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the mixture like you are making pie. Normally I wouldn’t agree with this but it was too late. I had already mixed the dry ingredients before I realized what I was being instructed to do. Once I mixed the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, I had a dough not a batter. This may be correct but it could be an inconsistency that happened due to our starters? As far as I can tell we both use 100% hydration starters but I panicked and added a quarter cup of milk to thin things out a little. I used sweet cherries not tart cherries so my filling was sweeter than it should have been. I used more cherries because I love them and 1 ½ cups just didn’t seem like enough.
I felt a bit of apprehension about this cake as I put it in the oven. I felt like I had uneven cake layers (too much batter on bottom, not enough on top). I tried to spread the top layer of batter over the cherries and the fruit bled into the batter. I was happy to realize that the crumble topping would cover things up well. I still felt odd about the addition of milk to the dough to change it into a thick batter. My apprehension cleared when I got a whiff of an exquisite smell coming from my oven a few minutes later. I went to peek at it and the flat looking bit of batter in the pan had puffed up tall. It was so pretty!

So. I think I will have to try a few more cakes and muffins to really analyze what is going on here, but I think the starter worked as a dough conditioner. I used unbleached white flour for this cake, but it came out silky like I had used cake flour. The rise on this cake was crazy. I think the yeast helped in that regard. As for that malted yeasty flavor, we got a hit of on the first bite but then it went away as we kept eating and tasting. Now that I think about it, that could be why I see so many recipes for chocolate sourdough cake. It could be it works better with stronger flavors. But…don’t let the idea that the cake has a yeasty flavor deter you. This cake was wonderful. Please make it for someone you love today.

I am submitting this coffeecake to YeastSpotting on Wild Yeast. Click here to see what other delicious things were baked up this week.


Cherry sourdough coffee cake
Adapted from this recipe by Nancerose on
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
 ½ cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup sourdough starter (mine was fed the night before)

1 large egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup milk (I used nonfat, any kind should work)


2 cups frozen sweet cherries

1 tbsp lime or lemon juice

½ cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar

2 tbsp corn starch


1/3 cup rolled oats

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup chopped pecans

3 tbsp unbleached white flour

¼ cup unsalted butter


In a medium saucepan, pour in the frozen cherries and cook on high heat until they defrost and begin to boil, about 5 -7 minutes. Lower to a simmer. Add lime or lemon juice. Mix together the sugar and cornstarch. Stir the sugar mixture into the cherry mixture and continue to simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely while you proceed with the recipe.

Cake and topping:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.

In a large bowl, Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse crumbs. In another bowl, mix the egg, starter, vanilla and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

For the topping: in a small bowl, mix together the oats sugar nuts and flour. Using the pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms coarse crumbs. Set aside.

Butter an 8” x 8” square pan. Pour half of the cake batter into the pan. Pour the filling over the cake batter and spread it out with a silicone spatula. Drop the remaining batter over the filling in small amounts. Use the spatula to carefully spread the batter over the topping. It can be sloppy but you want to make sure there are no giant holes for the filling to come gushing out of. Sprinkle the topping ingredients evenly over the cake. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Check the cake at 35 minutes by using a toothpick to see if it comes clean. If it needs a few more minutes and you think the nuts are browning to quickly, use a sheet of aluminum foil to tent over the cake and keep the topping from burning. Cool the cake on a wire rack before serving.