Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake

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The only chocolate cake recipe you will ever need for birthdays and celebrations.

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My son’s birthday is coming up and, within the space of a year, he has suddenly acquired the ability to compose his own birthday wish list, probably a necessary skill in the evolution of a toddler to prevent their well-meaning parents from buying the “wrong” gifts and thus forcing them to play with the more interesting packaging instead.

My son’s wish for his birthday this year is a homemade cake. I’m relieved that his expectations are quite low, but equally alarmed by this seemingly innocent request. I’m not sure where he may have picked up the phrase “homemade”, but it’s possible that he’s trying to tell me that it’s been a while since I’ve baked anything. Once upon a time, our cake stand used to always boast a sweet treat, something to look forward to at afternoon tea or for dessert. Lately, in my frazzled post-partum state, it often sits bare or is, instead, garnished with seasonal fruit, neither of which are particularly appealing to my sweet-toothed toddler.

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In the past few weeks, my son’s birthday request has evolved into a more complicated green dinosaur cake à la George from Peppa Pig (but still homemade). I’m hopeful that I can convince him that a brown dinosaur cake will be just as fun, and this is the recipe I intend to make.

This recipe for Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. I’m quite sure that this recipe was the precursor to the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake in Nigella Lawson’s later book, Feast; both recipes are quite similar in terms of ingredients, although the latter boasts a speedier method using the food processor.

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I’m a big fan of the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake (which I made here for a birthday party for a friend’s daughter), but I make this Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake just as frequently and, for some inexplicable reason, I seem to prefer it. Perhaps it comes down to the icing – the mix of milk and dark chocolate makes it sweeter and more comforting, and which makes it more appealing to childrens’ palates than if you were to use all dark chocolate. Not that my toddler has ever noticed the difference in chocolate content – he’s usually just grateful to eat a slice of chocolate cake. Or, rather, he’s usually just grateful that I have baked a cake.

Let’s hope I can pull off this recipe as a dinosaur cake! Wish me luck!

sour cream chocolate cake nigella lawson

Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 10-12

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 2/3 cup (150ml) sour cream or crème frâiche
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) plain flour
  • 1/3 cup (40g) best quality cocoa
  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (200g) unsalted butter, softened

For the icing

  • 3 oz (80g) milk chocolate (e.g. 42% cocoa)
  • 3 oz (80 g) dark chocolate (e.g. 70% cocoa)
  • 3/4 stick (75g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) sour cream or crème frâiche
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups (300g) icing sugar, sifted

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  2. Line and grease 2 x 20cm (8 inch) round cake tins.
  3. In a small bowl or jug, lightly whisk together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Place the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer with the flat paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients.
  5. Slowly add the egg mixture and beat until the batter is thoroughly mixed.
  6. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake tins and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  7. Place the cake tins on a wire rack and let the cakes cool in the tins for about 10 minutes, before turning them onto the wire rack to cool completely. I often make the cakes the night before serving and leave them to cool overnight.
  8. To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie or a bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care not to let the bowl come into contact with the water. Once the chocolate has melted, take the bowl off the heat and stir in the sour cream, vanilla extract and golden syrup.
  9. Whisk the icing sugar into the chocolate mixture, and add some hot water (from the tap is fine), a few drops at a time, until you have the right consistency. The icing should be thick enough to cover the cake, but soft enough to spread easily.
  10. Cut four thick strips of baking paper and place them on a large plate or cake stand in the shape of a square. The baking paper is to help keep the serving plate clean while you are icing the cake.
  11. Place one cake on top of the baking paper. Spread about 1/3 of the icing over the cake in a thick layer. Place the second cake on top and spread another 1/3 of icing over the cake. Use the remaining icing to cover the sides of the cake.
  12. Once you have finished icing the cake, carefully remove the pieces of baking paper. Leave the cake to set for at least an hour before serving.
  13. The cake keeps well on a covered cake stand for a few days.

Kitchen Notes

The nutritional information is higher than it should be because not all of the frosting is required to ice this cake.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 12
  • Calories: 529
  • Sugar: 43.5g
  • Sodium: 312.1mg
  • Fat: 30.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 61.1g
  • Fiber: 2.3g
  • Protein: 5.6g
  • Cholesterol: 94.8mg

Cook’s Notes

As this is one of my go-to recipes for birthday cakes, I thought it would be helpful to also provide baking times when using different sized cake pans.

12 cm (5 inch) round cake pan
Fill the pan with batter to about 2 cm from the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

16 cm (6 inch) round cake pan
Fill the pan with batter to about 2 cm from the top. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

23 cm (9 inch) round cake pan
The above recipe can be used to fill one cake pan of this size. To make a double-layer cake, double the above recipe and use two pans of this size. Fill the pan with batter to about 2 cm from the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

26 cm (10 inch) round cake pan
The above recipe can be used to fill one cake pan of this size. To make a double-layer cake, double the above recipe and use two pans of this size. Fill the pan with batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

sour cream chocolate cake

Share your photos!

If you have used this recipe, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos by tagging @eatlittlebird on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and using #eatlittlebird

 

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11 Comments

  1. This cake looks just perfect! I want a thick slice with my 11.00am mug of coffee!

    Happy Birthday to your little man!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 27 November 2015

      Thanks, Angela! I’m getting ready to make three birthday cakes this weekend … my little guy is pretty excited about the big day! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Louise | Cygnet Kitchen 12 December 2015

    You had me at ‘chocolate’! I bet this cakes tastes as good as it looks. Happy Belated Birthday to your son, I hope he had a wonderful day! x

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 13 December 2015

      Oh thank you! My son is still celebrating 🙂 It’s so cute when he sings Happy Birthday to himself that I can’t quite tell him yet that he needs to wait another year 😉

      Reply
  3. James 22 July 2016

    I couldn’t get this recipe to work, seems like too much dry ingredients compared to wet.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 22 July 2016

      Hi James, sorry to hear that this recipe didn’t work for you. This recipe produces quite a thick batter, but it should still produce a nice, moist cake. Did you use an electric stand mixer or did you do everything by hand? If the latter, my guess is that it would be a bit difficult to mix the butter into the dry ingredients by hand, and maybe that’s why the cake didn’t work out?

      If making this cake by hand, I would start by creaming (with a bowl and wooden spoon) the butter and sugar together until it is light creamy, and then adding the rest of the dry ingredients, followed by the wet ingredients. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  4. Alex 17 January 2017

    Ah, what a beauty! Put sour cream in or on anything and it is sure to be a hit 🙂

    Reply
  5. Julie 19 February 2017

    Have made this before and perfect.
    This time however my chocolate topping was too runny.
    Can you help?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 19 February 2017

      Hi Julie,
      If the icing is too runny, you can always try to “thicken” it with some more icing sugar. Just try adding a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want. Sometimes, the type of icing sugar makes a difference, i.e. if the icing sugar is too fine, you generally need more icing sugar than normal. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  6. […] I thought it was worth posting one of my regular “tweaks” to Nigella Lawson’s Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake, a recipe which I have been faithful to for well over a decade – it is that good and that […]

    Reply

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