Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake


This Sour Cream Chocolate Cake is the only chocolate cake recipe you will ever need for birthdays and celebrations. Recipe includes instructions for using different sized cake pans.

sour cream chocolate cake nigella lawson

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.

sour cream chocolate cake nigella lawson

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.

sour cream chocolate cake nigella lawson

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!

P.S. I have since adapted this Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake to make it even easier, especially for childrens’ birthday parties. Please see my recipe for Easy Chocolate Cake.

sour cream chocolate cake nigella lawson

Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake

5 from 4 reviews

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


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 1/3 cups (200g) plain flour
  • 1/3 cup (40g) best quality cocoa
  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar (superfine 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 (or light corn syrup)
  • 2 1/4 cups (300g) icing sugar, sifted


  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

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.

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


  • 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

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment below and share your photos by tagging @eatlittlebird on Instagram and using #eatlittlebird

sour cream chocolate cake



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

    Happy Birthday to your little man!

    • 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! 🙂

  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

    • 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 😉

  3. James 22 July 2016

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

    • 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.

  4. Alex 17 January 2017

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

  5. Julie 19 February 2017

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

    • 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!

  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 […]

  7. Many manyyy Thanks!!! for offering this very simple and amazing recipe. It is too simple to understand by Everyone. Again Thankyou so much!!!!

  8. Jess 20 June 2017

    This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. Thank you xx it was hard to share.
    mixture was a bit dry and hard to work so I added a dash of milk before spreading into the pans.

    • Eat, Little Bird 28 July 2017

      Hi Jess,
      Many thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed this recipe, and I agree that it is “the best” chocolate cake 🙂 Sounds like you are an experienced baker, as a dash of milk would definitely make the batter easier to work with if it feels a bit too dry or thick. Ingredients work differently in different climates and in different kitchens, so thanks for sharing your tip!

  9. Alma Romero 15 August 2017

    Hi, the cake looks delicious, I have a question, for the buttercream can I substitute the chocolates for Nutella? Than you!

    • Eat, Little Bird 16 August 2017

      I’ve never tried to make the frosting with Nutella but you could certainly try and I think it would be pretty well 🙂 You may not need the same quantity of Nutella. Please let me know if you try it!

  10. Teri Sutton 24 August 2017

    Has anyone tried to freeze this recipe? I’ve made lots of times fresh but would like to be able to freeze it.

    • Eat, Little Bird 26 August 2017

      I’ve never tried freezing this recipe, sorry. Our freezer can barely fit a tub of ice-cream 😉 But from what I’ve read elsewhere, others have had much success in freezing the un-iced sponge cakes.

  11. Mamabakes 9 October 2017

    How about if i make it as a cupcake?what is the temperature and how many minutes?

    • Eat, Little Bird 9 October 2017

      I haven’t tried using this recipe for cupcakes yet, although the thought has crossed my mind several times. Hopefully someone else will be able to answer your questions.

  12. […] try a new chocolate cake recipe, especially since my go-to birthday cake is my all-time favourite Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake, whilst my mother-in-law’s Queen of Sheba flourless chocolate cake is what I make most […]

  13. Julia 13 April 2018

    mmm…this CHOCOLATE CAKE looks delicious!!! I️ just drooled!!!

  14. HL Vietnam 27 April 2018

    This is amazing! I tried this for my brothers birthday and it’s a winner. I’m a chocolate person so my eyes was instantly drawn to this recipe, the sour cream was a plus factor. The taste just blends so well together!


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