Friday, August 24, 2012

Soaked and sourdough cakes...

My daughter's birthday cake from her aunt.
Soaked and sourdough cakes are a bit of a tricky operation. I am a bit of a snob and have high expectations. My lovely sister is a professional wedding cake baker and does some other cute things on the side, see her cakes HERE, and my awesome girlfriend is a professionally trained pastry chef. We eat some pretty good cake around here. Proper cakes should be delicate, delicious and beautiful. Bleached flour and refined sugars makes tender, high rising cakes making going healthy hard. My sister, Michelle, has chosen to answer this dilemma by choosing organic ingredients, palm shortening,  lightly refined and finely ground sugars and the special un-bleached cake flour from King Arthur (see HERE). I admit to using that flour a lot, despite having a bucket of pastry grain at my disposal.  Wanting something more than the compromise cake, I started experimenting with sourdough and it has gone pretty well.

But my friend, Hanna, decided to take on soaked cakes. She really understands the chemistry of baking and does beautiful work that is surprisingly healthy. She dove in and worked it. Even when they were far from perfect, she was able to make trifle and ganache and turned out some pretty delicious desserts. Her cakes are real food and really impressive, good enough for the well trained pastry chef to proudly serve.
Sourdough kamut spice cake.
So now you can benefit from the experiences we have had in baking soaked and sourdough cakes. Our poor kids (fifteen of them between the two of us) have eaten a lot of cake to bring you this research and their valiant efforts are not in vein! Here is what we have found:

Turn an existing recipe into a soaked recipe but choose the right one.

Stay away from light cakes like chiffon and angel food as well as ones that use a lot of eggs. If you need three or four eggs in a two layer cake, it will end up being too heavy. This means dense and maybe even chewy. Also, the recipe should already use buttermilk because the acid/leavening ratios will already be tweaked for soaking.

Turn an existing recipe into a sourdough one but you still need to choose carefully.

You need a basic cake that is similar to the needs of a soaked cake, just know that you will use two thirds of the liquid in sourdough starter and one third as soured milk. The sour taste is pretty much non-existent in chocolate cake and spice cakes hide the flavor as well. If you choose a basic cake like buttermilk white, expect a different flavor. It is still good, but might not be readily accepted by children and picky adults. My family digs it but we are freaks.

If you are making chocolate cake, use natural cocoa.

Dutched cocoa is treated with alkaline and while it tends to deepen the flavor and makes it less bitter and more chocolate-y, it also makes it closer to a neutral pH. The acid is critical to rise since the soda in a cake will react with the acid for fluffy factor. You need more acid if it is not in the cocoa. If all you have is Dutched, don't panic. Put it in with the soaking  or souring flour and add an equal amount of cream of tartar (a natural byproduct of the wine making industry) to the soda to give your cake the boost it needs. Remember, the soda goes in at the end! More on order later.

Sourdough chocolate cake.

Give your healthy sweetener a chance to blend in.

Sucanat is a great sweetener choice but it has a hard time dissolving into batter because of its large, irregular size as well as its mineral content. If you are stirring up a soaked cake, add the sweetener with the flour and soured or buttermilk so that it will have plenty of time to dissolve, otherwise you will end up with small bits of sucanat in your finished cake. If you are making sourdough, you can't add it right away because the added sugar will feed the yeasts too quickly. Mix the sucanat with the eggs, vanilla and butter and rest in the fridge so you can add it in the morning. You can even take the extra step of running it through the blender with the eggs to be doubly sure of well integrated sweetness.

Use one-two tablespoons less per cup of whole grain flour in recipes that call for white flour.

This does require a bit of experimenting as each recipe and each grain is different. Whole grains need more time to absorb liquid and the bran will absorb what seems excessive liquid. What looks grainy  with liquid on top when you put it together will be smooth and a bit puffy in the morning.

Know the proper order of soaked cake ingredients.

When making a soaked cakes, you need to add the ingredients in the proper order or it will turn into a hot mess. Literally. When soaking the flour you will need to include flour, the soured milk, the sweetener, and cocoa (if using Dutched) and rest at room temperature. In another bowl (or in your blender or food processor) add your eggs, fat, salt and cocoa (if using natural) and give a rest in the fridge. Combine these two after a twelve hour rest. Add the baking soda (and the cream of tartar if using Dutched cocoa) to the vanilla and stir into the big mixture. Bake according to recipe instructions.

Hanna made TWO kinds of soaked
cake for her sister-in-law's baby shower.

Know the proper order of sourdough cake ingredients.

The same sort of thing applies here but the order is a little different. When souring the flour you will need to include flour, soured milk, and cocoa (if using Dutched) and rest at room temperature. In another bowl (or in your blender or food processor) add your eggs, sweetener, fat, salt and cocoa (if using natural) and rest this in the fridge. Combine these two after a twelve hour rest. Add the baking soda (and the cream of tartar if using Dutched cocoa) to the vanilla and add to the big mixture. Bake according to the recipe instructions.

Sit down and copy the recipe out with the changes in place.

Do not try to wing it as you go and hope you remember the changes. Sit down and rewrite and check your new recipe before you make it. There is no point in making a cake you will want to throw out the window because you made a mistake. Make cakes, not mistakes!

So now you know all you need to know to turn that family famous Red Devil Buttermilk Cake of Grandma's into a healthy version to nourish your family. Who's up for cake?

Soaked coconut cake for Easter.
Linking up to Freaky Friday!


  1. Ha Ha, Yeah, never did that when I converted my first sourdough recipe. I must have lucked out. My second recipe was ok, (haven't posted that one yet), but I think it was a slightly heavy on the coconut oil. Not sure why yet, but it did have a high egg count -- maybe??? Wonder what would happen if I decreased the egg count or maybe the oil. It was still good though.

    Did you get to make the chocolate ginger cupcakes? How did it turn out?

    1. Grrr...I had the batters out to combine and I turned around and found the baby on the counter. She must have gotten in to the salt well. Anyway, not trusting her but not wanting to waste it, I baked it. Anyway, it was too salty to eat. Like horribly, terribly wrong. I had so hoped she had only taken the cover off! It was for a new mama and I am glad we tested hem first. Would have looked like a jerk dropping it off!

    2. Oh man. Sorry to tell you this but that made me chuckle a little. Guess she just wanted to bake like mommy. But I can see how it would be annoying with wasting all that time and food. I hope you get to try again sometime.

    3. I am definitely trying again but will keep Sophia away! Also, for the record, even the mama found it hilarious. I was belly aching on Facebook and she said it made her life. In a week, I'll laugh, too. Just not tonight!

  2. Thank you for this post. I have tried both soaked and sourdough cakes with mixed success, will take your tips into account next time.

    1. It is all in the science! Thanks!


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