Sour cream is not just for the Mexican takeaway – it’s a wonderful baking ingredient. It makes this orange and chocolate nib cake wonderfully moist.
Sour cream, yoghurt, creme fraiche - what's the difference?
Sour cream is made similarly to yoghurt, by adding bacteria culture to cream in order to start fermentation. That’s right: all those wonderful dairy products that we blissfully dollop onto chocolate cakes or baked potatoes are basically milk gone off.
Yoghurt is made by the starter culture added to milk, full or reduced fat. Sour cream is when a mix of bacteria have their way with single cream; crème fraiche – when the base is double cream. Mascarpone is very much like crème fraiche except less acidic and higher in fat content.
Buttermilk is an exception as it is a by-product: the liquid that is left when cream is churned into butter. It’s however more common these days to produce commercial buttermilk with cultures added to skimmed milk.
If you make your own butter at home, don’t throw away the liquid produced in the process, but if you make it from pasteurised cream, some lemon juice will need to be added to the buttermilk before you bake with it.
Orange flavour and cacao crunch
Today we’re baking with sour cream though, even if buttermilk seemed momentarily more interesting (incidentally, the cake below will be just as delicious if you use buttermilk instead of sour cream).
This is a very simple recipe by Dan Lepard, from Short and Sweet, which in the original version makes a plain cake. It can be flavoured as you wish and I have gone towards orange and cocoa, a pairing of excellence.
The cake will be delicious with dark chocolate chips or shavings, but I can’t resist using raw cacao nibs whenever I can. I forget why I bought them in the first place; there must have been a valid recipe reason since I am not keen on raw chocolate and similar hipster concoctions.
Those are a marvel though: they taste slightly bitter so you would not want to simply nibble on them (probably). But added to bakes and even salads (!), they are gorgeously crunchy and deep in flavour. Besides, being barely processed they are both healthier and less conducive to weight gain than chocolate.
How to make the sour cream cake?
The orange and cacao sour cream cake making process is straightforward, starting with beating butter until fluffy. Sugar, eggs and the sour cream follow, and the flour is mixed in until just combined.
The main flavouring is orange zest and I like to rub it into the sugar, if only to inhale the wonderful aroma! The combination of caster and soft brown sugar makes for a slightly chewier crumb but you can skip the brown and double the amount of caster sugar if you wish.
I bake it in a round cake tin; if you use a Bundt or ring tin, it will be similar to the Italian ciambella or ciambellina, the breakfast cake, and so you will be able to make like Italians and enjoy it for breakfast if you’re so inclined. But enjoy it you will, no matter what shape tin it bakes in and what time of day the cake is consumed.