Sourdough Chocolate Cake

A vintage cake takes on modern flair with its chocolaty sourdough tang in an eye catching buttermilk frosting.

Cakewalker - Sourdough Chocolate Cake with Buttermilk Frosting

Most of the time it hangs out in the fridge just chilling; nudged to the back like an unengaging carton of leftover Chinese takeout. The canning jar, carefully sealed with a sheet of plastic wrap and a rubber band for good measure holds the still sponge, suspended under its layer of clear yellow hooch. Gloppy as it is, it’s no science experiment, and it’s anything but expired.

Nearly 18 months have passed since I made a wild yeast grape starter. Every week we had a feeding appointment to wake it up, to spur on its lively nature. It’s a process which involves stirring the matter, getting it to room temperature, discarding half of it and then replenishing it with flour and water. Once refreshed and back to a ripe, sour, and bubbly state it’s capped with plastic, rubber banded and back in the fridge. There were many occasions the discard was used for pancakes, and some of it was measured into a pizza crust or two, but mostly it was thrown out.

Sourdough Starter and Breads from CakewalkerThe sourdough starter with its spongy texture settles in the jar under a layer of alcohol “hooch” (L). Examples of a sourdough bread round and batards made from the starter (R).

This summer I tasked myself to utilize the discard by upping my bread game. This entailed a stepped up feeding schedule for the sourdough starter, and some research from first rate bread cookbooks Mrs. W had given me years ago. My efforts were rewarded with tasty, artisan quality loaves, but I knew I had to broaden the use of the starter.

My solution rested on a shelf in the bookcase among other cookbooks, an unassuming gem of a paperback on sourdough cooking and baking given to me by my mother decades ago when I first expressed an interest in the medium. The cake presented here intrigues the palate with a mild sourdough flavor just under the chocolate, sort of propping the chocolate flavor up. It’s important to note, given the old-fashioned nature of the recipe, the chocolate flavor profile is not assertive like we are accustomed to today, but it has been updated with the addition of coffee for depth. Paired with a buttermilk frosting, this dessert is unique, sweetly sassy and delicious!

Sourdough Chocolate Cake with Buttermilk Frosting by CakewalkerCake recipe adapted from Charles D. Wilford’s Adventures In Sourdough Cooking & Baking. Buttermilk frosting recipe adapted from Southern Living Magazine.

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Yield: One 8 or 9-inch three layer cake. Serves 12 to 16.

Serving Size: One slice

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

A vintage cake takes on modern flair with its chocolaty sourdough tang in an eye catching buttermilk frosting.


  • 1 ½ cups sourdough starter, room temperature
  • 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs separated, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Buttermilk Frosting:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 (32 ounce) package powdered sugar
  • 5 to 8 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment, grease the paper; set aside. In a small mixing bowl stir the salt into the cup of flour; set aside.
  • Place the ½ cup water, the chocolate and the espresso powder into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour chocolate mixture into a heatproof bowl and add the baking soda, stir until blended―the mixture will foam up. Cool to lukewarm.
  • In a large mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar, creaming the mixture until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate mixture, blend until streaks disappear. Stir ½ cup of the sourdough starter in the batter until incorporated. Stir in ½ cup of the flour followed by ½ cup starter, repeat with the final ½ cup flour and half cup starter stirring well after each addition; beat the batter until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the firm egg whites gently into the batter until no streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Pick each pan up and drop it from a height of 4 inches squarely on a flat surface. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pans from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the layers out onto wire racks to cool, discard the parchment.
  • Make the frosting
  • Using an electric mixer beat butter in a mixing bowl at medium speed for about one minute. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 5 tablespoons of buttermilk. Beat at low speed until blended. Stir in lemon juice, vanilla, and salt, blend well. If desired, add up to 3 additional tablespoons buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time; beat to preferred consistency.
  • Assemble the cake
  • Place a cake layer on a serving plate; frost the top. Place the second layer on the first, follow with frosting the top. Put the third layer on top, crumb coat the top and sides of the cake; chill for about 10 minutes in the refrigerator to set the crumbs. Apply a finish coat to the top and sides with the remainder of the frosting, using broad strokes for a vintage look. To create the spike texture, lightly tap the frosted cake in a random fashion with the back of a spoon, lifting it away quickly to pull wisps of frosting up.


For my frosting consistency preference, I used no more than 6 tablespoons total of buttermilk. I also added an additional pinch of salt (2 total) in the frosting, and be sure to use the full two tablespoons of lemon juice―the icing needs the acid or you might find it to be cloyingly sweet.


  1. Wowza, Brooks! Your bread loaves are perfect, and this cake… It’s in a league of its own. You may single-handedly bring back sourdough in cakes with this post alone. So glad you’ve found another use for your “discards” from feeding your grape starter. Love this!

  2. JoyceB says

    What a lovely cake. I am thinking Happy Birthday for a friend. She will never know what hit her:-) Thanks for sharing the sour dough story and recipe with us.

  3. I knew if you made this cake it had to be amazing. Looks wonderful!!!
    Great job Brooks!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Many thanks, Jett. The sourdough starter now has a more prominent position in the fridge! 😉

  4. What a beautiful and interesting recipe Brooks, I just love the natural way you’ve decorated it with the swirls and peaks! Sourdough and chocolate sound wonderful, I have always enjoyed chocolate with cream cheese and suspect that the result of the sourdough would be similar. The contrast of the cake and the icing is just lovely. I have yet to make a starter but it’s on my bucket list.

    • Brooks Walker says

      Thank you for the compliment, Eva. I’m happy to help if you have questions about sourdough starters―best wishes!

      • I am very happy to report that I have made a sourdough starter and it’s been giving and giving for about a month now! Very happy that it worked. Thanks for your offer for advice…I may be back!

  5. Wow, I’m so impressed at your dedication to keep your starter alive. But your fabulous breads and decadent cake are truly delicious incentives! Your cake is a stunner.

  6. Wow! This is great! Never had a sour dough cake, chocolate or otherwise. (But given the choice, I of course want chocolate!). Very creative, not to mention gorgeous. Thanks!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Until now, I’ve not had a sourdough cake either―so glad I cracked that cookbook open. It’s a pleasure to have you here John!

  7. Hi Brooks, That cake looks delicious … I hope you saved me a slice! Just as scrumptious looking are those loaves of sourdough bread. Enjoyed this post and pinned!

  8. This is a really unique recipe. I have never seen a cake with a sour dough starter. I really want to take a bite of that huge 3 decker masterpiece with chocolate and espresso. My family would be so happy if I made your recipe. Pinning, my friend!

  9. What a gorgeous cake Brooks and so unique with the sour dough starter. It looks like it should be on a glossy magazine cover!

  10. I admire your care and feeding of a starter. I tried keeping a vinegar mother once. It died! A sour dough starter is so much more a life force. I’d feel horrible if I killed one. Chocolate cake however would be a great way for that starter to die! GREG

    • Brooks Walker says

      Pairing sourdough and chocolate was not my first inkling, but what a pair they are. Try a starter again, Greg, you can do this!

  11. Brooks, all these years and it’s never occurred to me to make a chocolate cake with my sourdough starter! Must give it a go sometime. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I never have “leftover” starter. I keep just a small amount in a small jar and I never discard any. That frosting looks heavenly!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Thank you, Jean! The frosting is as tasty as it looks. These days with the stepped up bread making routine, I’m down to zero discards too. 🙂

  12. This is really interesting! I’ve never heard of a sourdough cake!!

    • Brooks Walker says

      If you have a starter, chef, give the recipe a try. It’s good to have you here; thanks for stopping by!

  13. What a great use for sourdough starter! This cake looks phenomenal 🙂

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