Don’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Recipe

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

After years of using and adjusting other people’s recipes, out of sheer frustration, I decided to come up with my own.  This is my new recipe for Sour Cream Chocolate Cake.

How Much Baking Soda?

I’d been looking for a chocolate cake recipe that used sour cream for part of the fat and liquid, but I couldn’t find anything that made sense. Once you get used to analyzing recipes, you can spot the obvious duds.

For example, one highly-rated* recipe called for three teaspoons of baking soda for leavening.  Baking soda is four times as strong as baking powder.  A normal cake would take 1:1 baking powder to flour, so that would be around 2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of baking powder.  But this specifically called for soda. That’s like . . . twelve teaspoons of baking powder!  Insanity.

Further, you normally only use soda when you have some acid in the batter.  Think fruit juice or berries.  The acid will react with the soda, starting the leavening reaction.  It also eats up the soda so you don’t taste it when you’re done.  But this recipe had no acid at all.  So all of that baking soda would remain swimming around in the cake.  Ugh.  No thanks.


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Why Sour Cream?

I wanted a cake with good chocolate flavor, but with some tang from sour cream to brighten it up a bit. Sour cream adds some fat and a lot of water to the batter, which can toughen the crumb.  So I had to be careful about how much more liquid I was adding.

I like butter for the batter in cake, but chocolate cake can get really heavy if you only use butter.  Also, butter is about 20% liquid, and I already had enough.  In this recipe, I use oil, which is 100% fat and adds no more liquid.  It also makes the cake more moist, which is particularly helpful in a chocolate cake.

What to Frost it With . . .

To frost the cake, I wanted a good-quality chocolate buttercream.  This is fine for the cupcakes, but if you frosted all the layers of the cake with it, again, it could be a bit heavy.  I opted to frost the outer layer with the chocolate buttercream, but used a lighter chocolate mousse filling between the layers.  This allowed me to divide the layers to create a 4-layer cake without it becoming a chocolate landslide (which some people might like, but I prefer a lighter touch.)

Finishing the cake by torting and filling with the mousse may seem intimidating, but it’s really not that difficult.  Check out this video to learn how to torte your cake layers to turn two simple round cakes into a four-layer masterpiece.

I’ve included the cake, cupcakes and high-altitude recipes below.  Be sure to use a quality chocolate!

Don’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Deep chocolate flavor with a slight tang from sour cream.  The recipe uses oil rather than butter, for a lighter crumb.  
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Assembly15 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
Servings: 12 Servings
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 2/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 2/3 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 1/2 cups Brown Sugar
  • 5 lg Eggs
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 3/4 cup Canola oil
  • 2 tsp Vanilla I used vanilla paste
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Sour cream

For the Chocolate Mousse Filling

  • 1/2 cup Boiling Water
  • 4 tbsp Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 1/2 cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2 tbsp Powdered Sugar

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup Butter softened
  • 3 oz Unsweetened Chocolate chopped
  • 3 oz Semi-sweet Chocolate chopped, or use chips
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 4 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 cup Sour Cream divided

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Preheat your oven to 350F.  Use an oven thermometer to test your oven – thermostats on ovens are notoriously inaccurate.
  • Bloom your cocoa in warm oil.  Place the oil in a microwave-safe boil and heat it for one minute in the microwave.  This should bring it to about 200F – use a candy thermometer if you’re not sure.  Stir in the cocoa powder to dissolve, then let it cool (I put it in the fridge while I prep the rest of the batter.)
  • Prepare 2, 9″ round cake pans by greasing and flouring, or by lining with parchment paper.  Click here for instructions on making a perfect parchment round.
  • In a medium bowl (not the mixing bowl), whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, add the eggs one at a time to break up the yolks, then whisk on medium-high to pale yellow and foamy – about two minutes.  
  • Add the sugar and mix to dissolve. Slowly add cooled oil with cocoa and combine. (Hot oil will cook your eggs! Make sure it’s cool.) Finally, add the vanilla and combine.
  • Switch to a paddle attachment.  Starting with the flour, add 1/3 of the flour to the bowl and alternate with the milk, ending with flour.  Gently mix in the sour cream just until blended.
  • Pour the batter into your prepared pans (I use a scale to divide the batter evenly).  Bake for 30 minutes, testing at 25.  A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean, with just a few, cooked crumbs.
  • Remove and cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.  Invert and remove from pan to cool completely.

For the Chocolate Mousse Filling

  • Bloom the cocoa by combining it with the hot water and stirring until smooth.
  • Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Add the bloomed cocoa and stir until smooth again. Let this mixture cool.
  • Whip the cream until it just begins to foam, then slowly add the powdered sugar. Continue whipping on medium-high just until you see stiff peaks. Here’s a good article on how to know when you’ve hit the right stage.
  • Fold your whipped cream gently into the cooled chocolate, preserving as much of the air as you can.
  • Refrigerate until time to frost the cooled cake.

For the Frosting

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water, stirring constantly with a spatula until the butter and chocolate melt and blend.  
  • Transfer to a very lightly oiled mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of sugar and vanilla and blend.
  • Add half the sour cream and blend. Add the remaining sugar and whip for 2 minutes. If necessary, add additional sour cream by heaping teaspoons until you reach a spreadable consistency.  

To Assemble

  • Divide each cake layer using a cake leveler or a long serrated knife.  See the video on how to divide a cake layer – it’s easy.
  • Lay the bottom layer on a serving platter.  Place 1/3 of the mousse and spread to within 1/2″ of the edge.  Place the next layer (which would be the top of the separated layer) and repeat.  Repeat with the bottom of the second cake.  Then place the top layer and press slightly to set the layers evenly.
  • Using an offset spatula, spread the Chocolate Sour Cream frosting on the sides of the cake in an even layer, turning the cake as you go.  Once the sides are well-coated, cover the top of the cake.  I piped a few chocolate mounds around the edge with the leftover frosting.
    Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

To adjust to high-altitude, you need to look at the flour, sugar, liquid and leavening.  I’ve adjusted the following recipe from the regular altitude to 5,280 feet.  See my post on high-altitude baking adjustments if you’re much different from that.

Don’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake – High Altitude Version

Deep chocolate flavor with a slight tang from sour cream. The recipe uses oil rather than butter, for a lighter crumb.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: HIgh Altitude Chocolate Cake, Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
Servings: 36 Cupcakes
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups All-Purpose Flour PLUS 2 tbsp
  • 1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder at 5,280 ft.
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 1/2 cups Brown Sugar LESS 2 tbsp
  • 5 lg Eggs PLUS ONE EGG WHITE
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 3/4 cup Canola oil
  • 2 tsp Vanilla I used vanilla paste
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Sour cream

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 365F. Use an oven thermometer to test your oven – thermostats on ovens are notoriously inaccurate.
  • Bloom your cocoa in warm oil. Place the oil in a microwave-safe boil and heat it for one minute in the microwave. This should bring it to about 200F – use a candy thermometer if you’re not sure. Stir in the cocoa powder to dissolve, then let it cool (I put it in the fridge while I prep the rest of the batter.)
  • Prepare 2, 9″ round cake pans by greasing and flouring, or by lining with parchment paper. Click here for instructions on making a perfect parchment round.
  • In a medium bowl (not the mixing bowl), whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, add the eggs one at a time to break up the yolks, then whisk on medium-high to pale yellow and foamy – about two minutes.
  • Add the sugar and mix to dissolve. Slowly add cooled oil with cocoa and combine. (Hot oil will cook your eggs! Make sure it’s cool.) Finally, add the vanilla and combine.
  • Switch to a paddle attachment. Starting with the flour, add 1/3 of the flour to the bowl and alternate with the milk, ending with flour. Gently mix in the sour cream just until blended.
  • FOR CAKE: Pour the batter into your prepared pans (I use a scale to divide the batter evenly). Bake for 30 minutes, testing at 25. A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean, with just a few, cooked crumbs.
  • FOR CUPCAKES: Scoop the batter into prepared cups – 2/3 full.  The cupcakes won’t rise too far, so be generous.  Bake for 20 minutes, testing at 18.  A toothpick inserted in the center of the centermost cupcake should come out clean, with just a few, cooked crumbs.
  • Remove and cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Invert and remove from pan to cool completely.

Here are the recipes for the chocolate buttercream and the chocolate mousse filling.

Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting

A riff on buttercream, but with sour cream substituting for half the butter.  Gives the frosting a slight “zing” to offset a rich cupcake.
Prep Time12 mins
Total Time12 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
Servings: 3 cups
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 3 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate chopped
  • 3 oz. Semisweet Chocolate chopped
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 4 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 cup Sour Cream divided

Instructions

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water, stirring constantly with a spatula until the butter and chocolate melt and blend.  
  • Transfer to a very lightly oiled mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of sugar and vanilla and blend.
  • Add half the sour cream and blend. Add the remaining sugar and whip for 2 minutes. If necessary, add additional sour cream by heaping teaspoons until you reach a spreadable consistency.  

Easy Chocolate Mousse Filling

This easy chocolate mousse is perfect for filling a cake.  The recipe makes enough to fill the inside of a split 2-layer cake (3 layers of mousse.)
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Easy Chocolate Mousse Cake Filling
Servings: 12 Servings
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Boiling water
  • 4 tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 1 1/2 cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2 tbsp Powdered Sugar

Instructions

  • Bloom the cocoa by combining it with the hot water and stirring until smooth.  
  • Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Stir until smooth.  Add the bloomed cocoa and stir until smooth again.  Let this mixture cool.
  • Whip the cream until it just begins to foam, then slowly add the powdered sugar.  Continue whipping on medium-high just until you see stiff peaks.  Here’s a good article on how to know when you’ve hit the right stage.
  • Fold your whipped cream gently into the cooled chocolate, preserving as much of the air as you can.  
  • Refrigerate until time to frost the cooled cake.

Notes

The use of powdered sugar will include a pinch of corn starch which actually helps to stabilize the mousse. If you use Caster’s sugar (superfine), you might consider adding your own pinch to keep it stable.

I took the cupcakes to my evening class a few weeks ago and they were a big hit, too.  The cake stayed moist, which is always a trick with chocolate.

*Highly-rated: I often see this on Pinterest recipes.  I never trust them.  Never.



Tried it? How did it look? Drop a note and let me know.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dons Sour cream chocolate cake looks absolutely delicious. I have never tried baking with sour cream before but after reading this chocolate cake recipe I must try.
    The steps on how to make this cake are very easy to follow and it feels like I would be able to do this even tho I am not much of a good baker.

    I cannot wait to try this and thanks to your recipe of chocolate mousse filling, I will no longer have to purchase it ones found in a can. I can finally make my own.

    Thank you

  2. Avatar

    Hi Don,With the busy lifestyle, we are prone to just buying pre-mixed cake ingredients in a box and just adding eggs , water, and oil and in a few minutes , your cake is ready from the oven.Of course, with your sour cream chocolate cake recipe from scratch, I’m tempted to try it one of these days. It looks easy to follow and the taste seems like heavenly just reading your description.Thanks for sharing.Marita

  3. Avatar

    This cake sounds delicious Don and figuring your own ingredients and how much is very smart, not everyone can do that.

    I have a question about it though since you are so good at substituting, is there a way to make this cake without the the sugar content, and could the flour be substituted for almond or coconut flour…then the milk be substituted for an almond or coconut milk?

    1. Avatar

      Substituting sugar when baking can be very tricky.  Sugar will carmelize, which changes the texture of a baked good – whereas, most of the sugar substitutes out there will not carmelize, so it can really affect your product.  I can’t recommend a good substitute – none of the ones I’ve tried have worked well at all.  As far as the flour, again, texture will be an issue, but I’ve had some success with flour blends from Bob’s Red Mill.  And the milk is an easy “Yes” – it’s really just there for moisture, and almond or coconut would be fine.

  4. Avatar

    Wow, I would never have thought of adding sour cream to a chocolate cake.  I know people who have used avocado and even beetroot but never sour cream.  I love sour cream but don’t eat a lot of it – but that is mainly with potato wedges and on nachos.  We ahve a birthday party coming up this weekend so I will definitely be giving your recipe a try.

    Can i ask one question?  Does it have to be chocolate or can it work as well with Vanilla – my daughter wants vanilla so if not I will have to make her that and a sour cream chocolate for the rest of us.

    Thanks again

    Paul

    1. Avatar

      There are some big differences in the makeup of a chocolate v. a vanilla cake.  Chocolate tends to be DRY, so there’s additional liquid added that you wouldn’t need with a vanilla cake.  Also, with a vanilla cake, I would go with butter rather than oil, for a better flavor in that cake.  You might just try another recipe from my site, “Simple, Moist Golden Cake from Scratch.”  https://bakingnaturally.org/si…  It’s just a vanilla cake made with whole eggs.  I’m sure she’d like it.

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