It has always fascinated me that one thing can be perceived and experienced so differently between individuals. In Japanese there is a saying, “Ten people ten colors.” This basically means that each person has their own unique tastes.
This must have happened to others at some point: You read rave reviews about a hot new restaurant so you go to check it out, only to be disappointed by how mediocre the food is. Or better yet, you go to an eatery with someone, perhaps a first date or something–you share a dish with this person and as you’re eating you think to yourself, “This [insert dish] is pretty awful…” only to have that thought interrupted by your date proclaiming how delicious it is.
I came across this Sourdough Chocolate Cake recipe from King Arthur Flour and initially I thought that maybe it was one of those yeast cakes doused in some sort of liquor, but instead it was a sheet cake with frosting. Okay you’ve got my attention as I’m always looking for new ways to use my sourdough starter. I read through the recipe and scrolled to the comments section. The reviews were good for the most part but there were some polarized opinions, mainly about the way it turned out, the process, the texture, and the taste. So, I had to try it out for myself!
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The idea of mixing sourdough starter with cake batter felt very foreign to me. The recipe says to combine the starter with milk and flour, and let rest for 2 to 3 hours. “It won’t necessarily bubble, but it may have expanded a bit.” I don’t know about other people’s sourdough/wildyeast starters, but from my experience with other recipes using sourdough starters, I feel like my wildyeast is slower than average. When recipes say to let rise for 6 hours, for example, I often have to wait an additional 1 to 2 hours to reach the desired rise.
So, instead of 2 to 3 hours, I let my starter mix sit for 5 hours. It seemed about right. Some bubbling and a little bit of expansion. My own logic dictated that if I didn’t let it expand enough, it probably won’t mix very well with the cake batter.
Now let’s take a look at the step that says “Gently combine the chocolate mixture with the starter-flour-milk mixture, stirring till smooth. This will be a gloppy process at first, but the batter will smooth out as you continue to beat gently.”
It repeats the word “gently” twice.
When I think of gently combining something, I think of carefully folding sifted flour to a cloud of beaten egg whites. But in this case, we are dealing with a goopy and rather elastic starter mix, and cake batter. I found that just beating gently won’t get a smooth consistency. The starter mix kept getting stuck in the paddle so I took “gently” with a grain of salt and ended up mixing, then scraping, mixing, and scraping. In the end, it did combine and I wasn’t left with bits of white starter dough as some of the comments on the King Arthur Flour website complained about.
Another complaint I saw was about the frosting being too sweet. I saw that it used a whopping 6 cups of confectioners sugar and a chocolate drizzle made with corn syrup on top of that. Don’t get me wrong, I love frosting and chocolate and all that, but this seemed a little much even for me.
I contemplated cutting the frosting by a third but in the end I made the full amount. I did however omit the chocolate drizzle for two reasons. One, that it probably will be too much, and two, I don’t regularly keep corn syrup around. If I bought a bottle just for this one tablespoon that the recipe needs, I swear it will sit in the cupboard for the next decade. And I am glad of the decision to forego the chocolate drizzle because the frosting was quite sweet.
The funny thing about this cake is that it grew on me after a while. When I tried it at first, I will be honest, I did not like it. The texture was somewhat bready, and the frosting was such a stark sweet contrast that I actually scraped off some of the frosting. As I wasn’t feeding a party, I ended up with a lot leftover so I cut up the cake and put it in the fridge.
And then, something changed. It’s as if the cake settled and became more cakey and the frosting got milder. I couldn’t explain it. After a day or two, I started liking this cake. Usually when you put cake in the fridge it gets dense and stale, and when you put bread in the fridge, it gets stale and unpalatable. This cake somehow got better in the fridge.
But I still wouldn’t add the chocolate drizzle.