Make Ahead

Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake

April 20, 2010
3 Ratings
  • Serves 12-16
Author Notes

Of the dozens of my mother’s recipes that I copied as a teenager and have saved – and used – all these years, this is one of my favorites. If my mother had a "signature" dessert, I respectfully submit that this was it. (She made a lot of "Disappearing Chocolate Cakes," too.) We've long forgotten where the recipe came from. Most likely she clipped it from a newspaper or a magazine, sometime in the mid-60's. Everyone loves it. She made it for all of her big dinner parties, so I made one for the large gathering we had in her honor, shortly after she died last spring. I like this cake because it’s uncomplicated and straightforward, and as nice as can be, just like Mother was. - AntoniaJames —AntoniaJames

Test Kitchen Notes

I knew this was a winner when my teenage daughter said "WOW" after the first bite. It is a great cake! Friday night we served it with macerated strawberries. Yum! Saturday night we ate it plain and it was still fresh even after being wrapped in plastic, sitting on the kitchen counter throughout a very humid Pennsylvania day with the top still as crunchy as the day before. On Sunday (this is a big cake!) I served it with chocolate sauce and Keeny Beany Ice Cream on the side -- the best flavor at the Penn State Creamery. Still moist and delicious. I froze a piece; it freezes beautifully and thaws as if it was never frozen. The only change I would make in the recipe is the amount of lemon zest. I zested 4 lemons as the recipe called for. My lemons were a bit on the large side, therefore the cake was quite lemony. I liked the flavor, but next time, I would cut the amount of lemons zested from 4 to 2. - lc's kitchen —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream (Please do not use lowfat.)
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 2 oranges or 4 lemons, or a combination (optional) (my addition)
  • Unsalted butter for greasing the pan
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease well with unsalted butter a tube cake pan. Have all of your ingredients at room temperature.
  2. Sift the baking soda and flour. Sift again, three times.
  3. If you are using orange and/or lemon zest, see the instructions in Step 12, below.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar (and zest, if using) well, for a good 4-5 minutes.
  5. Add the flavorings and beat until incorporated. (If using orange or lemon zest, consider adding some organic extract, as well. Orange and lemon are delicious together, by the way.)
  6. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. To the butter and sugar mixture, add half the flour mixture alternately with half of the sour cream, using a large flexible spatula to combine after each addition. Do this again with the remaining flour and sour cream.
  8. Beat the egg whites until just stiff, then fold them gently into the batter, using a large flexible spatula.
  9. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake in the center of the oven for 1 ½ hours. A straw or thin skewer will come clean when done.
  10. Allow the cake to cool thoroughly in the pan before removing. This cake holds very well, for several days at least, when wrapped tightly.
  11. Enjoy!! ;o)
  12. If you are using zest in this cake, I suggest taking the few extra minutes required to use a traditional zester and not a microplane. You leave on the microplane too much of the flavorful liquid from the zest. If you chop larger pieces of zest with sugar, you can better capture the oils and juice from the zest. To do this, take a tablespoon or so of the white sugar you’ve measured, and put it on your cutting surface. Zest your citrus over the sugar, sprinkle a bit more sugar on top, then chop the zest with the sugar. This makes it easier to chop, too, as the zest doesn’t cling as tightly to the knife blade. Using bench scraper, scrape all of the sugar, chopped zest and juice into the mixing bowl when you add the rest of the sugar.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Hiromi Motojima
    Hiromi Motojima
  • chefrockyrd
  • Ashley Marie
    Ashley Marie
  • TheWimpyVegetarian
  • Andy

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

36 Reviews

Charleen November 20, 2020
Since I almost ate the picture, this is definitly on the top of my to-do list.
Hiromi M. January 28, 2018
Has anyone made this with less sugar? I usually half sugar amount in most recipes I use since it is usually way too sweet.
AntoniaJames January 28, 2018
I tried reducing the sugar rather significantly once, by almost half, and the cake didn't turn out very well. Please see this article by a trusted, experienced baker who writes for the King Arthur Flour company which suggests that for a "creamed" cake like, you can reduce the sugar by 25%, no more. I hope this helps. And if you try it, please let us know how it turns out. Thank you, Hiromi. ;o)
Hiromi M. January 29, 2018
Thank you for the info! Using half the sugar amount works fine in cheesecakes and muffins. But not sure about cakes... I usually use less sugar than mentioned in cakes, but never think about %. I think I will try 2 cups of sugar instead of 3 cups for this recipe and see. I will write a review!
Lena March 22, 2018
I made the cake with two cups of sugar instead of three and it worked out just fine! To my taste it was still very sweet though. According to that King Arthur Flour article a baker's percentage (ratio of sugar to flour) of 80% to 125% should work for any kind of cake, so I might even try reducing the sugar by half next time (which would be the 80% baker's percentage) :)
AntoniaJames March 22, 2018
Lena, thank you ever so much for weighing in on this - so helpful! Although this is a favorite of my extended family and has been for many decades, I have found it much too sweet in recent years. There are many explanations why the cake didn't turn out particularly well when I made it with only half the sugar. I'm inclined to test it again, based on the information you've provided. ;o)
naomi W. September 20, 2014
I made this cake for my partner's bday except i made a layer cake. Omigoddess, was it good. I cut the baking time by half and used fudge frosting. Rich? you better believe but totally yummy.
AntoniaJames March 22, 2018
naomi, that fudge frosting + this cake (in layers) sounds absolutely divine. Thanks for letting us know. ;o)
chefrockyrd July 30, 2014
Early this morning I baked this for the mahjongg ladies and it was a big hit. Its incredibly attractive plus delicious- not too sweet.
We had it with fresh wild Maine blueberries/raspberries just out.
I would line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper next time to make it easier to get out. The sides and tube can be loosened but not the bottom.
The recipe reminds me of one I learned to make in high school from a friends mother. Hers was done in a flat pan and had cinnamon, sugar and ground chocolate marbled thru it.
Just delish! thanks.
Ashley M. April 20, 2014
I made this the other day for Easter "weekend" and we have been happily devouring it for breakfast every day since. You're right, it keeps beautifully. It's sweeter than I imagined, so maybe next time I'll cut down the sugar just a smidge. Overall, it's so incredibly moist, flavorful AND fragrant, and beautiful on our cake platter. Thank you so much for this recipe! It'll be a keeper for years to come!
Emer February 3, 2014
anyone tried using stevia?
Ashley M. April 20, 2014
I personally haven't, but I found the required amount of sugar to be a little sweet - I would imagine stevia would be even sweeter - not sure if it would be a good substitution!
JohnL January 5, 2014
Hi Antonia, Your recipe reminds me a little of the Rose Cake recipe from years ago that came with my 10-cup capacity rose cake pan made by Nordicware. When I first tried the cake, because of its subtlety I suppose, I wasn't sure after the first bite what I thought, but as I got into it, I decided it was a very nice and special cake and have actually made it several times since, which is saying something because I don't bake very often. It incorporates cream cheese in place of sour cream, no almond extract, and the eggs are simply beaten in whole. It is very moist/dense/RICH, quietly elegant, and has a lime glaze. Ingredients are 2 3/4 cups cake flour sifted, 16 TB unsalted butter, 6 oz cream cheese, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 TB fresh lime juice, 2 tsp finely grated lime zest and the glaze: 5 TB conf sugar and 1 TB + 1 tsp fresh lime juice, adjusting to taste. Don't know if there was ever any connection between our cakes, but just thought I'd let you know about the recipe. Maybe it was a matter of great minds thinking alike!
TheWimpyVegetarian April 16, 2012
I'm making this cake for my husband's stepson's birthday. It just went into the oven. The batter tasted soooo good, and I remember how good it was at one of the potlucks at your home.
AntoniaJames April 17, 2012
Thanks so much, CS! And I remember enjoying a nice scoop of your amazing Chocolate Sorbet (note to self . . . . get that sorbet recipe out and make some, soon) with the sour cream cake at that potluck, with a few strawberries. Hope everyone enjoys the cake! ;o)
TheWimpyVegetarian April 17, 2012
Loved it AJ. The only problem was that I felt I had to leave the cake with my husband's stepson and his family - his birthday after all. So now I'm craving more of your cake and will need to make it again...
perri K. February 20, 2012
i just made this cake and it came out incredibly well. i am amazed and this is definitely going down as one of those cake recipes to keep forever. i am just so impressed. It's light and flavorfull but still packed with depth and substance. couldn't have been better. thanks so much!
AntoniaJames April 17, 2012
Thank you, perri. I'm so glad you liked it (and like it so much you plan to keep the recipe forever. Wow.). ;o)
Caria February 20, 2012
This recipe is so similar to the one my mom makes. My mom's recipe requires you to sift the cake flour after you measure it two more times. Love the cake but hated sifting!
AntoniaJames April 17, 2012
Thanks, Caria. Yes, the sifting is a bit more work, but for a cake like this, it's worth it, I think. ;o)
Andy October 15, 2011
I made thhis cake this summer and it was a genuine treat. I served the cake with a warm compote of rhubarb and sour cherries, terrific!
AntoniaJames April 17, 2012
Mmmm, a warm compote of rhubarb and sour cherries! Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I can imagine how simply perfect it would be with this cake. Thank you for your kind words . . . and the excellent suggestion. (It's duly noted in my cooking idea notebook!!) ;o)
Andy October 15, 2011
I made thhis cake this summer and it was a genuine treat. I served the cake with a warm compote of rhubarb and sour cherries, terrific!
Andy October 15, 2011
I made thhis cake this summer and it was a genuine treat. I served the cake with a warm compote of rhubarb and sour cherries, terrific!
isac October 1, 2011
i tried it couple days ago. i followed everything - without the zest. may be there was some mis-measurements on my part, my cake didnt turn out quite right.
it took more or less 2 hours to cook thru. and it was too sweet to my liking. it was so sweet that i cannot imagine having it with chocolate.. but again, it was probably my mistake.
LanR August 21, 2010
I saw your recipe yesterday, and woke up this morning with an urge to make this cake!
The cake is still baking in the oven. It smells delicious and I can't wait to have it for breakfast with my husband!
AntoniaJames May 7, 2010
lc's kitchen, thank you!! I'm so glad you and your family liked it. I should have remembered that the Meyer lemons we have on hand (on the trees nearby, actually) are fairly small, compared to those available commercially. Thanks for the suggestion! ;o)
testkitchenette April 23, 2010
I love this cake! Have fun at the potluck!
AntoniaJames April 23, 2010
Thanks!! We will!! ;o)
TheWimpyVegetarian April 23, 2010
YUM! I can't wait to try this at the potluck. I'm experimenting with some chocolate sorbet today that I'll bring if it works out. It would go great with this wonderful sounding cake!
AntoniaJames April 23, 2010
Yes, it would, and also with the strawberries which will be served with it. Mmmmm, mmmm.
TheWimpyVegetarian April 23, 2010
And with the tarts I'm bringing.....And of course the cookies that Maria and Hope are bringing. And that's just dessert! We are going to have quite a feast my friend.
drbabs April 20, 2010
Sounds great--I wish I could join your potluck!
AntoniaJames April 20, 2010
Thank you so much! I wish you could, too!! Found some organic hazelnut extract, so will probably make a chocolate hazelnut sauce, too, for this. Will post the recipe if my work schedule permits . . . . ;o)
aargersi April 20, 2010
This sounds absolutely wonderful!
AntoniaJames April 20, 2010
It is! Just like my mother. Who is particularly wonderful. (Just like yours . . . . ) Thank you. ;o)