Make Ahead

Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake

April 20, 2010
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

  • Serves 12-16
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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.

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Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)