History's Just Desserts

Exploring American History through Desserts and Their Makers

Malinda Russell’s Sour Cream Cake


I said you would be surprised by Malinda Russell’s recipes.  Perhaps I should have said I’ve been surprised by them.  Not one has chocolate!  A number of her recipes combine unexpected flavorings.  And then there’s this one, the first cake recipe presented in her cookbook (plus a few others like it.)

Here’s Mrs. Russell’s Cream Cake recipe.

Sour Cream Cake from Malinda Russell’s 1866 Domestic Cookbook

If you’re a baker, you may be thinking what I thought.  “How should the ingredients be combined?”  “What temp do I bake it at?”  “What kind of cake pan should I use?”  (If you aren’t a baker, you may be thinking, “yeah?”)  Then, bakers, you may suddenly realize, “There’s no butter in the recipe” and think, “That’s weird.”  That was my reaction too.

Dedicated scholar that I am, I decided to forge ahead with the recipe.  In Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, the incomparable Rose Levy Berenbaum has a recipe for a whipped cream cake that has no butter.  She explains that the butterfat in the whipping cream takes the place of the butter and the cake is moist and tender.  Sour cream, however, has a much lower butterfat content than whipping (or heavy) cream does so I wasn’t sure how the cake would come out.  (At least, today’s sour cream has a much lower butterfat content than today’s whipping cream.  I confess I’m no expert – yet – on the history of sour, or any other, cream.)

To make the cake, I basically followed Berenbaum’s method with the whipped cream cake, and I decided to bake it in two 9 x 5” loaf pans.  Oh, and while I used Mrs. Russell’s exact ingredients, I took advantage of modern technology for the mixing and baking.  Here’s what I did:

2 c. sour cream

2 eggs

1 ½ c. sugar

2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

Zest and juice of 1 or 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 325 on convection (or 350 in a conventional, non-convection oven).

Butter (generously) and flour two 9 x 5” loaf pans.

Using an electric mixture, beat the sour cream for a minute or so.

Lightly mix together the lemon juice and zest with the eggs.

Add half the eggs-lemon mixture to the whipped cream.  Beat until combined.  Repeat with the other half.

Gradually add the sugar and combine thoroughly.

Stir together the flour and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture in two separate additions and mix only until combined.

Pour into the cake pans (or pan depending on what you use).

Bake until golden and a toothpick or metal cake tester comes out clean.  In two 9 x 5” loaf pans, the baking time was about half an hour.

*Rotate the cakes about halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

How was it, you ask?  I like it.  The cake is light and moist.  It has a nice tang.  And it would be great with berries, perhaps lightly crushed raspberries.  (So, if you’re still looking for a dessert to celebrate the birth of  Prince George Alexander Louis, this is it.)

I’d love to hear about how the recipe worked for you, especially if you did anything differently, such as combined ingredients differently or used a different cake pan.  Now, if you don’t know how to bake and you’re in the DC area, the family baking class I’m teaching at the Hill Center is the place for you.

5 thoughts on “Malinda Russell’s Sour Cream Cake

  1. Thanks for letting me taste a sample. It is fascinating that there’s no butter. The texture didn’t suffer at all from the lack of butter. This is a wonderful, light cake for summer that will pair well with whipped cream and fruit. I thought it was much better more flavorful than angel food cake.

  2. My favorite part was “1 or 2 eggs.” I love cakes with sour cream, so I hope to give this one a try. Very interesting!

  3. Pingback: The Lifesaving Nature of Buttermilk | History's Just Desserts

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