As we transition from Scotland to America in Outlander Season 4, it seems appropriate to create a recipe that could be found on Fraser’s Ridge. In this “How They Made It,” we take a look at Sourdough Spice Cake. Slainté!
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Autumn is a season of transitions
The heat of summer cools to the eventual cold of winter. Here in New England the trees put on a show of color the likes of which I still marvel at, California girl that I am. Kids go back to school, or some head there for the first time. And pumpkin spice lattes start popping up at your local coffee shops.
For Outlander Season 4, we’re transitioning from Scotland to America, and trading Lallybroch for Fraser’s Ridge as the new home for Jamie and Claire. I won’t give away any spoilers on characters we haven’t met on the show yet, except to say that there is a new chef from whom I can draw inspiration.
One treat I know she’d make is Sourdough Spice Cake, a misleadingly-named sweet tea bread (or quick bread). It’s flavored with the same baking spices that are featured in pumpkin pie (or your pumpkin spice latte).
What came before baking soda?
One question that I had regarding baking in the 18th century was about leavening.
Here in modern times, many baked goods are leavened with baking soda or baking powder (called chemical leavening agents in culinary circles). Commercial baking soda didn’t appear until the mid-19thcentury, though, so what would our yet-to-be-named chef on Fraser’s Ridge have used to leaven her cakes and cookies?
According to Publicism’s Baking Cakes in Early America, pound cakes, molasses cakes, gingerbreads and the like were probably first leavened “with yeast cultures brought with the settlers from Europe or made from the foamy barm skimmed from fermented beverages like beer,” and…”…it was not until the wood ash leavening called potash was produced by burning cleared trees … that American gingerbread benefited from this leavening and became soft and more cake-like in texture. Potash, or pearlash as it was known, was an alkali and a forerunner of baking soda. When combined in a gingerbread batter with sour milk or molasses, which were both acidic, it produced carbon dioxide bubbles that helped raise the cake in the oven.”
Remember my post about sourdough bread? In that case, the dough was leavened with the wild yeast that was cultivated and nurtured in the sourdough starter. Cooks would take a small portion of the mixture to create the fresh bread dough, then “feed” the remaining starter with flour and water so that they’d have it ready for the next day.
As noted above, a cook could also use the starter to make cakes — the sweetener and other flavorings in the batter masked the tang of the sourdough starter itself. When potash was added along with the starter, our more familiar lighter cakes and tea breads started to appear in Colonial kitchens.
The things you learn on the Interweb!
Sourdough in cake? Really?
If, like me, you don’t make sourdough bread everyday, you still have to feed your starter to keep it active. I’m always looking for ways to use the unfed starter (called the discard) that’s removed before feeding the remaining mixture.
I’ve become pretty proficient at adapting recipes to use my weekly sourdough starter discard by replacing some of the flour & water in a recipe. I’ve made bagels, pretzels, gingerbread, and chocolate chip banana bread, all using my sourdough starter discard. I even have a category devoted to Just Sourdough recipes on my website!
Don’t worry that this Sourdough Spice Cake recipe has sourdough starter discard in it. Honestly, you won’t taste it. This sweet bread is loaded with all the spicy fall flavors, and is moist and soft.
And another thing, sugar would have been a luxury in the Colonies, so our unnamed chef might have used it sparingly or not at all. Instead, she’d be sweetening her cakes with honey or molasses. The recipe below calls that to mind by using brown sugar.
Maybe not as authentic, but darn close and darn good!
I upped the goodness for my Sourdough Spice Cake by adding a streusel topping, which adds a buttery crunch to the top of the cake. It’s not unlike the topping found on our Apple Crisp recipe (aka Apple Crumble), minus the oats.
Just your basic quick bread recipe
Making a quick bread recipe is as easy as mixing the dry ingredients, mixing the wet ingredients, then folding them together. Easy Peasy.
After sprinkling the topping on the cake batter, it’s time for a trip to the oven.
Sourdough discard never tasted so sweet
You won’t believe how good Sourdough Spice cake smells as it bakes. And the taste? Warm Autumn spices in a moist cake with a buttery, crunchy topping.
(pauses to wipe away drool on the keyboard)
I’m sure Jamie and Claire would have enjoyed this Sourdough Spice Cake on a crisp North Carolina evening. Perhaps while sipping a wee dram?
As for me, I’ll be having a slice while staring at the changing leaves, and counting the days until Droughtlander is over!
How do you commemorate the coming of autumn in your area? Any special traditions or activities?
Recipes using sourdough starter discard
When you maintain a sourdough starter, you have a dilemma…what to do with your sourdough starter discard? I’ve got lots of suggestions for sweet and savory ways to use your fed sourdough starter and sourdough starter discard. Here are a few to try.
- Buttery Sourdough Biscuits
- Multigrain Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Spice Cake
- Sourdough Bagels
- Homemade Sourdough Pretzels
- Sourdough English Muffins
- Sourdough Focaccia Bread with Rosemary
- Glazed Chocolate Chip Sourdough Banana Bread
- Sourdough Pumpkin Cake
- Old-Fashioned Sourdough Gingerbread
- Sourdough Shortcrust Pastry
- Extra Tangy Sourdough Bread – Here’s the recipe to make authentic sourdough bread!
Sourdough Spice Cake
- standard loaf pan
- baking spray
For the cake
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour, (6¼ oz, 180g)
- ½ cup granulated sugar, (3½ oz, 100g)
- ½ cup brown sugar, (3¾ oz, 107g)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup sourdough starter discard, at room temperature, see Recipe Notes (8 oz, 227g)
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream, or plain yogurt (regular or Greek), at room temperature (4 oz, 113g)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil, see Recipe Notes, (1¾ oz, 50g)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the streusel topping
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour, (1 oz, 30g)
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar, packed
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold (2 oz, 57g)
- Prepare the cake: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. If necessary, mash any large lumps of brown sugar.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the sourdough starter, egg, sour cream, oil, and vanilla. Mix together until everything is fully combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Prepare the streusel: Combine the flour, both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and toss together with a fork. Cut the butter into ½-inch chunks, then toss them in the streusel ingredients.
- Using a fork or your fingers, blend the butter into the dry ingredients until it is incorporated and the mixture forms clumps. Sprinkle on top of batter.
- Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan using the parchment paper as a sling and allow it to cool completely.
- Serve & enjoy!
- One large loaf in a standard loaf pan and two mini loaves using mini loaf pans. Bake the large loaf for 35 to 40 minutes and the mini loaves for 25 to 30 minutes
- Six mini loaves using mini loaf pans. Bake for for 25 to 30 minutes
- Twelve full-size muffins in a standard muffin pan. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes
Discovering Outlander after Season 1 first aired, Tammy quickly went down the rabbit-hole on social media and podcasts and found a world of like-minded fans who not only tolerated her obsession, but encouraged the madness! She combined her Outlander-inspired interest for scotch whisky with her continuing passion for baking and storytelling in her blog, Scotch & Scones…Explorations in a glass and in the oven. Joining the staff of Outlander Cast as the resident baker has brought Tammy full circle, from a podcast fan to a contributing writer. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @scotch_scones, and find her on Facebook at @scotchandsconesblog.