There is cake and there is cake. Of the really good ones, some are dazzling, others unassuming. This one is of the second variety. A simple dessert relying in a large part on a century-old leavener for lightness. When birthdays are involved, I usually glaze it (with dark chocolate melted together with a bit of butter and a hint of powdered sugar) but most of the time, I leave it bare or just sprinkle it with confectioners’ sugar. Either way, it is always a hit and I love it that it makes use of surplus starter I might otherwise have to throw out.
The recipe is an adaptation of one I found on the King Arthur’s website (which I halved in this particular instance to tailor it to my shallow flower-shaped French mold). When I make the whole recipe instead of halving it (and I usually do), I use a nine-inch springform pan and I bake the cake a while longer.
For those of you who are using BreadStorm (including the free version), please click on this link to import the formula. For more on BreadStorm, you may want to read this post.
* This time, I used Sonora whole wheat pastry flour that I bought from Nan Kohler in Los Angeles a couple of months ago but in the past, I have made this cake with unbleached all-purpose flour or with regular white whole wheat flour. They both work perfectly but you may find, as I did, that using a locally grown and milled soft wheat brings it an intriguing flavor and a lovely texture. I am not sure how the recipe would turn out with regular whole wheat flour though. It might be too heavy and the taste of the grain might be overwhelming.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the more interesting the flavor of your starter, the tastier your cake will be. In other words, this is a good recipe to make on bread-baking day: you will probably have taken your starter out of the fridge a couple of days before, kept it at room temperature and fed it regularly. It will be bubbly and happy and at its peak in every way. That’s the way you want it, both for bread and for cake.
- Combine mature starter, milk and flour in large bowl. Cover and let rest at warmish room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or until somewhat expanded
- Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C and lightly oil a cake pan
- In another bowl, beat together sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda and cocoa
- Incorporate the egg
- Gently combine chocolate mixture with the levain-flour-milk mixture, stirring till smooth
- Pour batter into prepared pan
- Bake the cake for 30 to 40 minutes until it springs back when lightly pressed in the center and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean
- Remove from oven and cool on a rack
Graham Jose says
Ok, I think I will give this one a try.
Hi MC. Just a point of clarification, please. One egg is listed among the ingredients, but in the Method, Point 4, the instructions are: "Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each." This suggests that there is more than one egg in the cake. Could you please clarify?
Hi Ross, sorry for the late reply to your question. I have been traveling and didn't manage to keep up. The reason for the one egg is because I halved the recipe (from the original one) and forgot to edit the text accordingly. Thank you for pointing it out! I made the correction in the post.
Karin Anderson says
What a pretty cake! I never tried using a starter in cakes, yet, but I was just looking at my surplus of bread flour/rye starter left over from the loaf I made for the "Bread Olympics" at Plötzblog (one of the best German bread baking blogs): http://hanseata.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-build-bread-pain-au-levain-de.html
A regular 100% whole wheat cake would be rather dense. I just read a comparison of several different pastries, made with AP, Whole Wheat or White Whole Wheat at King Arthur's website. Quite interesting.
They recommend using "orange juice in small amounts to temper the harsh whole wheat flavor" (exchanging 1/4 cup for the water or other liquid in the dough), and, also, to autolyse the WW for 20-30 minutes, before mixing.
I would rather use the stone ground whole wheat pastry flour I have (from Bob's Red Mill.)
Hello Karin! What a beautiful bread you baked for the Bread Olympics. It would have gone straight to my hall of fame too!
Re: chocolate levain cake. It'd be interesting to bake different variations of the recipe using different flours… Please keep me posted if you do.
Good flavor, very tender, and it held up well till we could finish it off, which was the day after I baked it!.
Hi Carolyn, tender is exactly the right word. I have baked other chocolate cakes since, including Lebovitz' buckwheat chocolate cake (which is sinfully good), and I'd still vote for this one.
Karin Anderson says
What a great way to use your surplus starter. I hate discarding perfectly good sourdough. The cake looks wonderfully moist. Interesting that you use BreadStorm for pastry, too. I wouldn't have thought of it.
Finally I got the chestnut flour, it is imported from Italy.
Have a nice sunday!
Hi again Karin, can't wait to see what you do with this chestnut flour!
Karin Anderson says
Sorry, this was a double, I thought my first comment had not posted, so I tried it a day later again.
I thought as much. But it is entirely my fault as I didn't monitor the comments while I was away… Sorry about that! And yes, I use BreadStorm for both bread and pastry. It makes it so much easier to scale up and down or to just modify a formula.
This turned out tender and not too sweet. It's handy to have recipes that use a levain for something other than bread. Thanks!
Hi MC. It seems that you didn't receive my previous comment, posted a few days back, in which I sought clarification on the number of eggs in the recipe. I elected to go with two, as per my favourite 'everyday' chocolate cake recipe, and it worked out very well.
I found your levain cake softer and less sweet and chocolatey than my usual one, but that's a difference, not a criticism. I enjoyed it a lot, and so did my partner. It's great to have another use for starter. As with my usual choc cake, it was at its best the day after the bake, but I noticed that it stayed fresh for days (well, for the 5 days we took to finish it…we stretched it out as long as possible), whereas mine is drying out somewhat after about day 3 or 4. I'll certainly bake it again, this time perhaps subbing butter for the canola oil. Just curious to see what that does for the structure. I suspect it will dial down the softness a tad.
Anyway, thanks a lot for your recipe. Most enjoyable, and a keeper!
Thank you, Ross! Yes, levain definitely extends the shelf-life. Which is a plus. Although with chocolate cake, shelf life is usually not something one has to worry about! LOL What amazed me with this cake is how much kids seem to love it… Even though it isn't as sweet or as gooey as other cakes. Interesting…
Graham Jose says
Finally tried it with some left over levain from a bread bake. Thanks!
Hi Graham Jose! Wow, the cake looks gorgeous. Did you like it?