Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake

Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake recipe! And how to start on sourdough adventures and plans! :)

Sourdough cakes, Special everyday cakes and treats

If you feel you’d never make a sourdough cake please think again.  They’re delicious with an unusual depth of flavour and made with simple ingredients:  flour, butter, eggs and relatively little sugar.   But the process creates a delicious healthier cake that’s easily digestible!  I’m no expert so there are links below if you’re interested in the science behind it but basically sourdough natural yeast seems to break down sugars and gluten so people with intolerances to them can happily munch away.  Personally I’ve felt the difference and my friends have also been enjoying them, very impressed with the flavours and textures!  I have the Sourdough School course to thank for introducing me to this new way of playing with cakes and adapting their recipes – more about that course later.  And don’t be intimidated by the word ‘Sourdough’ – the natural yeast (starter) made of flour and water isn’t difficult to create, buy or maintain (more links below) and the actual cake is a doddle.  You need to be aware of timings as with any yeasted sweet breads.  But you might find it reassuring that one of my sourdough cakes over-proofed (silly me, letting it rise in the Barcelona heat by my bedside while I slept!) but still came out delicious!  This cake’s flavoured with ground allspice, orange and lemon juice and zest plus vanilla then optionally sprinkled with candied orange peel and flaked almonds.  Finally the baked round or loaf cake is drizzled with a light syrup of citrus juices with pure maple syrup and optional orange blossom water.  It’s subtly spiced, wonderfully zingy and has an appealing simplicity so if you prefer a healthier treat that isn’t too sweet and has a lovely springy moist texture please try this yummy Sourdough sweet yeasted orange cake!  🙂

Healthier sourdough sweet yeasted orange cake

Healthier sourdough sweet yeasted orange cake


You can have a general read about Sourdough and pre-ferments at Wikipedia.  In this recipe the starter is your little natural yeast friend (often made with flour and water) that lives in a jar ready for use and the levain is prepared by mixing your starter with more flour and water to bake the specific cake.  The terms starter and levain can actually be interchangeable and there are many terms for the same or similar pre-ferments like:  sourdough starter; starter sponge, mother sponge, biga, chef and poolish. You can read more about them in the article What’s the difference between Levain and Starter at the Kitchnn website.  Or don’t worry about that and just follow this recipe… 🙂


If you don’t have one then please consider buying a digital kitchen weighing scale (like this one for example) or convert to cups on the traditional oven website.  My recipes usually have cup conversions but for sourdough recipes it’s going to be mostly metric in the interest of convenience and precision.  A digital or probe thermometre is also useful to gauge water and dough temperatures but not essential.


Active sourdough starter

Active sourdough starter

As mentioned before a starter is natural yeast made from flour and water.  If you already have a sourdough starter please go straight to the recipe below.  Otherwise…

Obtaining a starter

The easiest thing is to get a friend to gift you some of their starter or you can buy a starter at the bakery bits website here.  They ship worldwide and it comes with clear instructions and information.  Vanessa Kimbell, the main tutor on our Sourdough School course explains how to make a starter here.  Bakers use slightly different ways and measurements for making starters – make one then patiently await signs of activity (the bubbles).

Maintaining and refreshing a starter for cakes

For this recipe you should refresh your starter (feed it once or twice) before making the cake, using a ratio of 25g starter diluted first with 100g/ml warm water (between 28°- 34°C) then mixed well with 100g strong, ’00’ or all-purpose white flour.  This gives you a mild lactic starter nice for sweet cakes.


Quantities for 1 loaf tin (about 25cm x 11.5cm/10in x 4.5in and 6.5cm/2.5in high) or two 16cm/6.3in diametre round cake tins (or a large round cake tin).

Healthier sourdough sweet yeasted orange cake

Healthier sourdough sweet yeasted orange cake

The original Festive orange cake recipe should be accessible online to paid-up Sourdough Club members at the Sourdough School website where there are also free recipes available.  I’ve adapted the recipe by replacing the heavier sugar syrup with a lighter one of orange and lemon juice with maple syrup.  I used ecological candied peel rather than making my own and studded the cake with it and almonds.  Vanilla and ground all-spice are used instead of mace (is that what you can spray into an attacker’s face?!).  I’ve also provided various timing schedules…

Suggested timings – please ignore if confusing (they’re based on my unusual temperatures in Barcelona) and go directly to SIMPLIFIED TIMINGS below

Be flexible because timings depend on your room or fridge temperatures, starter and oven.

No. 1 timings are based on summer temperatures of 28 – 33ºC and no air-conditioning.  Yes oh dear.  But there are de-humidifiers and if you look at the bright side there are great advantages to sweating toxins out, getting a nicer skin and becoming slightly fitter in a more satisfying way than I’ve experienced doing hot yoga.  Lol (they don’t give you cake at yoga classes).

I prefer the no.1 timings because I can keep an eye on the cake as it rises (still haven’t got over the sourdough cake that overproofed crazily in the night – delicious though!).  No. 2 timings are great if you live in a cooler climate.  And there are spaces in the double boxes to record your own timings.

New Timings for the sourdough orange and lemon cake


  1.  DAY ONE – early afternoon.  Refresh sourdough starter until active and more or less doubled in volume (takes 6-10 hours).
  2.  DAY ONE – very late evening.  Make levain with the starter and wait till it rises and domes overnight (takes 8 hours in cool temperature).  If it’s hot it will take 4 hours or more.
  3.  DAY TWO – early morning.  Make cakey dough-batter (15 mins work) then proof at room temperature 6-8 hours until it more or less doubles in size.
  4.  DAY TWO – afternoon/evening.  Bake 22-30 minutes.


Levain (leaven) – make 4 to 8 hours before mixing the dough

  • 10g/scant tablespoon mild active starter (refreshed 6 – 10 hours earlier and bubbly)
  • 120g/ml milk at room temperature
  • 120g/1 cup less 2 and 1/2 tsp `00´ flour (or plain all-purpose/cake flour)
  • 5g/1 tsp caster/superfine sugar

Levain for Sourdough Orange 'n Lemon cake illlustrated recipe

Whisk active starter (left photo) and milk to combine till smooth then stir in the flour and sugar with a rubber spatula.  Let the levain develop until it is slightly domed with a few bubbles and mild slightly tangy aroma (right photo).  It won’t look super active but will be fine and develop more in the cake itself.

Making a levain with your active starter


Make the cake dough/batter (it’s a hybrid) – mixed 7-8 hours before baking

Making the sourdough orange and lemon cake dough

Preparation:  butter and flour your cake tin(s) – you can sprinkle with a handful of flaked almonds after buttering and before flouring if you like – you might find almonds fall out so just throw back in at the bottom.

Preparing the mould for the sourdough orange and lemon cake

  • 30g/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm/room temperature
  • 200g/1 and 1/2 cups ’00’ flour (or plain/all purpose flour)
  • 1/2 tsp ground all-spice (or mix of cardamom, cinnamom, a little ground ginger, whatever you prefer)
  • 5g/1 tsp fine sea salt
  • medium-sized bowl of prepared levain (use all of it)
  • 77g beaten egg (about 1 and 1/3 medum-sized eggs – keep the remaining 2/3 for brushing cake), at room temperature
  • 5g finely grated zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 40ml/g pure freshly-squeezed orange juice (about 1 small-medium orange)
  • 20ml/g pure freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 75g/1/3 cup caster/superfine sugar (I used golden unrefined caster sugar)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons milk at room temperature (28 – 42g)
  • 33g/3 tbsp ecological candied orange peel, chopped into small cubes (sides about 2 mm)

healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake illustrated recipe

Making the sourdough orange and lemon cake 1

Add the butter to the liquids in Step 3.

Making the sourdough orange and lemon cake 2

Making the sourdough orange and lemon cake 3

Making the sourdough orange and lemon cake 4

It’s good if the tin is filled to about 1/3 (or under half) of the way up.  Cover the tin with a plastic shower cap or damp tea towel to proof and almost double in size.

Baking the cake

Baking the sourdough orange and lemon cake

  • handful of flaked almonds
  • remaining beaten egg from previous day

Soaking syrup

  • 50g/2 and 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 30g/ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 20g/ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water, optional
  1. When cake has almost doubled in size pre-heat oven to 175ºC/350ºF (fan/convection oven) or 195ºC/380ºF (static/non-convection oven).
  2. When doubled in size brush top lightly with beaten egg then sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake 5 minutes then lower temperature to 170ºC/340ºF (fan) or 190ºC/375ºF (static) and bake 15 more minutes. 
  3. Then lower to 160ºC/320ºF (fan) or 180ºC/350ºF (static) and bake a final 2-7 minutes.  The cake is ready when it’s light golden brown, a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean and when you press the top with your finger it springs back a little.  Take it out.
  4. While the cake is baking make the soaking syrup.  Bring the maple syrup to the boil in a small heavy-based saucepan.  Add the citrus juices and bring just to the boil again.
  5. Take off the heat and add the orange blossom water if using.
  6. Let the baked cake cool in the tin 10 minutes on a wire rack then make holes with the skewer and spoon some of the soaking syrup over the cake.  Wait for it to be absorbed then spoon more over it again.  Repeat until syrup is all used up.
  7. Cool in the tin 20 minutes then take out of the tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

Baking the sourdough orange and lemon cake and soaking

Couldn’t wait to try this cake… so cut a slice out of the tin as it cooled.  Yum.

Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake

Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake

Eating and storing

Eat immediately or while warm the same day.  Once cool wrap tightly in plastic film or a re-usable plastic bag and store at room temperature in airtight tupperware – keeps 3-4 days at least.  You can also freeze slices wrapped in plastic film up to 1 – 2 months (defrost at room temperature a few hours or so).  I suggest slicing with small sharp knife, which somehow cuts fluffier slices than a bread knife.

It’s a great tea time or picnic cake – my friend managed three slices ;).

Sourdough orange cake

Sourdough adventures and plans

My mother introduced me to sourdough bread and gave me my first starter that I called Serafina.  I wasn’t that keen on the bread at first then realised it doesn’t have to be sour!  On the 6-day Sourdough diploma course I also learnt it’s possible to eat quite a lot of the bread without feeling bloated or tired and that sourdough can be used to make cakes and drinks!  Hurray!  Me and mum had a lovely time making bread and other sourdough stuff while getting to know fellow bakers on the course.  It was great to be in the countryside too.

At the sourdough diploma course

We’ve all been very inspired by our tutors Vanessa and Emmanuelle to go home and make lots of sourdough goodies.  Some recipes are in their books:  How to Make Sourdough by Emmanuelle and The Sourdough School by Vanessa.

Sourdough plans

Strangely enough after that week we’ve felt healthier and less inclined to eat sweet stuff.  And with my lovely fellow bakers from the course we all stay in touch sharing our bakes, ideas and giving each other support.  So begins the sourdough adventure.  Hope you’ll be inspired too.  In the meantime here’s some sourdough orange and lemon cake for you. 🙂

Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake

Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake

Farewell for now dear reader!  There’ll be the usual non-sourdough bakes on the blog too in the future but hope you’ll enjoy this little adventure into sourdoughlandia.  Have a lovely exciting week ahead with some happy baking and eating! 🙂  Lili x

P.S.  There are more sourdough cakes and bakes on the blog here.

Posted by

Baking on Sundays with my French mum was a lovely part of my childhood. Later I experimented with baking books or internet recipes and did the pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Still trying out new recipes and inventing cakes with influences from all around the world, including some healthier ones. Yes, love cakes!!! Hope you'll love them too and have fun baking. :)

11 thoughts on “Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake recipe! And how to start on sourdough adventures and plans! :)”

    • Thank you Deborah! I am really loving sourdough cakes. It’s only after the course that it’s become more of a lifestyle where I’m using sourdough starter for lots of different things and it makes it easier to maintain it. I think if you got a starter again you’d enjoy doing that too. 👍😊

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Dear Lili, The image of your sour dough cake rising by your bedside will forever be burned into my memory. 🙂 What a delicious combination of ingredients. I’ve only thought of sourdough in relation to bread. This should be a revelation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Mary, thank you for making me laugh about that poor over-risen cake (can’t forget it either 😅). Yes, totally agree – was so excited to discover sourdough cakes. Hope you get to experiment with and eat some. 🙂


  2. Wow this looks amazing Lili. I’m a keen sourdough bread baker but have never tried to make a sourdough cake. That will change this weekend. So glad I stumbled onto your post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I enjoyed reading about your spelt sourdough bread adventures (just had a quick look now) and look forward to seeing more. So happy you’ll be trying out sourdough cake and would love to know how you find it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Healthier sourdough orange and lemon cake recipe! And how to start on sourdough adventures and plans! :) | homethoughtsfromabroad626

  4. Well done Lili. I went on Vanessa’s course about four years ago and I’ve baking sourdough bread ever since. Cakes are more of a mystery so, as I’ve dietary problems, I’m going to mix your recipe with one I found a few years ago that uses up that sourdough discard. More sourdough cake recipes please!


    • Thank you Ian for your encouraging message! Nice to meet a fellow sourdough school baker and I’m happy if the sourdough cake recipe is useful for you. Would love to know how your experiments turn out. Thanks for motivating me to look into and post more sourdough cakes! 😊👍


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