RECIPE: sourdough chocolate and mandarin cake + growing citrus


the blog:

We are all at home, and we are all baking sourdough bread, right? Did you cultivate an iso sourdough habit? Are you sticking with it? I am so pleased I eased my way back into a weekly bread baking routine. I admit, my starter often ends up back in the fridge, languishing until I decide it’s time to make another loaf (it is way too stressful having it on the counter everyday – I don’t make that much bread and I never feed it enough!), but I think I have the timing down. So usually we end up with two loaves a week, which is just right for us.

We – well, I say we, I mean me – also end up with leftover starter. So much leftover starter. So I have been working my way through the internet, trawling the sourdough discard recipes. We’ve had sourdough crumpets, brownies, crackers, banana bread, pancakes… I can’t even remember what else. But I love cake, so this sourdough chocolate cake, especially with the little hits of mandarin throughout, is a winner for me. And especially, especially because the mandarins come from our own tree and this year, at least five years after we planted it, we FINALLY have edible mandarins!

I don’t know if it is our ad-hoc, “she’ll be right, let’s just see how we go” gardening style, but it has taken a long time for this tree to flourish and grow fruit that we actually want to eat. I do have a feeling that this is not just on us though. I feel like citrus trees are kind of like those people who take years and years to get to know but once you do, it is a solid, dependable relationshp.

Apparently citrus trees, like the Bible, consider patience a virtue.

And I have come to this conclusion because we have not done anything different with our mandarin tree this year than any other year, but there is such a marked difference in the fruit. The magic ingredient just seems to be time. Which makes sense if you consider all those incredibly prolific citrus trees that can often be found in neighbourhood backyards of areas that once had heavy Greek or Italian populations. These trees are always laden with perfect fruit, and they have all been standing sentry in their backyard positions for decades, the fruit growing sweeter every year.

Which I find very comforting. There is nothing I like better than a productive garden plant that requires very little in terms of care. But there are a few things to be mindful of when planting citrus:

Don’t move them! Once you have chosen a place for your tree, you have to commit. They get very sulky when they are moved (which I learnt the hard way after moving an established lemon tree – even though it was in a pot, it took about 7 years to begin producing fruit again!). And choose a spot that gets 5-6 hours of sunshine a day.

They don’t need a great deal of pruning. Just remove any dead branches after fruiting has finished, and never take more than a third of the tree away.

And soil: citrus trees like well drained soil. So whether they are in pots or the ground, make sure the soil is friable enough for adequate drainage (add good compost to improve your soil before planting your tree).

These are the main things to remember. I am terrible at remembering to fertilise my plants, but I just give our trees a liquid fertiliser (like Seasol) whenever I remember, or when I notice any yellowing leaves.

Now, our gardening lesson is over. Let’s have some cake. This cake is very delicious, very easy, and looks beautiful baked in a bundt tin. Grab a bunch of mandarins, your extra sourdough starter and your mixing bowls.


This is an adapted version of this sourdough chocolate cake from King Arthur Flour.

INGREDIENTS for the cake

  • 200g sourdough starter
  • 250ml milk
  • 260g plain flour
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 4 small mandarins
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 60g Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp ground coffee
  • 2 eggs

INGREDIENTS for the glaze

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp mandarin juice


Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease or line your chosen cake tin – I used a very well greased bundt pan but you could easily use a 22cm round tin.

Combine the starter, milk and flour in a large bowl. Mix until well combined and leave aside while you get on with the rest of the cake.

Measure out your sugar in a large bowl and then zest your mandarins directly into the sugar. Rub the zest in with your finger tips – this will release the oils and really intensify the flavour. And make your kitchen smell wonderful.

Add the olive oil, salt, baking powder, cocoa and coffee and mix well to combine. The mixture will be grainy but that is okay. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing in between.

Take your zested mandarins and peel and segment them (chop the pieces in half if they are large).

Now add the mandarin pieces and the sugar mix to the sourdough flour mixture and mix slowly and carefully until just combined. Don’t over mix, but do make sure everything is blended.

Pour into your prepared cake tin and smooth the top, then pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until a butter knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Cool your cake completely before icing. To make the icing sift your icing sugar into a bowl or pouring jug and slowly mix in the mandarin juice. Start with 2 tbsp and see how runny it becomes- you are aiming for quite a thick, viscous glaze that moves slowly when dripped from a spoon. If you add too much juice it will become too thin and will run right off the cake. Don’t be afraid though- practice makes perfect!

Once your cake is cooled, slowly pour the icing from the centre outward (for a round cake) or along the ridge (for a bundt cake). Decorate, make a pot of tea, call in the fam and enjoy!


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